Rasa Technologies – Remote-first workplace strategy & design

Redefining the role of the office space while connecting a geographically distributed team
Is it possible to maintain an office space while pushing for a remote-first work culture? Can we have the best of both worlds? And how does this work when half of the workforce is distributed globally? In mid 2020, right after Covid-19 accelerated remote work styles, the artificial intelligence startup Rasa asked us to rethink their office space in Berlin and make it work for their distributed teams. Rlevance created a remote workplace strategy that gives the space a new role, offers concrete spatial solutions that cater to the diverse work modes of employees, and builds a bridge between those present at the office and those working remotely across the globe – ultimately empowering a truly remote-first team.

A human-centered approach to workplace design

Improving the spatial program and creating a remote workspace strategy of an office is only successful when those who use it are involved in the process and their needs and behaviors are deeply understood. This is why our approach was threefold: First, we established a deep understanding of Rasa’s goals, culture, ways of working and meeting routines through qualitative interviews with management and team members. Second, we evaluated our hypotheses and quantified them in a company-wide online study. And third, we further developed our hypotheses into solutions by closely involving the Rasa team through a series of co-creative workshops, before creating final solutions for Rasa in a remote workplace strategy. The Rasa space is currently being remodeled according to this concept.

From insights to role, work modes and zones

During the process and based on our research, we were able to pinpoint two central challenges to our remote workplace strategy: For one, the role of the workspace needed to evolve for good: Why, when and how should the office be used if work can seemingly be done anywhere else? A second challenge was that the space didn’t empower the variety of work modes found in the team.

The starting point of our workplace strategy was changing the role of the space, as it provides the general direction for the office re-design. What was lacking and could not be easily replaced by video conferences were human connections and chance encounters. Thus we evolved the role from a desk-oriented office to a collaboration-oriented hub, with a focus on work-related and social exchange. The new Rasa office would change its meaning for the team to be a place to connect and exchange in a more serendipitous way, leaving most solo work for the home or elsewhere.

The second challenge, the limited possibilities to empower Rasa’s variety of work modes, was closely tied to the focus on traditional office desks. With many work modes mixing and mingling here (talking, reading, writing, calling, etc.) neither focused work, collaborative remote work, nor social encounters could happen in a satisfying way. Our research, together with our proven approach of “work mode vocabulary”, helped us to understand the work modes unique to Rasa and to pinpoint which were needed at what quantity. Diverse work modes occur in all teams, yet the exact make up and proportion of these work modes differ from company to company. We bundled Rasa’s work modes into three clear behavioral zones: The Public Zone, The Quiet Zone and The Social Zone.  For each zone, we provided the Rasa team a “Behavioral Guideline“ to help adapt to the ideal use of the space. Our remote workplace strategy came alive in a schematic floor plan packed with innovative spatial solutions for each work mode.

Rasa remote workplace strategy zones and sollutions

Connecting a distributed team with a remote strategy

A third challenge revolved around the reality of distributed teams: Staying truly connected, human-to-human. With about half of Rasa’s team living in Berlin and benefitting from the office at least from time to time, the distributed team members would not have the same level of opportunity. In order to solve the dilemma of maintaining an office space while pushing for a remote-first work culture for all employees, we applied three principles that work hand-in-hand, connecting remote and office people as much as possible.

 

For one, we wanted collaboration and chance encounters as spontaneous and natural as possible without the direct face-to-face manner of most video calling tools. Free-to-move tablets, tripods and TVs on wheels throughout the space allow for a more indirect “tele presence” of colleagues, having them in “calling” distance during work sessions, creating brainstorming situations, or providing the chance to “bump” into each other and immediately start a conversation in the Social Zone.

 

What limits most remote interactions is poor technology: Sound, image quality, multiple perspectives. Yet often, good equipment is needed on one end only. This is why, as a second principle, we suggested to enhance technical possibilities at the office in a way that all users would benefit. For example, great remote conferencing and workshoping equipment creates an atmosphere that brings the remote experience much closer to real-life.

 

The third principle revolved around culture. Creating true team cohesion is probably the hardest challenge for a remote team. One idea to manifest organizational culture independent of location, was what we called the “Totem Wall”. On this analog-digital wall, everyone has the chance to share personal stories, open for everyone to see in the office as well as virtually. Another idea was the “Golden Hour Clock”: A change of light to a warm orange tone in the office signals that all Rasa team members around the globe are awake and ready to jump on calls. Remote team members receive a smart lamp as part of their home-kit tech stack, bringing the same experience into their homes. A simple solution to tackle a functional, but also very emotional need: feeling connected to your colleagues.

 

 

All in all, we can confidently say that it is possible to maintain an office space while pushing for a remote-first work culture, and to have the best of both worlds. With a human-centered approach to remote workplace strategy we were able to update the workplace experience and made it support business goals better. This was achieved by redefining the role of the office from a desk-first place to a space where people can freely move between zones in order to find the best environment for the task at hand. Additionally, our concept allows for a more natural, human-like “remote feeling”, providing a solution to a challenge many businesses with distributed teams have, whether affected by Covid-19 or not.

 

Are you faced with similar corporate challenges? We would love to hear about them.

Importance of role in Rasa workplace strategy

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