You’re sitting at your desk. It’s likely the same one you’ve had since you started, or at least since that last big restructure a few years ago. You have your work-supplied computer on the desk and - laptop or desktop - that’s pretty much where it’s been since IT installed it there. There are meeting rooms nearby you can use as well as a sizeable boardroom. Whilst you generally like the people around you, quite frankly, sometimes you just need some quiet time to focus and get your work done.
As a workforce, we have moved past the mainframe to the PC, then the laptop, onto the mobile, and now the wearable…yet the office scenario above could feasibly be pulled straight from the 1950s!
Not only do we, as people, work differently today we also know a lot more about physiology and psychology. So why aren’t we applying this valuable knowledge to our working environment?
This article explores some factors to consider when looking to modernise your workplace
Simply put, ‘activity based’ working means you change desks to suit your activities for the day, rather than where you sat yesterday. There are plenty of articles out there espousing the positives and negatives of this kind of change, so I won’t go into these here. The rest of this post assumes you already understand at least the basics of that.
This is one move we’ve seen several of our customers already make, and one that a significant number of others are thinking about implementing. First-hand, this can be a great positive, but without careful planning it can also come with some serious drawbacks. One such example is that it can cause people to become more distracted and stressed at the beginning of the day as they feel pressured into getting in earlier than everyone else in the race to secure their desk of choice! It can also increase office noise levels as everyone naturally moves from their spot to go to talk to people elsewhere rather than the people next to them. Of course, it can also be harder to find people, and at worst, even breed animosity towards anyone who does manage to get a dedicated desk for whatever reason.
This isn’t to say that ABW can’t work or is an inherently bad idea. It simply means there are several other things you need to consider before kicking everyone off their desk and hoping for the best.
Is there actually any reason why everyone needs to be sitting at their desk to do their work? Could people do their job just as easily from the coffee shop down the road, or from home? What tools can you give people to help them work from these different locations?
The cost of 4G broadband ‘Hotspots’ is dropping rapidly, home internet is nearly ubiquitous, and the quality of public WiFi is increasing. Consider picking up a portable 4G hotspot and moving informal meetings to a local coffee shop. A round of coffees is cheaper than the office space you use 1% of the time, and if you already have the space, this allows you to use it for different purposes. Bribing your employees with coffee almost always works out for the best. The downside? There’s the obvious lack of ‘ownership’ of the space and if you’re hosting customers or clients, for example, it’s not always appropriate. For this reason, whilst it might be a good move for ‘overflow’ meeting requirements, this move shouldn’t replace every one of your meeting workspaces.
Help your employees set their home offices up so they work effectively. Whether this is through a modest technology fund, supplying a camera and headset to enable video conferencing to ensure work laptops work off-network as well as they do on, help your employees work where it makes the most sense for them. These changes can take some fundamental network and application stack changes, but there are plenty of technologies (like VPN and application or desktop virtualization) that can help move you in this direction.
Different people different workloads, different moods
Segmenting your office can help ensure most people are comfortable most of the time. Ensure there are sufficient quiet work spaces in your office so that anyone who wants that, either temporarily or permanently, can use this space. On the flipside, ensure there are also group workspace desks that are fully capable of hosting a handful of people for weeks or months if necessary. Ensure there are remote work stations set up in the office for people working with remote people – which might be as short as one meeting, or long as a multi-year project, but will almost certainly involve ‘Private Loud Work’ (Below) at some point.
Ensure that when you do create these various workspaces, that they also have scope for people needing them over longer timeframes. Sometimes a group of people need to work together for a few weeks or months, and they should be able to organise that without ‘breaking the rules’. Some people just need a desk to call their own, so they can have stability in their work environment. Catering for all these different personas is hard, but it comes down to understanding your employees.
Private loud work
Often, people assume if you need privacy you need silence, and if you aren’t going to be silent then you can be grouped with everyone else who wants louder conversation. This is not the case for individual video or telephonic meetings and presentations, however, it can be the case for longer-period remote-access workspaces.
