CIOs Seize An Opportunity To Redesign The Workplace

Changes in the workforce have permitted changes in the workspace
Changes in the workforce have permitted changes in the workspace
Image Credit: Paintzen

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, all of sudden everyone who had been coming into the office started to stay at home. That left a lot of workspace wide open. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity got the people in the CIO position thinking. How could the workplace be made better for everyone in the IT department so that they could share the importance of information technology? In the past few years a lot of organizations have adopted the “open office” organizational approach. However, is there a better way to set things up?

Goodbye To The Open Office?

It was not all that long ago that the open office design of cramming cavernous spaces with as many desks as they could hold might have increased desired serendipitous interactions, but it almost certainly reduced productivity and in the end it helped spread communicable diseases, including coronavirus. The work from home period gave the person with the CIO job a chance to rethink what their offices would look like when employees returned. CIOs understand that this goes beyond making employees feel safer with updated ventilation and enforced social distancing. The changes that they are considering are more about how teams will use these spaces when some remain home, others split their time and still more resume a daily commute and up-close collaboration.

There is a new approach. It’s called the “dynamic workplace,” a pivot away from the open plan, built on the idea that with fewer employees coming to work on any given day, offices can offer them more flexibility of layout and management. While open offices and dynamic workplaces share similar components—privacy booths and huddle rooms to escape the hubbub, cafe-like networking spaces, etc.—they’re philosophically distinct from each other. One is intended to be a place where people come (at least) five days a week, and get most of their work done on site. The other is planned for people rotating in and out of the office, on flexible schedules they have more control over than ever.

Back in the day, the open office tried to improve the office-work status quo; the dynamic workplace has to convince people to even bother showing up. The biggest lures of this new approach are a more varied workspaces for collaboration, and a chance to be away from a distraction-filled home. CIOs believe that it’s fairly clear we’re going to move to this model across every industry, even the more traditional ones. People naturally like to work in different environments throughout the day, depending on what they’re doing.

What CIOs would like to be able to do is to offer employees a variety of spaces in which to work: desks for focus, couches and clustered seating arrangements for collaboration and socialization. Following the pandemic, CIOs are working on an office layout with more space devoted to collaboration and socialization. When workers want to be left alone, they’re apt to stay home, or visit a cafe or co-working space closer to where they live.

Say Hello To The Dynamic Workplace

So what would the perfect dynamic workplace look like? Well there would be open, airy, cafe-like settings for laptop-toting professionals who are feeling social or collaborative, but also circles of tall couches and plants for when people want to isolate themselves in order to do more focused work, and completely enclosed, soundproof phone booths and conference rooms for calls and meetings. However, all is not well for CIOs. By spending to remodel or even rebuild their offices with these new ideas in mind, CIOs are in danger of repeating the mistake they made when they all rushed to the open plan: ignoring the research that says these layouts may have just as many problems as the older ways.

Research that has been done on hot-desking in office spaces, for example -where employees give up a dedicated space in favor of first-come-first-serve seating – finds that it decreases socialization and trust. This happens because employees figure they might never again see the person they sit next to on a given day. In other studies that have been done, employees complain they can’t find their colleagues, that it’s a hassle to find a new spot to work every day, and that such arrangements ignore humans’ innate territoriality and desire to make a space their own.

The good news is that many of these drawbacks can be overcome with what’s called “neighborhood” or “community” flex working. In this model of flexible working, whole teams sit together in one area, though its location, size and boundaries could change from day to day. CIOs need to realize that this is more aligned with what people want; they want to see their colleagues. For things people will still want to stash at work, employees could each get a locker. An additional enticement to come back to the office could be “micro-offices”. These smaller offices could be spread across a geographical area, so that employees who live in one area could go to an office in their own vicinity, and those who live farther down the road would have yet another option. The idea is to eliminate or reduce employees’ commutes, while still providing the amenities of an office setting. It’s all part of a trend toward moving to where the talent is whether that’s across town or in a different state or country altogether.

What All Of This Means For You

I think that we can all agree that the Covid-19 pandemic was a very bad thing. However, one of its slide effects was that it caused everyone to abandon the office and start to work for home for a period of time. This opened the door for CIOs to once again take a look at their office workplace and start to think about how it might be changed to make the IT department more productive when people started to come back.

Before the pandemic hit, the big rage in office organization was to implement what was being called the “open office” design. This design placed workers close together and reduced productivity while boosting the possibility of spreading diseases. There is a now new approach. It’s called the “dynamic workplace”. The difference between this design and the open office is that the dynamic workplace is designed for a workforce that does not come into the office every day. The hope is that by providing a more varied workspaces for collaboration workers will be lured away from their home offices. The goal is to provide spaces that permit collaboration and socialization. However, CIOs have to be careful because dynamic workplaces may have many of the same problems that open offices did. It may end up decreasing socialization and trust. Many of these problems can be avoided by adopting what is called “neighborhood” or “community” flex working. This allows boundaries to change every day.

I think that just like everyone else, CIOs are hoping that there is a way to have some good come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. One possibility is that with our workplaces having been emptied, we have been provided with an opportunity to recast them and make them a more productive workspace. We need to be careful how we go about doing this, but with some careful planning a dynamic workplace might be just the solution that CIOs are looking for.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way for a CIO to get feedback from their department before implementing a dynamic office?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

There is no way that any of us could have seen the Covid-19 pandemic coming our way. This is something that none of us have ever experienced before and in fact the people who taught us how to do our job had never had to deal with anything like this either. Yes, there are things that we could have done that would have allowed us to be better prepared, but there was nothing that we could have done to be completely prepared. This is exactly how one CIO now feels…