If you like this article, you might like our workshops on developing the hybrid workplace.You can find out more at the end of this piece.

By Amy Gray

According to the New York Times, 2020 saw the office market fall to its lowest point in almost three decades. Previous world economic hubs like London and Manhattan suddenly saw the longest period of quiet in recorded human history, with many office leases left unrenewed indefinitely. Now, as we enter into what research says will be a permanent flux between in-office and remote work— what will the new role of the office be? Will we eventually be left with empty buildings at the centre of every corporate district? Will famously beautiful and interactive spaces like those of Google and King Price be lost forever?

Previous KR speaker and Harvard Business Review (HBR) contributor, Anne-Laure Fayard says “no”, and our recent tour of King Price proves it.

Anne-Laure Fayard, an associate professor of innovation, design, and organisation studies at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, was one of three contributors to a 2021 HBR article entitled, ‘Designing the Hybrid Office’. The article dives into the new function of the office, and interestingly— it’s not necessarily to work.

“Pre-pandemic, most businesses saw the office as a place where individuals could get work done. Post-pandemic, the office will only secondarily be a place to carry out tasks. (Offices) will become primarily a culture space, providing workers with a social anchor, facilitating connections, enabling learning, and fostering unscripted, innovative collaboration.” As McKinsey puts it, “Hybrid work is happening. Your culture will need to catch up—fast.”

With this in mind, the office is set to become key to organisation design and HR planning for the hybrid workspace. Fayard’s research suggests that office space will need to be intentionally crafted towards “human moments”— especially as more and more of knowledge work will be done through remote connection. Recently, KR had the opportunity to do a “culture tour” of the King Price office building in Pretoria, South Africa— where the focus on building a visually collaborative environment is showing great results, even amidst a global pandemic.

According to Marno Boshoff (“Culture Evangelist” and strategic head for King Price Culture) the key is to be intentional about culture. Everything about the brand and brand values are captured visually in the employee space— from gamifying competitive data to collaboration opportunities to visually expressing a culture of care. What was also very interesting, was Boshoff’s openness to subcultures. We’ll be taking a look at these strategies below, as well as whether they are supported by research.

Gamification:

When taking a look at gamification, we won’t be referring to King Price’s ping pong or pool tables. Instead, we’ll be taking a look at how they’ve set up real time, visual “scoreboards” showcasing their team performance— with large screens throughout the office. This may sound like a pressure inducing concept, but the arcade look and feel actually achieves the exact opposite. It makes production and hitting targets feel like a game.

Boshoff attributes the concept to being in a competitive industry and engagement benefits in seeing live company performance updates, but research suggests a myriad of other reasons why gamification is a good idea. A study published by the Pacific Business Review in 2021 showed that,

“[gamification] can make the workforce engaged, efficient and creative in a fun, easy, and accessible way [resulting in] better job performance, increased discretionary effort and higher retention.” According to a 2016 study by Futurm, “gamification, when designed and executed properly, can help employees feel more empowered and in charge of their own careers and success by facilitating goal setting, providing performance feedback, and accelerating e-learning.”

Collaboration Opportunities:

In addition to the carefully crafted work stations, King Price has also designed specific spaces to foster collaboration. According to Fayard, a few other organisations have also applied this strategy with great success. One example of this is the IOC’s Olympic House, who only hosts its employees for short periods of time due to the travel required by their work.

“Although the nature of the work meant that people travelled extensively and often worked remotely, IOC’s leadership believed that a single home base was essential to creating a sense of community that would foster the well-being of employees and stakeholders and, above all, provide human moments for building trust and stimulating creativity…. [the IOC’s Olympic House] design fosters formal and informal encounters, profoundly changing how teams interact. For example, its great central staircase—shaped like the five rings of the Olympic symbol—forces people from different departments to encounter one another on the way to and from their desks and encourages them to stop and talk.”

Culture of Care:

Another way King Price shows their culture visually is through the use of fireball candy. The office has five, huge containers filled with fireballs numbered from 1-10. Each day, employees take a fireball from the canister that represents how happy they feel, with fireballs from canister 10 meaning that they feel happy and satisfied and fireballs from canister 1 meaning that they feel despondent or low. Is this a gimmick? Yes and no.

In 2021, KR published a book called “Improving Mental Health in the Workplace.” The book was a collaboration by experts across many fields, including industrial and clinical psychology, medicine and mindfulness, and was edited by Navlika Ratangee, clinical psychologist and Managing Director of ICAS Southern Africa. The consensus, if not the premise, of the book was this: employee wellness is no longer a side-line issue, but a bottom-line imperative. Reaching out to your employees, having a culture of care, and having authentic check-ins are far more important than having fire-ball candy— but having a visual symbol that empowers the employee voice, is a great start.

In fact, similar tools have been encouraged by international leadership and management experts as part of the Management 3.0 framework, the Happiness Door being a prime example. According to the framework, what makes feedback tools like these so effective, is that “it assumes that people can act as the best gauge of their own happiness levels.” This, in itself, sets the foundation for what kind of culture your organisation will be building.

Subcultures:

Every floor and department at King Price has its own subculture and its own visual feel, and according to Boshoff, this is not a problem. In fact, according to the HR industry leaders interviewed by HR Katha in 2021, it’s inevitable and if managed correctly, beneficial. Manu Wadhwa, CHRO for Sony Pictures likened the situation to the armed forces where every battalion has its own mantra and motto, but all ultimately work together. Military research shows that subcultures and team dynamics often work hand-in-hand and that individual team identities can help build trust, collaboration and engagement.

Final Thoughts

While offices will never be the same, office spaces focused on collaboration and culture like King Price will ultimately, according to Anne-Laure Fayard and her colleagues, be the most successful. However, as Yves Morieux (Snr Partner at Boston Consulting and speaker for HR Directors 2022) recently said, proximity does not build trust. Organisations will have to be very intentional with their office design and development to build an effective Hybrid-Workspace.

 

WORKSHOPS AND CONFERENCES YOU MAY LIKE: 

Strategies for designing the Digital Employee Experience (DEX) Workshop

Engagement for a Hybrid Work Culture Workshop

Workforce Planning for the Hybrid working environment Seminar

Management 3.0

 

RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE: 

Improving Mental Health in the Workplace

 

REFERENCED RESEARCH:

Creswell, J. and Eavis, P., 2022. Manhattan’s Office Buildings Are Empty. But for How Long? (Published 2020). [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/business/economy/new-york-office-space-coronavirus.html> [Accessed 14 February 2022].

Fayard, A. and Weeks, J., 2021. Designing the Hybrid Office. Harvard Business Review,.

Hancock, B. and Schaninger, B., 2022. The elusive inclusive workplace. [online] McKinsey. Available at: <https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-elusive-inclusive-workplace> [Accessed 14 February 2022].

Kashyap, K., 2022. ‘One company, one culture’ is a myth. [online] HR Katha. Available at: <https://www.hrkatha.com/culture/one-company-one-culture-is-a-myth/> [Accessed 14 February 2022].

Roy, R., Das, A. and Konwar, D., 2021. Gamification: Ushering the Way to Workplace Happiness Via Discretionary Effort. Pacific Business Review International, 13(10), pp.123-128.