Can nomadic workers truly belong anywhere?

Hot desking, flexible working, activity based working, task orientated workspaces; the list of words we use to describe how we work now keeps growing. But does our love for it? Some organisations operate better with a more dynamic approach to office layout and working styles; others highlight how uncomfortable people are without personal space.

How do organisations maintain a sense of belonging in agile workspaces? We invited a panel of experts to our showroom to discuss this evolving issue.

Belong at work panel

The panel (pictured from left to right) was chaired by Business Journalist Clare Dowdy with contributions from Helen Berresford, Partner Head of ID:SR, Sheppard Robson; Charlie Green, Joint Founder and Co-CEO at The Office Group (TOG), Gary Wingrove, Projects and Construction Director at BT Facilities Services Ltd. and Matthew Partovi, Founder of Culturevist.

As a ‘Culture Activist’, Matthew Partovi began by posing the question, “Can organisations buy culture?” For example, do pool tables and sofas equate to young, cool and collaborative, or at least an aspiration to be so? Investment in office design might attract employees and help build relationships but Matthew believes that true cultural change can only come from behavioural intervention. The practice of narrating work or ‘Working Out Loud’ is a good example of this. When our work is visible we encourage others to contribute which builds networks that provide access to more effective ways of working and new opportunities. To Matthew belonging is all about having a sense of purpose and creating connections; whether that’s embracing team meetings as family reunions or inviting clients and suppliers to work alongside you.

Watch highlights of Matthew’s contribution (2:47)

Gary Wingrove, who is responsible for a property portfolio of over 65 million square feet, talked through BT’s agile working journey. 15 years ago, BT was an early adopter of home working with over 15,000 people leaving their offices and freeing up a substantial amount of space. But now that number has halved and is expected to eventually reach 4,000. Feedback is showing people are happy to be back in offices and they are being more agile within them. Non-desk areas such as cafes are proving the most popular places to work so Gary’s team are making sure these spaces have all that is needed to make them productive work areas.

Watch highlights of Gary’s contribution (3:08)

From a large blue chip company, we moved to the entrepreneurial spirit of Charlie Green who is embracing and leading the concept of co-working. The aim of TOG is to provide their users with maximum flexibility in beautiful spaces with excellent, shared, facilities. These types of spaces are challenging the ‘bland’ office market providing a long-term property solution for small businesses. For Charlie, a sense of belonging comes from community and he has seen a real increase in the desire for sharing space, as well as knowledge and networks. Each of the TOG buildings has a community manager who helps to connect people on a business and social level and they have also developed an app that allows users to see who their fellow co-workers are and what business they are in, to foster further collaboration.

Watch highlights of Charlie’s contribution (3:27)

New ways of working and making nomads feel welcome require different design approaches, proposedHelen Berresford. She advocates a ‘masterplan’ strategy to an interior design scheme, where access to amenities, and opportunities to place-make, are critical. In our increasingly digital world, the need for human contact is becoming more valuable. Creative idea generation is often the result of serendipitous moments so dedicated collaborative areas are vital to team-working and productivity.

Helen left us with the somewhat obvious, but often overlooked, thought that nomads are still human beings. They have stuff; they need to know where to put their coat, charge their phone and where to get coffee. It’s hard to create an agile working environment that works for everyone (we are fickle creatures after all!) but if we can help people feel quickly at home, a sense of belonging is likely to follow.

Watch highlights of Helen’s contribution (3:33)

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