Organisations across the globe are moving to a model of “activity-based working”, which takes the old idea of “hot-desking” and extends it. In a nutshell, it’s about eliminating traditional desks, cubicles and offices, and allowing staff to work however suits them.
This promises to deliver a more productive and collaborative environment, but equally, it promises to deliver cost savings and flexibility for organisations.
Some organisations are making this change strategically, some aren’t. But in all cases, the move to a new physical working environment needs to be matched by key changes in the online tools provided to staff. Without this, the danger is that staff will be “lost” within big buildings, unanchored by a fixed working space, and disconnected from their workmates.
At a minimum, the following online tools must be put in place to make activity based working successful:
- Great staff directory. Allowing staff to be discovered and contacted, not just by name, but also by role, responsibility, etc. Plus staff photos, to help spot people when walking the floor!
- Expertise directory. Surfacing skills and experience, and allowing staff to create flexible teams to address business needs.
- Video conferencing, screen-sharing and instant messaging. When staff aren’t physically located together, they must be able to interact in rich and convenient ways.
- Presence awareness. Integrated with IP telephony, this allows staff to flag their availability for chatting, and to mark when they don’t want to be interrupted.
- Location awareness. If I want to chat to someone face-to-face, where can I find them? Leading intranets allow staff to (virtually) announce where they’re sitting, on a up-to-date floor plan.
- Ubiquitous wireless. No point be able to work anywhere, if you can’t get on the network.
- Mobile access. When meetings and discussions become informal gatherings in flexible spaces, it’s vital to be able to get information, book meetings, etc on whatever device is in hand. This includes both tablets and phones.
- Remote access. More than just clunky VPN access, staff must be productive whether they’re working from home, in a cafe, or on the bus.
- Rich social and collaborative tools. With communities no longer being formed by physical proximity, online interaction becomes paramount, not just to work but to build a sense of community.
- Alignment between physical and virtual spaces. It must be possible seamlessly work across a tablet, laptop, electronic whiteboard, data projector or in-wall display.
- Rich intranet. Providing the glue that binds together the organisation, delivering real-time communication, giving visibility to collaboration, and allowing staff to be effective in completing day-to-day tasks in the flexible working environment.
All of this can be wrapped up in the concept of the “digital workplace” (see A week in the digital workplace). Regardless of what it’s called, big changes in how we build and staff offices must herald new ways of connecting staff together in the online space.