As part of the Salus Healthy Cities Design Conference 2020, CBRE and Heta Architects partnered to design and facilitate a virtual workshop to explore, post-Covid, what a healthy hybrid ecosystem of work looks like, including and beyond the office.
- Category: Interior Design / Design Advisory / Wellness
- Collaborators: Namrata Krishna, Yvonne Pinniger & Muriel Altunaga
- Date of Conference: 1st of December 2020
We ‘set’ the workshop in two years’ time, where widespread vaccination has enabled us to adapt to a new normal, building on the valuable lessons we learned during the pandemic.
We invited a group of experts across disciplines - including health, architecture, design, and planning - to participate, sharing their knowledge and experience while also diving into what an ideal working ‘day in the life’ looks like for two very different personas in extreme scenarios, working 100% from home and 100% from work. Through discussion around the key challenges and enablers around each scenario, we were able to understand what is really needed in the hybrid, which everyone agreed is the ideal. We also decided to harness the benefits of a virtual workshop to allow for extended audience participation, using digital tools like Miro, a brainstorming platform, and Mentimeter, an interactive survey and presentation software.
The key aims of the workshop were to tap into the diverse expertise in the room, share a multi-faceted, human-centred and interactive approach to the world of work, and use human-centred design tools to understand what makes this ideal ecosystem possible.
Setting the scene beyond the pandemic
We began the workshop by setting the scene and sharing what we as design strategists see as the important shifts in what knowledge workers need from work, the spaces we work in, and who we work for, drawing on current research as well as our expertise in workplace. In lockdown, where a much greater population was forced to work remotely, collectively, practically overnight, changes that were already happening and had been on our radar for a while were accelerated. CBRE’s studies into flexible working showed that people want a balance of being able to work remotely but also come into the office - an office that may have to be designed differently to accommodate hybrid working and digital nomads, as well as a workforce that is looking for a strong brand presence and connection to an organisation. The shared move to home working was also a mass behaviour change experiment, forcing people to try doing things in new ways, be nimbler and re-evaluate what really matters to them, namely choice and flexibility, personal relationships and empathetic leaders with high emotional intelligence. These changes in turn have ultimately impacted the world we want to build around us; we are living and learning in new patterns and creating new rituals based on our individual needs, meaning that our working communities must consider not just the physical, but the full 360° experience.
Inhabiting personas for deeper understanding
Moving onto the workshop activities, we became acquainted with two personas, Adele and Lee, to explore their different experiences of working exclusively at home and exclusively in the office. These personas are characters we created to better understand the aims, needs, desires and experiences of different user types, allowing participants to ‘walk in their shoes’. Adele and Lee have very different demographics, lifestyles and workstyles, but both are full-time knowledge workers in large organisations. We decided to focus on knowledge workers to create some structure and specificity, but equally because they are the fastest-growing sector of the workforce globally and tend to be the trend setters for other sectors.
Adele is 54 and lives with her partner, two teenage daughters and their two dogs just outside of London. She is a leader at home, at work and in her local community, and prioritises health and well-being for herself and her family. She has a lot of autonomy when it comes to planning how and with whom she works and does a range of tasks across a workday.
Lee is a 23-year-old recent graduate who moved to London for his first full-time role. He lives with several flatmates and has a few family friends, but most of his social circle was formed through work. As a junior, Lee is mostly working with others, continually learning and needing guidance and mentoring throughout his day.
A confluence of needs across personas
Key themes emerged around the ideal environment and behaviours that would support both Adele and Lee, and ultimately, everyone who sits in between them, to work at their best, and these are what we feel need to be the main considerations around creating a healthy, hybrid ecosystem.
Combining our findings told us that there’s more to consider when working at home. This is likely to be because: 1. The office is designed for work (fit for purpose) and so has already captured many user work needs, and/or 2. Due to the naturally higher degree of autonomy and flexibility of working from home, along with the differences in people’s home environments, the experience is far more multi-faceted and open-ended. Additionally, needs and wants related to ‘Culture’ are as important at home as in the office, featuring highly in both scenarios.
The most surprising insights around employee needs
There are, of course, a whole host of factors that contribute to creating an ideal work environment, but these are some of the insights that participants raised in their consideration of what their personas would most value throughout a working day:
PEACE AND QUIET
The need for a separate environment or workspace played a higher role at home, beyond just creating boundaries between personal and professional. Preventing noise and distractions throughout the day was felt to be a necessity, whether undertaking focused work or participating in a group call or collaboration. The fear of being interrupted or disturbed became in itself a distraction from work, requiring more preparation and negotiating one’s environment with fellow habitants.
