Making life easier for teams amid pressures of performance

Helping teams to work together more effectively in a hybrid world of work will be critical to company productivity, says GlaxoSmithKline workplace chief Simon French in an exclusive interview with the Smart Coffee Break, presented by Nestle Coffee Partners

Supporting team interaction will be essential to improving productivity in the fast-moving pharmaceutical sector where large life science firms are required to innovate at speed.

That’s the view of Simon French, Workplace and Design Director at GSK, who suggests we are entering a new era in terms of how the workplace will be designed and managed: ‘We are now moving away from the office as this central production with rows and rows of desks. We are now accepting that work happens anywhere…we have to build a complete ecosystem.’

Journey of discovery

French leads on workplace design and change right across GSK’s global portfolio of commercial offices, scientific workplaces and laboratories.

Interviewed by WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson as part of the Smart Coffee Break podcast series on productivity at work, presented by Nestle Coffee Partners, he describes optimising teamwork within GSK as a key priority: ‘We’ve really just got to make their lives easy so they can focus on business.’

Over the past 18 months, however, things have been anything but easy for GSK, in common with other large organisations. French admits that ‘we’ve been on a real journey’ as remote working turned the world on its head.

Making ideas easier

One of the difficulties that GSK’s teams encountered was how to innovate remotely. Online brainstorming worked to a point, but French says that a key lesson from the pandemic is that ‘being with people makes ideas much easier’.

He adds: ‘We still want to structure our teams so that we bring people together. We think that’s key to innovation. Do we need the office? Yes, absolutely…Large portions of the business have now returned to the office, but in different ways. We’re still experimenting, we’re still piloting.’

‘Large portions of the business have now returned to the office, but in different ways…’

At the heart of the new strategy is a smart working programme with people working remotely for up to 50 per cent of the week, but Simon French is wary of being too prescriptive on a 50/50 model. ‘It’s about responding to new ways of working, it’s not set in stone. GSK is really quite a collegiate organisation so we very rarely mandate anything. Our view is that we do things because it’s a very good idea, and if it’s a very good idea you can persuade people.’

Empowering teams to do their best work is also about trust: ‘It’s really a question of what works for you. There is a high level of trust in the individual to do what you think is right. We really just set a few guardrails to make sure that you’re not coming in to sit at a desk for eight hours, that’s not the right approach anymore.’

Applying key lessons

In the Smart Coffee Break podcast, Simon French describes a unique experiment at GSK’s London HQ to measure and monitor team and individual productivity; the Workplace Performance Hub, created within a former skincare lab, tested different design variables (light, sound, imagery, air quality, layout and so on) on employee performance.

French says the company learnt a lot from the exercise and is now applying lessons on workplace projects around the world. The Workplace Performance Hub put in just 30 per of the normal quota of traditional desks and provided alternative settings for work instead – in effect anticipating the shifts inspired by the pandemic. Air quality in meeting rooms was also closely examined, another key focus post Covid-19.

Relaxed interaction

French talks about a ‘consumerised’ model of workplace amenities to enable people to relax and interact with colleagues: ‘It’s important to get that mental release from the workplace…Just because you’re sitting in a coffee bar and having a good quality coffee and talking with a colleague, doesn’t mean you’re not talking about work.’

Teams needs settings where they can socialise away from the pressures of always being productive – a library environment or a terrace without technology, he explains; being able to switch off enables people to switch back on to solving a problem.

You can listen to the full interview with Simon French of GlaxoSmithKline here.

This is the third programme in the Smart Coffee Break podcast series on productivity at work. It  follows interviews with Despina Katsikakis of Cushman & Wakefield on the evolution of office productivity and Adelaide-based neuroscientist Dr Fiona Kerr on flow and focus.

The podcast series is presented by Nestle Coffee Partners in partnership with WORKTECH Academy, the global knowledge platform and member network exploring how we’ll work tomorrow.    

Subsequent podcasts in the Smart Coffee Break series will focus on such subjects as team-to-team collaboration and unplanned interactions, featuring interviews with experts from around the world.

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