December 21, 2020 - IE School of Architecture & Design - A post-corona proposal for co-creation in hybrid workspaces
e-flux Architecture
December 21, 2020
December 21, 2020

IE School of Architecture & Design

Image: Maddastic.

A post-corona proposal for co-creation in hybrid workspaces
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The current crisis has had the positive side-effect that our changing attitudes towards sustainability, mindfulness and digitalisation have brought us lasting, positive change in the way we collaborate and co-create. 

Andreas Erbe, faculty member in the Master in Strategic Design of Space program at IE university and author of this article, has had countless conversations with clients and has done recent research, and results suggest that as knowledge workers we will be neither going completely digital nor returning to mostly working together in person. The assumption is that a hybrid kind of collaboration will be the new normal with teams collaborating across locations, while simultaneously interacting with remote workers in third places or on the move.

Does this mean the days of the office as we know it are over? Not entirely. An organisation still needs places to meet, like a village needs a square. People are social beings and need to not only belong to a community but actually be with other humans from time to time. The place to do this will still be the office building. The nature of our interaction when we are in these buildings, however, is going to change. transformation. 

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 co-creation in hybrid workspaces across cultures and locations.

Drive change through strategic interior design!

Seize it with the Master in Strategic Design of Space

IE School of Architecture & Design
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