‘Workplace’ to ‘workspace’: How to make a dynamic working environment
12th April 2022
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Lessons learned in the pandemic are driving employers to create physical and digital workspaces that empower people to do their best work.
There’s a saying that was gaining ground even before the pandemic made it a truism: ‘Work isn’t somewhere you go — it’s something you do.’
As the pandemic has proved, technologies like mobile devices, ultra-fast connectivity and video conferencing mean many of us no longer need to go to an office every day. We can more or less work where we like: our home, the beach, the local café – even in far-flung cities as a digital nomad.1
A strategic shift from ‘workplace’ to ‘workspace’
That’s driving a big shift in company real-estate strategy, from one focused on the ‘workplace’ to one focused on ‘workspace’. It’s a holistic approach that spans physical workspaces (like company premises, home offices and co-working hubs) and digital workspaces (like Teams meetings, virtual reality training scenarios, metaverse meetups and augmented-reality displays).
A recurring theme is the need to create spaces where employees actively want to work. With 40% of employees thinking of quitting their job2, employers must put their people first if they want them to stay. A big part of that is providing a work environment that supports people to be at their best. Our new white paper, The human connection: How empowering your people drives customer loyalty, explores workspace strategies that support employees to do their best work, wherever they are. In it, we encourage employers to take these four actions:
1. Align real estate with the reality of dynamic working
The office as we knew it isn’t coming back. A Virgin Media Business study conducted with the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that employers now expect their people to work remotely for 2.3 days per week on average, up from 1.4 days pre-pandemic.3
And even on the days when people are in the office, they’re not doing the same things there as before. How many times have you commuted into the office recently, only to find you’re spending the whole day on Teams calls that you could have done from home?
To create spaces where employees can be at their best, employers will need to get to grips with new work patterns. As an example, NatWest Group’s Natalie Nelson told The New Everyday podcast4 that the Group’s remote-first knowledge workers come into the office on one or two days per month specifically for collaboration activities.
Patterns like this demand a new approach to workspace, which may involve downsizing or redistributing physical space quite dramatically. Many companies are considering adopting hub-and-spoke models with a smaller central office and more regional spaces.
In 2021, for example, Standard Chartered Bank partnered with IWG5 to give its employees access to 3,500 IWG spaces globally. The partnership will ‘[enable] our employees to work closer to clients, colleagues and their teams, as well as reducing commute time, travel costs and our individual and collective carbon footprint,’ said Andy Halford, the bank’s CFO.
While not every company needs access to space worldwide, it’s worth thinking of ways to support employees to work closer to home – by subsidising membership of local co-working spaces, for example, or exploring options to work from a customer, supplier or partner’s office.
2. Get the right balance of desk, collaboration and social space
The new ways in which people use the office will almost certainly lead to a rethink of how that space is organised. In our last human connection blog we saw how companies like Spotify and Lego Group are making offices feel like the cosier aspects of home working and dedicating different floors to different activities.
Others are now following their example. In an article for Harvard Business Review6, architects from NBBJ explain how they redesigned the HQ of Hana Bank to make it a welcoming and inspiring place for people to come back to.
The new-look HQ ‘caters to various modes of working,’ they say. That includes ‘heads-down individual work that happens at a desk, flexible seating for when people need a break, collaborative spaces that encourage focused team interaction, and lounges for socialising.’
Salesforce is another that’s rethinking how its space is used. It’s reduced its desk space by 40% and introduced more ‘booths, cafés, communal tables, couches, whiteboards, and mobile audio-visual equipment to allow teamwork to happen anywhere,’ according to Fast Company.7
Even in the smallest offices, there are opportunities to re-organise space to better cater to employees’ new work patterns. Pods or booths for video calls, and dedicated space for creative collaboration, could make the difference between an energising day and a day of frustration.
3. Provide tech to help people work effectively in any space
Just as the spaces in which we work are changing, so too is the tech we need to get work done in those spaces. And what works for employees today may not in the near future.
On one hand, devices are diversifying. Gartner has predicted that the number of devices people typically use for work will increase from three in 2019 to four by 2024.8 As more people work in a hybrid fashion, that fourth device may well be a VR headset. Accenture, for example, has invested in 60,000 of them9, to train new hires in virtual spaces rather than bring them all to a physical one. Collaboration tools are evolving, too. The pandemic revealed the huge advantages of desktop video conferencing, but the return to the office has highlighted its drawbacks: it’s not so conducive to collaboration when some people are in the office and some aren’t.
Vendors are responding by building new functionality: Zoom Rooms10 and Teams Rooms11 allow for more equitable hybrid meetings, while whiteboarding apps like Miro12 and Microsoft Whiteboard13 are evolving for hybrid collaboration. Slack continues to add features14 for both synchronous and asynchronous hybrid work, and workflow apps like Monday.com15 help hybrid teams stay organised.
Employers should pay attention to the way team and customer collaboration is evolving, and identify tools that facilitate that work, rather than holding it back.
4. Explore new tech to improve digital and physical spaces
For employers with a lot of real estate, a new crop of digital tools are springing up to help redesign the physical aspects of the workspace.
Location intelligence tools like Innerspace16 and Inpixon17 are coming into their own, providing deep insight into which areas are used when, and for what. That’s driving new, space-optimising trends like office hoteling18, which makes desks and other resources bookable in advance.
Creating more employee-centric spaces is another possibility. Innerspace says19 that for one client planning a new office location, its heat maps showed that ‘outdoor patio space at their home office had become very popular.’ As a result, ‘the needs analysis for the second office was updated to include a requirement for substantial outdoor space.’
As more work takes place in digital spaces, they too will need attention. Hybrid work could also drive a rapid acceleration in the investment and uptake of more mixed reality environment, with PwC predicting that by 2030, nearly 23.5 million jobs worldwide will use AR and VR for activities including training, meetings, and customer service.20
Wired notes21 that vendors are readying environments that make mixed-reality working possible, including Facebook/Meta with its Horizon Workrooms22 and Microsoft’s Mesh for Hololens 2.23 But as stories abound of employees already using existing ‘metaverses’ like online games24 for informal meetups, employers could usefully spend some time understanding what employees like about those spaces before making any big investment decisions.
One thing is certain: Experimentation will be essential
The modes of work are changing so profoundly and so fast that no organisation can hope to get their new digital and physical workspaces right straight away. According to McKinsey25, finding the right balance will require flexibility on the part of both employer and employees, and a willingness to experiment together to find the right solutions.
‘People must collectively adopt a test-and-learn mindset,’ they say. ‘Organisations can try out different working models and norms, physical-space layouts, and tools to create a future that balances individual productivity with innovation-driving creativity, personal flexibility with team collaboration, and the office with the home.’
Get more insights in our new paper
At Virgin Media O2 Business, we work with businesses of all sizes to build digital and physical workspaces that employees love and which are optimised for dynamic work. To learn more, get the white paper: The human connection: How empowering your people drives customer loyalty.