CONVENIENCE AND PROXIMITY
Convenience and proximity to amenities such as specialist workspaces, outdoor environments, food prep/eating facilities, exercise or class facilities, and life admin resources (such as deliveries, dry cleaning, etc.) are important on a daily basis. For many high-performing workplaces, these amenities are often available within easy walking distance in urban environments, or consciously built into the planning of all-encompassing campuses. Business districts are designed around worker needs, but when working solely from home, people found they were missing some of the really valuable services they could access during brief breaks in the workday (like healthy ‘fast food’, green space, or gyms). In a residential scenario, we may now need further investment in a variety of amenities to also support the demands of people working remotely, to better match what people get in and around their offices.
“[The challenge is] how we create a flexible hybrid system that works across all skills, areas, demographics. Planning and developing need to accommodate everything we need across work and living.
We’re not very good at slowing down and things move too fast when enabled by technology. [There’s] no down time or time to think - we lose quite a lot of innovation and become far too procedural.
We have to get leadership to understand the shift to the ‘new normal’ and envisaging what employees need.
ACCESS AND CONTROL
Despite our growing dependence on technology to support work in and outside of the office, there was a surprisingly low reference to technology needs overall; this could be in part because of the ubiquity and assumption of knowledge workers having good technology and connectivity to work well. However, it’s interesting to note that many of the comments around technology were referencing a need for it to ‘stop’ - whether to stop notifications and calls during focused periods, or to reduce screen time, the desire to put a halt on our reliance on technology as the only means of communication and ‘always be on’ has increased during the pandemic.
Given the experimentation and challenges around scheduling work time during the pandemic, continuing to have flexibility and control over managing time has, in many cases, become critical. Flexibility around start times at home to factor in negotiating quiet/private workspace or to skip rush hour to improve the commute to and from the office, allowing for longer lunch breaks to make the most of face-to-face hours with colleagues or preparation and social time at home, and adjusting work hours to make the most of daylight for outdoor activities and exercise all rated highly.
As previously mentioned, workplace culture was one of the key areas that came up repeatedly in both scenarios. At home, this tended to be more about leadership, training and support, and in the office, it was more about autonomy, identity and belonging. This is likely because these are the areas that people feel are more lacking in the opposite scenario - for example, when working from home most people automatically have more autonomy because they are less visible, but they could feel more isolated and disconnected from their colleagues. This is another critical argument in support of hybrid working - both environments nurture us in different ways, and we will continue to need both of them.
Rapid fire recommendations from our expert participants
To wrap up the workshop, we asked our group of expert participants to highlight, in 120 seconds or less, what they felt the primary enablers to creating this ideal ecosystem were, with the following factors emerging as most important to consider (on the right):
Making the hybrid possible, and tangible
The technology, processes and tools, and the level of independence of knowledge workers allows employees to work in the combination that best suits their work/life set-up and needs, from working in the office every day to working full-time from home.
A hybrid approach allows employees to have the best of both worlds. For many, working from home enables work-life flexibility, the comforts of home, hours of focused concentration and reduced commuting time. On the other hand, the office facilitates face-to-face interaction and spontaneous encounters, increasing collaboration and creativity. Office presence also enhances team integration, increases the employee brand experience and the sense of belonging to the team, organisation and wider purpose.
What is clear from our collective experience this last year, and the workshop itself, is that the hybrid approach demands consideration; it affects individual and team behaviours, commands new rituals and tools, requires robust and supportive technology and new requirements from work and home environments. The new arrangement calls for a strong commitment, good infrastructure and planning, and an integrated approach across the full ecosystem of work to be sustainable.
Working from home requires a new culture with new routines agreed and set by team leaders and members that respects individual and collective boundaries and arrangements. An increased emphasis on knowing where, when and how to work individually and collaboratively will require strategies that are personalised for each person, his or her location, resources and organisation. This means developing greater levels of emotional intelligence and awareness, and acquiring new abilities such as self-reflection, paying more attention to our own wellbeing needs, and knowing, communicating and building in requirements whether at home, in the office, or somewhere in-between.
Employers seeking to empower their people through hybrid working need to consider the employee experience across the full ecosystem of work and how this can facilitate individual as well as team objectives and needs. The paradigm of remote working - ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ - demands that roles across an organisation consider team priorities before organizing individual agendas, while still having personal choice. There will also be a need to develop a hybrid working culture that’s specific to each organisation, and that includes access to and training in suitable tools, resources, amenities and behaviours to support remote work. Office design will continue to require a deep understanding of users’ needs and digital integration, as well as the ability to allocate space based on varying requirements.
Our homes, neighbourhoods and cities need to evolve. Working more frequently from home places different demands on the spaces we live in, including more emphasis on ergonomics and comfort. Remote working will have an impact on surrounding amenities and third places, such as green spaces and co-working hubs. Opportunities for local businesses and other spaces to accommodate the dispersed workforce within current business districts and typically residential areas could change the city centre’s strong 9 to 5 weekday mood, resulting in a new arrangement that will shift the urban dynamic.