Tomorrow’s Workspaces: It’s Time for a New Rhythm | Part II - Eight Inc.

Tomorrow’s Workspaces: It’s Time for a New Rhythm | Part II

By Steve Lidbury May 17, 2020

Following on from Part I, we continue our perspective on how organizations might re-think the meaning of the workplace and the role of physical office space. Here we present a new model—the Rhythmic Workplace—that organizations could adopt to fuel culture, strengthen team spirit, boost morale, and ultimately drive business performance. And we highlight the benefits this could trigger throughout society.

What is the Rhythmic Workplace?

The new model we propose takes into account the varied working styles and personalities found in most organizations. It interprets ‘workspace’ not as a physical entity but as a curation of mental-modes for different work tasks; a connected ecosystem of physical realms and virtual touch points for human interaction. By ‘rhythmic’, we mean its capacity to flex according to personal and professional preferences and needs. The model is a composition of four ‘spaces’: TEAMspace (traditionally known as the office), MEspace (the home), OPENspace (anywhere in-between, such as cafes, co-works, commutes, lobbies, parks), and VIRTUALspace (the holistic connector to each).

TEAMspace: for lateral doing (50% of time)
The core time from 11-4pm is the group’s physical platform. It’s a space for sharing, expressing, participating, generating ideas, and building team spirit around a collective sense of purpose. In person, human to human. Whether for meetings, working sessions or workshops, reducing daily time spent together will increase the value of that time, in turn encouraging more purposeful decision-making and active, productive collaboration. This is time well spent.

MEspace: for vertical thinking (0-50% of time)
The School of Life recently set out the value of time for deeper focus on more singular tasks—something of a rarity in the always-on hustle of the office. MEspace recognizes that periods of semi-confinement and disassociation from colleagues enables a reconnection with one’s beliefs, supporting greater clarity and depth of thought. This allows the individual to really explore, challenge and evaluate problems or ideas, looking at work from different angles to ultimately gain more insightful perspectives.

OPENspace: for divergent imagining (0-50% of time)
A change of location can positively unbalance our mental status quo and stimulate more dynamic thinking. OPENspace recognizes the value of time spent working in public, observing, absorbing and connecting with the wider world. It permits people to think big, with the freedom to stumble on new ideas. When shared with colleagues this informal setting facilitates a more open, empathetic dialogue, building deeper bonds and supporting professional growth through mentorship.

VIRTUALspace: for inspired interactions
Ever more critical, and with much of the technology already here, VIRTUALspace enables employees to connect digitally with colleagues, partners, clients and suppliers. To achieve a more rhythmic workspace balance, organizations will find a more central role for digital platforms, facilitating smooth and productive interactions, while maintaining team cohesion.

The Rhythmic Workspace model: mental-modes

How will it activate?

How businesses will activate the Rhythmic Workspace depends on a number of factors and variables. From which sector and areas of expertise, to philosophy and culture, or the organizational design and operational structure, to name a few. It’s far from a one-size-fits-all model. We’ve designed the following initial principles to be built on and tailored to organizations’ needs and goals.

TEAMspace:

1) Re-enter: A transition period aligned with lockdown exit strategies. Spaces, postures, furnishings (and systems) to facilitate health and safety guidelines. Staff to be reintegrated on a daily rotational basis, with reduced occupation as appropriate.

2) Re-configure: The office space is reconfigured to fully activate TEAMspace by significantly reducing single desks, instead housing collaboration activities such as meetings, workshops, working sessions, stand-ups, incubations, consultations.

3) Re-purpose: Excess space is repurposed according to business preferences, ambition or cultural values (or all). From co-habitation with partners, or sub-letting to clients, freelancers, suppliers or others, to providing space for staff services and wellbeing activities. The opportunities to generate income or build culture are limited only by the imagination.

4) Re-evaluate: When the time is right—once spatial requirements are established, tested and iterated—moving to a smaller office suited to the new operational needs could be a smart move to drive cost savings.

MEspace:
How commercial savings from sub-letting or footprint reductions are invested back into the business will reflect, but also shape, an organization’s true values. Obvious first investments could be updates to the physical space and technology. But bolder, more progressive leaders will see the value in transforming their culture, by re-investing commercial savings to empower their people:

1) Brilliant basics: If the employees’ home is a key component of the working day, they will need a set-up that enables high productivity. From a physical desk, shelving and storage, to the right hardware, employers can provide the essentials they need to perform at the peak of their abilities.

2) Personal and professional growth: With a balanced working life at the heart of the Rhythmic Workspace, organizations can offer employees wellbeing package options. From group cultural / social programs or professional development focused on the individual, to more adventurous ideas such as short paid sabbaticals, the opportunity is to ensure personal and professional growth is front and centre in decision-making.

