What do you think offices should be used for in this new world?

Leadership Memo 2022-1

Happy New Year! Do you envision what the next twelve months would look like? Are you lamenting that the pandemic is still going on? Are you dreaming of getting people back to the office?

Let’s pick up where we left off from my last post titled “Do you not know that not all hybrid approaches are created equal”. Before instituting a back-to-the-office plan, we need to ask a different question: What is the purpose of an office? What can and should we use offices for in the future to develop the organization?

In my earlier post titled Watch out for inequality and bias to remote workers in the hybrid office, I suggested centering office time on less frequent, more intentional, more impactful gatherings. Why? Because offices are no longer places for routine work, so do not assign seats for employees in the offices. It makes no sense for workers to come together only to have them sit in a cubicle in front of their computers. They could have just as easily done that remotely. Nor is it helpful to sit together to watch presentations or to listen to speeches, no matter how inspiring.

Offices should be places for strengthening relationships. To achieve that, we need to be intentional to design what happens when people go into the office. It is similar to how one might organize a retreat – a lot of hard work with a good amount of socializing built in:

  1. Before the “retreat”, the team needs to look at what work they have that would benefit from working together in person. Then they need to think through what activities will facilitate both collaborative work and rebuilding relationships. They will need to prepare ahead of time what needs to be discussed. Sometimes, it is helpful for those discussions to alternate between small and large groups. 
  2. Part of socializing includes leaving ample time for individuals to catch up, letting the team eat together and have time for the team to celebrate accomplishments and express appreciation for each other’s efforts.

We also need to be intentional about the office workspace design:

  1. Replace individual offices and cubicles with informal spaces where small groups can think together and larger spaces where a whole team can circle their chairs to work together. 
  2. Use soft, comfortable furniture because we tend to have a different conversation than when we are sitting at fixed tables with office chairs.
  3. Use rolling whiteboards and moveable furniture. That allows the team to change the workspace design dynamically based on their needs. We can even use rolling whiteboards as room dividers!
  4. Make sure that food and drink are readily available in the redesigned spaces. That way, the office can truly be where serious and playful activities occur.

I would like to remind us that this is going to be a time of experimentation. So, don’t design solutions at the top and roll them out to the rest of the organization. Start small before going big. Work with your teams, propose a hypothesis and a solution and try it out. If it doesn’t work, propose another hypothesis / solution and try again.

Did you redesign your office workspaces? Or are you thinking of how to do it? What are some of the challenges that you face? I’d love to hear your experiences, so jot me a note below and let me know.

Latest happenings:

1. You are cordially invited to a New Year Mixer out of the zoom world, where we get to mingle in a very fun environment. Using Liberating Structures, we’ll have fun and laughters while socially distanced. We are combining the best of in person experience with online advantages. Curious how it can be done? Come join us and find out! We are hosting this party twice, one with more EMEA friendly time in mid January, and the other is more APAC friendly in mid February. So, please choose the time that suits you best. Register here.

2. I’m so excited to let you know that the founder of Business Agility Institute, Evan Leybourn, will be coming to SFBABAM (San Francisco Bay Area Business Agility Meetup) to help kick off 2022. He will be sharing with us his personal business agility journey. Starting with how his arrogance made him a bad manager to the a-ha moment when he realized that agility could be anywhere – as long as he knew where the constraint was. It’s on January 10, 5:30pm Pacific time (11 January, 7am IST, 9:30am SGT, 12:30pm AEDT, 2:30pm NZDT). You don’t want to miss it. RSVP here.

3. “Our Agile Tales” podcast, episode 7 of Agile @ Tesla is out! We continue our discussion with Joe Justice, chatting about Elon Musk’s desire and drive to innovate quickly, resulting in tangible organizational agility at Tesla. We’re covering everything about agility. So far, we’ve discussed HR (episodes 1-2), Finance (episodes 3-4), Management (episode 5) and Planning & Measurement (episode 6). This time we’re focusing on product development. Take a listen and let me know what you think.

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