A post-corona proposal for design principles that foster a culture of cocreation in hybrid workspaces
In a world facing rapid changes and continuous need for communication, we are now facing a new and intriguing, yet innovative hybrid kind of collaboration which will be the new normal with teams collaborating across locations, while simultaneously interacting with remote workers in third places or on the move.
The new hybrid workspaces can be thought of as a combined mental, physical and virtual concept that has to become more meaningful and more adaptable to change and can be purposefully used to drive the (digital) transformation we all currently are in.
The crucial point will be to adapt the new hybrid workspaces to a diverse set of personalities and preferences.
From our work with international knowledge workers, regardless of whether they are clients, students or colleagues, there seem to be five categories of recurring principles emerging, irrespective of the country or organizational culture. For each of the 5 categories we suggest you design any space in line with two simple principles:
1 Preconditions: (i.e. the must-haves)
First, build trust on a team level
It is becoming more important than ever to build trust within a team right from the start. Although technology serves as a great communication method; face to face interactions makes for exceedingly more valuable collaboration and trusted relationships.
Create ergonomic work environments with reliable infrastructure
In a recent conversation at the WE Forum** Bill Gates claimed that as a result of the pandemic, half of all air travel and a third of all office space will go away – for good.
Remote working is becoming vital hence why a poor, uncomfortable and unstable work environment and office space will make it both physically and emotionally very challenging to work productively outside the office. In the near future, employers will be highly benefited by providing employees with the right home office equipment in order to work comfortably anywhere anytime.
2 Purpose (i.e. meaningful guidance)
Give all interactions structure: purpose, aim, roles, agenda, responsibilities, time
Just as you need a purpose for meaningful guidance at an organizational level, you will also need to structure everyday interactions in a way that makes sense. At launchlabs, various agile collaboration formats are used; such as SCRUM to improve teams progress and IDOARRT*** to create a structured and efficient virtual space.
Create a shared understanding of the boundaries between personal and professional space
Creating a meaningful hybrid work environment through a shared purpose will also have to include a shared understanding of how to deal with the boundaries between personal and professional space.
3 People (i.e. the mindset and behaviors)
Ensure everyone is comfortable with the technology in use
To create a productive collaboration space, we need to ensure that everyone is as comfortable as possible with the tools we use. The usability, not just the usefulness, of the digital tools we use is becoming more important than ever. With a diverse workforce, if in doubt over which tool to use, go for simplicity over sophistication.
Be aware of differing individual needs and preferences
A diverse workforce will encompass a wide range of different personalities in different circumstances. To account for such different needs, we recently ran a workshop at launchlabs Basel***** creating a hybrid space with half the client team present and the other half joining on screen – depending on everyone’s personal preference.
4 Place (i.e. the space and location)
Build-in options to retreat and reflect, both online and offline
Whether it’s a digital or a physical space that we are working in; people need to have spaces to retreat, recharge and reflect without distractions.
On the contrary, overly money-minded managers and workspace designers are inclined to remove such areas which contributes to an already stressed and overburdened workforce.
Whenever possible, let people choose how they work
The best way to help your people be productive is to let people work in environments that adapt to them and not the other way round. The CEO of a large Swiss retailer recently made the mistake of publicly reprimanding workers who wrote to him asking for the continued opportunity to do work from home, even after lockdown. Citing solidarity with shop staff and the risk of employees not doing any work at home, he ordered everyone back in.
5 Process (i.e. the nature and flow of interactions)
Make non-verbal feedback as visible as possible
And last but not least concerning the way we interact, it is crucial to make non-verbal, implicit feedback as visible as possible, particularly in a virtual setting. At launchlabs we installed and are currently testing a prototype of a hybrid meeting box that allows for better communication.
Shorten your collaboration sessions and mix your mode and media
Attention spans and energy levels vary quite significantly making it more difficult to concentrate online than in real life. What seems to work is a mix of two things: 1 an overall shortening of hybrid collaborative sessions to a maximum of half a day, 2 switching interaction modes more frequently.
And as a final thought, anyone engaged in knowledge-intensive work nowadays contributes to the design of their work environment. It is therefore up to everyone to not just work in the office but on the office to create the enabling and adaptive organisational context needed in such turbulent times. The design principles and recommendations in this article remain to be tested but can be used as a starting point and guiding principles to foster a culture of cocreation in hybrid workspaces across cultures and locations.
*The specific insights in this article around design principles are based not only on conversations with managers, colleagues and students in ie university’s Master of Strategic Design of Spaces programme but to a large extent on the research of my colleague at launchlabs, Maïla Wyssmüller.
** Bill Gates, December 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/bill-gates-pandemic-covid-coronavirus-work-travel-business-digital/