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Reinventing the office in a changing world of work

The outdated layout that featured endless rows of desks is now a thing of the past

Alice Vigneron, marketing co-ordinator at Great Place to Work, recognises the need for companies to be flexible, and no more so than after the lockdown when many work environments changed utterly overnight.

“When the pandemic broke out, companies took immediate action by having their employees change to new working methods. This resulted in offices being emptied and left in their pre-pandemic state, no longer meeting today’s requirements when it comes to building connections, collaborating and ensuring continuity with the hybrid environment of employees.

“The new ways of working often isolate employees and new talent from the corporate environment. The more a company becomes virtual, the more employees feel the need to connect and communicate face to face. To retain and engage employees, companies ought to redesign their corporate spaces and transform individual areas into collaborative ones. A place that strengthens bonds, enables formal and informal collaboration and allows for mentoring, learning and training,” says Vigneron.

This commentary is echoed by Rachael O’Shea, head of employee experience with CluneTech. She explains that as the lockdown receded and the company prepared for the return of its people, they needed more than just cleaning crew. Instead, CluneTech transformed its HQ in Kilkenny from a standard office to a hub that fosters collaboration and provides a space where entrepreneurship and technology innovation will thrive.

“The space itself has been completely redesigned and while employees can still book a desk through our hot desk booking system, the outdated layout which featured endless rows of desks is now thankfully a thing of the past. Our new HQ features meeting pods, a state-of-the-art canteen, a ceiling-height LED screen for presentations and a shared space where our employees can get their work done in a much more relaxed environment.

“The space, which we’ll be officially launching this summer, facilitates a hybrid working model and enables teams to communicate with each other, regardless of where in the world they are,” she says.

Other companies just needed a revamp. Paul Deegan, HR director at Fiserv, points out its offices were only four years old and were already designed with a focus on collaboration and teamwork.

‘Writable walls’

Deegan added: “We have capacity for 300 employees and 32 huddle locations. We are tech-enabled across all huddle locations, with writable walls throughout the site. We moved to a hybrid model last year and our office has been very conducive to that shift. We know that having teams on site for some of the week really enhances the business outcomes and teams’ achievements.”

Flexibility is core to approaching the workspace. O’Shea says that what works for one person may not work for another.

“We’ve empowered our people to choose the working model that best suits their needs. This has had an incredibly positive impact on our workforce as we’ve reported an increase in productivity and a decrease in absenteeism across the board,” she says.

For Deegan, regular and empathetic communication is key to bringing back employees successfully – that and in real-life events.

“We are also returning to holding events on site, which has been a big help in bringing people together. Recently we held a ‘Women Choosing Tech’ event, and we are planning networking events and lunch and learn sessions, along with social events.”

Deegan recognises that change has happened, and the workplace may never quite be the same again.

“The days of gathering spontaneously as a group and heading to town for lunch or having an impromptu focus group is almost a thing of the past, as people who come to the office are generally coming on a day when their team is on site and they are in meetings during the day. So we need to plan more carefully to ensure those serendipitous encounters and cross-team collaboration still happen.”

O’Shea is delighted that CluneTech is really embraced flexibility.

“We had just begun a remote working pilot in December 2019, which was very quickly and unexpectedly ramped up as a result of the pandemic. In August 2020, we implemented our first ever Flexible Working Policy which features everything from part-time roles to a more casual dress code. The policy, like many of the initiatives we implement at CluneTech, was built on the back of extensive employee feedback which we gather through the GPTW Trust Index Survey and our quarterly pulse survey.”

Jillian Godsil

Jillian Godsil is a contributor to The Irish Times

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