Event Summary

What's next for the workplace?

The stunning surroundings of the Corinthian, Glasgow were the venue for a round table discussion hosted by SPACE and Flexibility Works on the workplace and what the future might hold.

Guests from diverse backgrounds such as legal services, the charitable sector, and housing associations contributed to a lively and informative discussion. The session was chaired by Graham Wyllie of SPACE.

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  • Date 10th March 2022
  • Author Chris Carr

Recent Findings

Following a scene-setting introduction by Graham, Lisa Gallagher and Nikki Slowey, co-founders of Flexibility Works, gave some highlights of recent research on flexible and hybrid working. 84% of employees in Scotland have or want flexible working, while the average number of days people see themselves working from home in the future is 2.8 days. The latter figure is certainly one that will resonate with anyone who has carried out or read any of the workplace surveys over the past two years.

As well as this hard data, they referenced key issues such as communications and leadership, culture, and that physical space will have to change to support the above. Phil Muir mentioned that the past two years have definitely impacted our thinking, with a whole range of experiences being taken on board. Some clients are unsure what they want, but some are being quite ambitious.

Pre-Covid, an 8:10 desk-sharing ratio was seen as being a challenge for very traditional workplaces and organisations; now some are seeing 4:10 as within the realms of possibility.

The collaboration-focus dilemma continues to be changing. People like the controllable quiet while working from home and we are seeing workplaces introducing more quiet places to support focused work or to take Teams calls in private. The increasing integration of technology to support hybrid meetings is also the subject of much discussion, with SPACE themselves looking at solutions for their own studios.

Terminology

Flexible working, agile working, hybrid working? Often we get caught up in discussions regarding terminology and using phrases that we think are correct. Language evolves, as Phil said; two years ago we were debating whether ‘blend’ or ‘hybrid’ was the most appropriate wording. Graham tasked the attendees to think of the words and phrases that best described current thinking with their organisations. ‘Hybrid working’ was definitely the common theme around the table.

The issue of productivity while working from home reared its ugly head. Cassandra Auld commented that the home working environment is a major factor in productivity and questioned whether employers needed to assist with helping employees to create a home office where they could be productive and inspired.

Carly Woods stated that Mary’s Meals is now a ‘remote first’ organisation with a global recruitment policy. They are helping employees with home office equipment but also requiring a virtual DSE survey to be carried out, with staff supplying a photo of their home office. Lesley-Anne Junner also mentioned the investment needed to support staff working from home.

Communications to staff was raised as being critical (and often poor within organisations). Cassandra stated it was clear that not all jobs could be done from home but that there needed to be transparency when assessing roles and suitability for hybrid working. If staff want to WFH and the organisation has a different view, staff must be empowered to come up with solutions that will not impact their productivity. Phil commented that previously the more flexible workers were those who left the office, visited sites, were the creative thinkers, while admin functions were more static and were office-based. This has now flipped, with remote access to data allowing formerly static staff to work from home while those who need to bounce ideas off their colleagues looking to the office to support such collaboration. Joanna Panese agreed with Phil’s comments and stated that the latter ‘creative thinkers’ have definitely suffered during the past two years.

‘Who needs to be in the office and when?’ is a question that SPACE ask of their clients. Cassandra stated that younger staff learn by osmosis and their presence in the office alongside senior colleagues is necessary. She also stated that quick questions over Teams must be seen as being the norm, with the emphasis on ‘quick’ (‘meetings are now too long’). Joanna backed this up by commenting that quick conversations are now formal appointments.

Productivity

How we measure productivity was introduced into the discussion by Graham. Vicki Walker stated that within her team there are measurable outputs and cumulative trends that she can track. Joanna stated that in her organisation outputs were really all that mattered, with how you achieve results being less of a concern. Not everyone works the same way, so diversity of thought and flexibility is important (Scottish Autism walk the walk by having a diverse talent pool).

The word ‘trust’ was mentioned numerous times throughout the event, with Carly commenting that this was vitally important in an outputs-based way of working. Graham Wilson (MCM) stated that in the legal sector, productivity was very black and white, with billable hours being the key data point. He commented that for some engagement had been an issue with some colleagues really struggling with WFH. This placed the onus on organisations to check in on colleagues and to monitor mental health as this will have a negative impact on productivity. Lynne McKenzie echoed this and said that connection needed to be made with those who might be fully remote in the future. Joanna stated that there was still a stigma around mental health, with some still seeing discussing it as being a sign of weakness.

Communication & Training

Lynne stated that with staff returning to the office ‘inductions’ were needed, but the message needs to improve to entice people back. Cassandra stated that ‘free beer and pizza’ on your first day back will not cut it; staff will see through the message. Joanna used the word ‘trauma’ to describe how some staff have responded to the last two years and the return was going to be a challenge, not forgetting those who have only known WFH in their new roles.

Integrating new starts into their teams has not been easy. Vicki stated that the past two years have been challenging for leaders and that if training was needed, they had to be willing to ask for help. Lesley-Anne stated that managerial roles have definitely changed, with more pastoral work being required. Carly stated that it was vital to listen to staff and to understand the range of preferences.

‘Case Study’

Daniel Browne from Ted Baker discussed how they are coping with a move to a new office, with significantly less space but still some old-fashioned ideas of space ownership and space use. Some of the attitudes to returning to the office are quite toxic and the culture of 100% WFH is going to be tough to combat. The physical workplace is a departure from where they were, but the change management aspect is even more critical than the design.

Lesley-Anne mentioned that staff need support and training in order to cope with change while Daniel commented that the message and tone had to be correct in order to achieve changes in behaviour. Lisa stated that alongside investment in space there had to be an investment in people. Flexibility Works have recently worked with line managers in a charitable organisation to support change and was really impressed with the outcomes. Graham Wyllie is working with Ted Baker during this new office project and mentioned that working with Change Champions below leadership level has been very positive.

Parameters

Cassandra stated that boundaries are needed when discussing the new world of work. Targets need to be set with flexibility built in as to how these will be achieved. Joanna stated that young employees often need help working within parameters, but that they were vital for bringing in new ideas – they are the progenitors of change. All staff also need training in how to use spaces when the workplace changes. As Phil stated, strategy is relatively easy, change management is a much longer and more complicated process.

People & Workplace

Vicki commented that in terms of designing workplaces, flexibility is key – test and learn, with Phil commenting that organisations shouldn’t be afraid of getting it wrong. The final comment from Nikki was that pre-Covid wasn’t perfect (far from it) and that organisations should now seize the opportunity to try and get it right.