Creating a Brighter Future - Physical Spaces that Promote an Inclusive Work Environment
In our last article, we looked at the concerns organisations are facing as they reopen their office doors this year Opening Your Office Doors: 4 Steps to Welcoming Back Employees. This piece explored the need to ensure organisations consider Communication, Safety, Flexibility and Productivity.
While the steps we looked at in this article will move your business forward, taking action to follow these principles will look different for every organisation. So how do you develop a plan for this, a scenario you’ve never encountered before?
It seems clear now, our ways of working have changed for good; in fact this report from Steelcase outlines individuals’ expectations regarding workplaces going forward and confirms it. It’s not only employees who are saying they now want more options, business leaders are also expecting to allow this flexibility about where, when and how people work.
Again, how can your business develop a strategy for this changing future?
As offices shift from a permanent to occasional workspace, how will you ensure you provide for all your workers needs?
Your Physical Workspace - the Three Pillars
You’ll need to consider:
Not only do you need to consider short-term adaptability as health and safety considerations flex and change, workspaces will need to allow for on-the-go flexibility as those who use the space make their own demands of it. Whether it’s movable partitions to provide privacy and focus in an otherwise open space, or accessible tables and screens allowing a solo work area to become a collaboration zone, the option to rethink spaces creatively will be necessary for a workforce with varied demands.
The space in our buildings is likely to become more flexible, but maintaining an understanding of how it is used will be essential. Not only in terms of ensuring workers have the tools they need to perform, but - more immediately - where population density and traffic are factors in providing individuals a safe and healthy environment.
Yes, employee expectations have changed, as well as companies’ understanding of what is possible from those who are working remotely. However, any development of an organisational workspace will obviously need to take account of wider company goals and the costs of development.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
To achieve this balance, you’ll first need to ensure you have a good understanding of your people.
Let’s be clear, we’re not considering roles, or teams in the organisation - and certainly not the tasks they’re performing - this is all about people. While social aspects, productivity and the performance of tasks will be relevant to our analysis, the first step is to think about WHO is using the space, rather than HOW they are using it - and we’ll find out more about this in later articles.
Asking the questions
Going back to the steps in our previous article, we’re going to start with communication.
This is an opportunity for employees to be part of the decision making process through a survey. It's important to explore the risks and rewards for individuals by asking the right questions.
What are people’s feelings about safety and risks in the workspace? Are there steps needed to bring reassurance?
What is motivating them to pull them back into the office?
Investigate their hopes for flexibility in working practices.
And, how much support are individuals looking for? This might include ongoing communication around health and safety considerations, consideration of benefits, and diversity and inclusion opportunities.
Also, consider how employees respond to these surveys, it’s important to give individuals the opportunity to say what they need to say - have open communication with those who need it, either in person or virtually.
An understanding of how staff will want to use your space, puts you in a better position when designing workspaces that are effective and efficient.
The data you capture from a survey will give some sense of WHO is likely to be in the space, as well as WHEN and HOW they plan to use it.
Taking this information to create a modular office design will provide the opportunity to use - and re-use - various components to create spaces which are adaptable e.g. individual tables which can be combined for collaborative working, movable partitions, seating and even acoustic products which enable multi functional use.
It may be that apps are introduced to plan the use of these components or areas, or data gathered may determine how facilities are designed - we’ll talk about some of these options in later posts.
Review and refine
It is essential to monitor the use of these spaces and provisions, gain feedback from users and study the data. The benefit of this flexible solution is the capacity for it to change, so ensure you’re asking the right questions, getting the best out of your space and your people.
There are tools available to support this investigation and we’ll talk about how these can be used in later articles; whether it’s sensors or apps, ensure you use the information you have.
Take it further
Having developed a strategy which works in one area, explore the possibilities of such changes elsewhere in your business.
This doesn’t mean ordering the same components and installing them across every floor; instead, follow the process through in different areas - asking the questions, designing solutions and reviewing their success.
Understanding the needs of your business can seem complex and unclear. We’ve been asking organisations these questions for years - getting to the heart of business needs and employee desires to provide solutions which work across the board.
About the Author
I'm Terry Chana. I am an innovation strategist that connects customer, employee and brand experiences. My passion lies in building ecosystems to solve business problems by combining creativity and technology.