In conversation with Brett Hautop of LinkedIn. Watch the whole video here: https://youtu.be/cIZ4NUOI5u4
Brett, we’re talking to a whole group of people that have spent the last year working very differently. Has the tech sector found it easier to transform very rapidly into a different way of working?
Yes, we talk a lot about how we were already set up for this. I think the reason this hadn’t happened sooner is that we weren’t all in it together.
The fact that we were all forced into working from home also forced everyone to be far more innovative and say, “How can we really make the most of this? How can we turn this into something really positive?” and made us take quick action.
Now, it’s true the tech sector is suited to really take advantage of this new way of working, but lots of other industries are as well. The architecture and design world, for example, has done a fantastic job. A lot of that’s due to the rising commitment to digitalisation over the past few years. We’ve learned we’re far more resilient than we thought we were in terms of our ability to stay connected when we’re not physically together. But I think we’ve also learned how much we value wanting to be together.
The last year has broken down some hierarchical barriers in this process. How will technology help maintain that level of equity in a hybrid model?
I think that’s going to be one of the most difficult things to maintain once we go back unless companies are very intentional about it. Technology may be able to help, but I don’t know that technology can solve it all.
A lot of is going to come down to changing our behaviour. The expectation used to be if you were in a conference room trying to do a collaborative session, you had six people in the room and two people dialling in. Even if you had a room set up perfectly with multiple cameras facing the participants and the whiteboards, somebody would inevitably block a camera, causing disruptions in the conversation from remote workers asking those in the office to move. This would lead to frustration from the whole team.
I’ve heard a lot of folks talking about different ideas to curb this, such as having everybody call in from their own device, regardless of where they’re located.
Another alternative is having a farm of video pods for people to call in. However, that may be harder to sell because a big reason people want to come back to the office is to be physically closer. We’re going to have to figure out a way to have some of both, which comes down to the way you have your meeting and also being extraordinarily conscientious of how you act in a room. Something as simple as changing the layout of a room could be the solution.
Given your earlier experiences, how can you prioritise and improve hybrid working? What will it actually mean physically?
The reality is a lot of what we’ve been doing for the last 20 years was a result of changing the way spaces were designed, from personal offices to cubicles to benching.
Now, people value being close to others who are talking about something, even when they’re not talking directly to you, because it builds your knowledge and awareness, which I think is the biggest challenge of a hybrid environment.
Bringing that sense of awareness, that sense of understanding what’s happening around you is one of the things that technology is going to need to solve.
Another big issue is accommodating both the people who have a good home environment and are fine working remotely and other folks who have a poor setup for working at home and are waiting to be back again. Physically, an important point for open office plans is their need to have spaces where you can collaborate and socialise with others, and also find a space to do work alone where you won’t be disturbed.
So, what does a good open office plan look like?
To understand that we need to ask ourselves a couple of things. The first question is what’ll be the real purpose and intent for these spaces? The next question is how do we change the way and the reasons we meet?
Our conference rooms are a great example of this. Previously they were always overbooked, even when we built more than we ever thought we could use. But they were always in such high demand that people would be constantly rushing from one room to the next, having trouble booking rooms in advance, or getting rolled over by executive teams blocking spaces to make sure they always had rooms, which led to further shortage for everybody else. The reality is, a lot of those meetings didn’t need to happen in conference rooms, and could have been held elsewhere, or even online. I think this is the type of issue an open office plan and its meeting spaces need to be rethought.
When looking at your role description, what is your part to play in developing this new way of working?
I think my role is about creating working spaces that start with the experience in mind, which came from the fact that we had to quickly mobilise to create a remote experience for our employees.
Initially, that was about giving them the resources that they need to have as good of a remote experience as they can within the limitations of their personal circumstances. But we’ve since realized, we need to help people be the most effective version of themselves and do the best work in their careers, regardless of where they are.
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