Over the last two years, workplaces have experienced intense challenges, constant changes, and uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To crown it all, the transition to working from home, or a hybrid arrangement, has forced people to face the difficulties in isolation from their colleagues. This revolutionary shift in habits has led to increased fragmentation of teams and reduced trust and confidence between team members. As Margaret Heffernan said: “The whole premise of organizational life is that together you can do more than you can in isolation – but that only works if people are committed to each other – and that only works if they trust each other and like each other.”
As we enter a new year and start our journey to fulfilling our goals, it is evident that the maintenance of a good culture is necessary to make progress. As Ian Ellison said in our latest webinar, “We have to build on the last 20 months, we cannot reset them. Socio-spatial design puts people, and their needs first – it is about enabling communities.” It is therefore evident how important it is for leaders and managers to find ways to maintain team cohesion and collaboration to ensure that there is a culture-rich environment. This is essential to creating the vibe that’s needed for teams to remain connected, and perform well, even in this ongoing turbulence.
The ring-master theory
We believe that to create a culture in which people feel inspired to collaborate and be creative, there must be a beating heart from which this vibe is radiating from. In our latest webinar we spoke about likening the workplace to a circus: people need something attractive to be drawn to (the circus ring), with different connecting environments around it. These could be collaborative areas in the workspace (smaller tents with various activities), and then the quieter, more private spaces in which people can spend good quality, focussed time (the caravans). The combination of these different spaces will cater to everyone’s needs and replicate the feeling of comfort and security that employees get when working from home. Therefore, creating a ‘circus ring’ in your workspace will bring a buzz and great culture – an attraction which will draw the team back together. As they experience the benefits, it will encourage them to contribute to the culture themselves, thus further increasing its’ force and influence.
How do we attract the staff back to the office?
For some, being in a room full of colleagues every day is but a distant memory. But that doesn’t mean that the office is no longer necessary, it just has meant that employees have had both the chance to work in the privacy and comfort of their own home, and the time to think about what the office means to them. It is therefore essential that the workspace provides the same access to spaces that feel like home for employees to choose the office over it.
A big part of it is going back to basic needs and wants of humans – easy access to refreshments, private toilets, and spaces in which to relax and unwind. As employees return from their own homes to the office, these things are now becoming an expectation from employees.
On the other hand, it is not just providing the basics that will appeal over working from home. It is clear that managers and leaders will have to think differently and creatively to attract staff to spend time together in-person. A day in the office must contain highlights. Something that make it worth coming in. Expanding on our ring-master theory, routine meetings or interactions are ideal opportunities to be turned into mini ‘events’. This could be as simple as providing special refreshments during or afterwards, incorporating team-building activities, or physical prize giving. Maintaining a flow of these mini events throughout the week will attract staff to come in, even if it is part-time, allowing them to maintain the positive connections with others. If staff have a reason to come in, there will be more positive interactions during these planned activities. This will lead to an increase in confidence to exchange ideas, and enhanced outcomes through better collaboration. Employees will then feel the positivity of the day is greater than when at home, giving them another reason to return to the office once again.
Taking this to the next level would be introducing or increasing dedicated social activities that are designed to create strong social bonds. These could be things like providing a special breakfast or lunch one day a week, or Friday Drinks Night. This gives employees time to re-connect with their colleagues on a social basis too, which will make their connection stronger, and thus creating a stronger attraction to come into the office, where they can work more closely together.
As staff start to feel the attraction, and are drawn back to the office, it is critical that the space is adequate to help support, add to, and maintain the cultural interactions that start to take place between people. If the space is not suitable, the possibility of culture being dampened or even hindered, is likely.
Whilst we are promoting the physical getting together of people as a true catalyst for positive culture, we also stress the importance of ensuring that cohesion is maintained between people who do not yet feel comfortable returning to the workplace. It is crucial to ensure that all staff have access to good technology, given opportunities to join in mini events and collaborate remotely, so that they remain connected and part of the team. Maintaining communication with those working remotely is key; leaders and managers need to inquire and be sympathetic with any struggles they may be facing and offer support where possible. All this will warrant remote workers to remain positive and increase the likelihood of their return to the office in the future.
A vibrant workplace culture is the marriage of social cohesion, and the space that enables it to happen. Creating this magnetic culture and creating the supporting workspace doesn’t happen overnight; it will require constructive engagement with staff to explore any potential roadblocks, and creatively devise measure to address them.