From Workplace to Workshop
Employer brands are changing as companies look to the future. As we approach the anniversary of Lockdown 1 in the UK – an anniversary past my friends in other countries – the debate around the future for work will only increase.
The phrase Hybrid Working has been coined as a catch all for what the future of work will mean, but for me this is such a clumsy term. By its very definition, hybrid relates to a combination of two things – in this case, work and home. It already seems so outdated.
It’s true that the pandemic, for some, has resulted in many workers having to resort to bedrooms, kitchen tables and outhouses to keep working. In April, 46% of UK workers were working from home with 86% doing so because of the pandemic. Of those people, as many were likely to be working more hours than fewer hours.
For some, the opportunity to not commute meant more time with the family. At the same time, many were working hard to rescue their businesses or save their jobs so any benefit from the new way of working was lost. As things have calmed (a little) we have been able to take stock of what the new way of working means and its pros and cons.
Nearly a year later, Microsoft and YouGov reported that little had changed with 30% of workers still reporting an increase in the number of hours worked at home. It’s no surprise that a greater number of workers are now reporting pressures on their mental health as they struggle to manage this new way of working. Employers need to get better at catching up in finding ways to help workers shutdown. Wouldn’t it be great to see something similar to Apple’s iPhone Bedtime mode applied to workplace online channels? Let’s call it a downtime mode.
So, before employers rush to Hybrid Working it’s essential that they look at Effective Working first, and effective working is about a blend of workspaces and helping employees carve out the chunks of dedicated time required to be productive. Flexible working is not about hosting a Zoom, MS Teams or WebEx while doing the shopping at Aldi (other supermarkets are available). Quality work needs a blend of quality time and quality spaces.
Effective working is about a blend of workspaces and helping employees carve out the chunks of dedicated time required to be productive.
To me blended working is about blended spaces. The right spaces. The right space can be the office, the home, the library, the coworking space or the coffee shop. It’s far more complicated than just work and home. With the average round trip for a commute being 23 miles, many workers are traveling quite some distance from their homes to get to work.
Blended time – to do decent work needs blocks of uninterrupted time. A University of California study showed a task/time difference of +15-minutes when completed by an employee exposed to interruptions. Attempting to do the washing, collect post from the door and answer numerous Zoom calls or juggle multiple customers online is not conducive to quality outputs.
So, workers need a blend of quality time and space.
That blend of space might be a mix of the home, coworking space and office. For a worker operating out of their bedroom, they might appreciate access to a coworking space 1 mile from their home as opposed to the office, 23 miles from where they live. That coworking space will also give them access to new faces, new contacts and inspire more creativity by working alongside people from different backgrounds and with different experiences.
Research shows, and forgive me for I have lost the link, that employees are far more productive when completing tasks alongside other people rather than on their own. So, whether working in the office or in the coworking space, work alongside colleagues is a good thing it just doesn’t have to require a 23-mile commute.
Whether working in the office or in the coworking space, work alongside colleagues is a good thing it just doesn’t have to require a 23-mile commute.
So, what do employers do with these vast office environments they have created? What happens to the rows of desks?
My view is that the office needs to be reinvented. It needs to become more of a workshop. IBM talk about the garage principle and HP invented the 11 Rules of the Garage which defined principles like no bureaucracy; invent different ways of working and trust. A workshop is a place where goods are manufactured or repaired; a place where things are made. It also describes a meeting place where people engage in discussion. This is what our offices should be used for. They should be spaces that are used at times when people need to come together to engage with one another. They should not be places where rows of desks are laid out for quiet work. That can more helpfully be done 23 miles away at home or in a coworking space.
Offices should be spaces that are used at times when people need to come together to engage with one another. They should not be places where rows of desks are laid out for quiet work.
All this means employers can more productively use their space, perhaps halving the amount they need, subletting space they don’t need and investing in more flexible deals with localised coworking businesses. It is also about making sure the right accessible kit is in the hands of employees to work from any space at any time.
For employees, it means taking greater ownership of time; disciplining ones-self to manage time more effectively and learning how to use spaces differently. It is not just about working from home and working from the office. It is about finding the right space to do the work that needs to be done.
As communicators, our job now needs to be focused on helping leaders and employees see the possibilities in this new way of working and embrace it. It’s not about just working from home or working from the office. It’s about working from the right space and finding the right time.
Whether you work in a bank branch, a call centre or an office, we owe it to ourselves to change not just the way we work but the way we organise roles. There is nothing to stop a call centre worker from being on the phones for 4-days a week and 1-day each week working on a special teams project. There’s nothing to stop a branch worker being in branch 3-days, at home 1-day and in an HQ for another day. This blend of diverse experiences, roles, time and space gives employers access to greater experiences.
It’s blended working we should be after.