3) Shared decision-making: The most radical and ambitious leaders might calculate the risk and ask employees where and how they would like to see commercial savings re-invested. Then commit to it. What might this kind of brave initiative do for team unity, collective spirit and a sense of shared purpose towards decision-making? What might it do for long-term staff loyalty?

VIRTUALspace:

As the lockdown has taken hold and virtual-overdrive engulfed us, travel has naturally receded. The VIRTUALspace is our opportunity to re-balance the long-term trajectory of business air travel, by investing in alternatives and by applying a stricter criteria to determine what travel is ‘necessary’.

1) Alternatives: re-design spaces. This period of lockdown has exposed how many offices are designed without giving primary consideration to virtual participants. We should envisage and re-design office collaboration spaces as ‘live studio-sets’ with spatial layouts, furniture and seating postures optimized for screen-viewing and multi-camera control. By conceptualizing physical spaces through the lens of virtual media (literally), and activities facilitated through smart human-centred technology, we can elevate human interaction for all.

2) Criteria: re-define travel. While there will always be a need for face-to-face interaction, organizations must take this opportunity to overhaul travel. ‘Business travel’ must meet the standard of ‘essential travel’—a simple name-shift, backed by policy to influence decision-making. ‘Essential’ means the most crucial moments for in-person human interaction: perhaps simply when you meet, and when you deliver. All other interactions happen virtually.

The Rhythmic Workspace model: 360º work >< life balance

Why engage the Rhythmic Workspace?

When thinking about transforming workplace culture, we must consider why we are doing it. Firstly, our aim must be to create better outcomes for employees. Secondly, we need to consider how human outcomes can lead us towards better business outcomes. And thirdly let’s ask how the actions we take might drive wider progress for society.

Human outcomes: changing how people feel

1) From overwhelmed to balanced: A more balanced work-life relationship that flexes to personal needs and professional requirements will result in happier, more productive, and more fulfilled employees.

2) From siloed to connected: With shorter bursts of group engagement, human interactions become rarer and more valued. Employees will engage with a greater sense of purpose around shared goals, with activities that build team spirit and enhance belonging.

3) From anxious to buoyant: Off-peak commuting not only reduce travel costs, the thinner crowds also mean a better journey, helping employees arrive with more energy and positivity.

4) From disenfranchised to empowered: Engaging employees at every level, in all aspects of decision-making, on what their new normal might be, ensures everybody is on the journey together and can share in the value generated.

From human outcomes to business outcomes: driving performance

1) Developing an empathy-led culture that focuses human outcomes, enabling a happier and more fulfilled workforce, will stimulate an increase in productivity levels and efficiencies across all parts of a business, in turn driving long-term loyalty among staff.

2) With office space reconfigured for collaboration only, footprint requirements could fall significantly, driving down costs. Moreover, repurposing space for other uses could create new revenue streams.

3) The ‘essential-travel’ policy creates savings in reduced air travel, accommodation and subsistence, while also significantly reducing the time (cost) that many currently spend traveling.

Societal outcomes: making a difference

With reduction in physical office space as a core component of the Rhythmic Workspace model, widespread adoption could see commercial real estate costs fall. This could help support other sectors. With more affordable real estate freed up, we could re-purpose commercial spaces where needed critically. From healthcare and housing, to education and non-profit, the opportunities could be transformational for the built environment.

The other major effect would be the end of rush hour as we know it, easing crowding. Not only will it reduce harmful air pollution, improving the health of city workers, it will also ease the pressure on our strained systems. Spreading the flow of people more evenly throughout the day, reducing congestion hotspots and flattening peak-travel times will bring huge benefits for overall wellbeing and personal health. Furthermore, large-scale uptake of new air travel policies would positively contribute towards meeting our environmental challenge.

With so many systems, methods and assumptions on the table right now, we at 8 feel it imperative that organizations seek more than a return to that which went before. To not do so would be a failure of ambition and responsibility. Among the fallout of this pandemic is the opportunity to create our new normal. We can transform the way we choose to live and work, while driving our economy forward.

The Rhythmic Workplace model is an early expression of how we must now think about the challenges we face. We don’t intend it to be the complete picture, nor a one-size-fits-all solution. But within its framework progressive organizations may find sign-posts for the way ahead. Conversation, exploration, ideation and evaluation must surely follow. We hope the value—for businesses, employees and society—of embarking on this journey is plain to see. Collectively, let’s use the power of design and innovation to unlock our vast human potential.

These are turbulent times for us all. Yet history teaches us that advances will be made, and those who take an optimistic view will reap the rewards. You don’t need to be ready to implement the Rhythmic Workplace in order to start thinking about its implications for your organization’s future. If you would like to explore running a virtual workshop, or discuss the content covered here, we would be happy to hear from you.

Steve Lidbury is Executive Principal at Eight Inc.