Private spaces that people can work, have conversations, watch videos and listen to audio, or work on multimedia projects without the sound of the office around them will become valuable to those people in your office that regularly do this kind of work. Areas that people can temporarily be private and loud can also be beneficial. Often referred to as ‘Phone Boxes’, these are small areas that people who need to make important or private phone calls can visit for short periods without disturbing the rest of the office. Ensure these spaces have speakers and displays available to help facilitate presenting or attending larger meetings. Using clever sound-blocking technology, you can create a number of these spaces, and ensure they all feel like they are part of one big office. The last thing most people want is to remove the openness and transparency the open-plan office has given us.
Personal hardware responsibility
As the power of tablet PC’s grows and laptops continue to diminish, the need for individuals to have a personal desktop PC is dwindling. Technical competency is at an all-time high, with most people already managing their own tablets, phones, and personal laptops to their own needs. This can be extended to the workspace. With a sufficiently modern working environment, the requirement to have an army of ‘SOE’ Desktops or even laptops is reducing. Most of the benefits you would gain are lost in support costs anyway.
Consider technology to be like clothing – if you have a uniform, it’s likely you’ll need dedicated hardware for people to use. However, if you don’t, what is there to gain by specifying and managing the hardware that your employees use, other than keeping your IT department busy? Ensure your office set up is conducive to mobile working. Provide generic docking stations on desks, with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and chair able to be used if desired or stashed away if not. Have at least two power points and one USB point at each desk. Make sure the same interfaces are available everywhere, and that people know that they are responsible for acquiring whatever hardware they require to get their job done, whether that’s a laptop, phone or camera.
Meetings are a fact of life, whether they happen in-person or virtually. However, that doesn’t mean that the nature of meetings is at it was 50 years ago. Meetings might have one or two presenters or they might be a workshop. Attendees might be all local, or there might be no more than a single person from any one location teleconferencing in.
As a rule, meeting rooms should have plenty of (hidden) power points for people to plug in to for long meetings and should have wireless displays available for presenting and teleconferencing. If one group wants to call another, have them use mobile phones and provide speakers and microphones to ensure a high-fidelity experience (the day of the fixed-line ‘spaceship’ telecon device is over). If several people are dialling in, use internet-based group meeting spaces that everyone can dial in to or out of with their own PCs and ensure there are ways to connect those to the meeting room media.
For a small meeting room, one speaker and one microphone might be enough, but there is some fantastic telephony technology around that supports multi-microphone and multi-speaker setups that make remote meetings a breeze. Multi-display setups, digital whiteboards, and layouts that support both the ‘Presenter and Audience’ and ‘Collaborative Workspace’ are important to ensure all the different purposes of your meeting spaces can be achieved. Avoid creating too many copies of the same room. Instead, try to make every room just slightly different, but provide a way to accurately communicate what is available, outlining the positives and negatives of each to those looking for book them. Consistency in technology and setup are far more important than consistency in room layout and design.
You don’t need all your space all the time. Like the concept of ‘Cloud Computing’ (where you should only ever pay for the resources you need right now – but that’s a discussion for another blog post), if you’re not using a space, why are you paying for it? This is most obviously relevant for small business and start-ups but can also apply to larger government departments or service organisations.
There are several ‘Shared Workspace’ environments around, where you can hire a meeting room for a short period of time, or a desk for a few weeks to a few months, or even a large prestigious hall for a major presentation. The biggest hurdle here is ensuring there is a transparent way that people can identify and book these meeting workspaces as necessary, without absorbing too much cost. Look around your city to try to find workspaces that take a more modern perspective on workspaces – a good landlord will want the best outcome for tenants, so don’t be afraid to ask for more. What’s the worst that can happen?
Just as people’s working styles differ, the workplace shouldn’t be ‘one size fits all’. Provide a space that flexes as required. Make lots of incremental changes and provide options. Some people need a quiet place, some people need a place where they can make noise, some people need a place they can make noise but not hear anyone else. Take advantage of the fact that everyone is competently carrying a computer 1000 times more capable than any desktop of the 90s in their pocket and most of them have no issue managing it day to day. Empower people to work how they want, in an environment that suits them that day, but don’t forget that your staff are all individual and have their own wants and needs.
Finally, don’t forget that your staff are people, and quite often good morale tomorrow means more than working at peak efficiency today. Don’t make decisions purely based on efficiency, or you’ll have the world’s most efficient empty office.