A human-centered approach to workplace design
Only the users decide wether a new workspace concept is successful or not. Hence their needs are to be deeply understood. This is why our approach was threefold: First, we established a deep understanding of Rasa’s business goals, work styles, meeting routines and culture. For this we ran interviews with management and team members. Secondly we validated, enriched, and put numbers to our findings in a company-wide online study. And thirdly, we developed solutions closely with the Rasa team in a series of co-creative workshops. All of this led to unique Rasa solutions supporting their team and their business, fostering well-being and effectiveness at the same time. The space is currently being remodeled according to this concept.
From insights to role, work modes and zones
During the process we were able to pinpoint two central challenges. The first was to find out which reason-for-being the office could have if work can seemingly be done from anywhere else. The second was to best pinpoint the diverse work modes found in the team and find ways to support them.
Our starting point was to redefine the role of the office space, as it provides the main direction for the re-design. In our research we saw clearly that the current form of video interactions didn’t make up for human exchange, especially the stimulating and innovation-driving aspects rising from chance encounters such as by the coffee maker. 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 has a new function and meaning for the team: It is less about focussed solo work, but a place to connect and exchange with your colleagues in a serendipitous way.
The second challenge, to empower Rasa’s variety of work modes, was closely tied to the focus on traditional office desks. With all the many work modes, e.g. talking, reading, writing, calling, etc., carried out at this single place, neither focused work, collaborative (remote) work, nor social encounters could happen in a satisfying way. Diverse work modes occur in all organizations, yet the exact make up and proportion of these work modes differ from company to company. Our research in combination with our own tool “work mode vocabulary” helped us to pinpoint the unique mix of work modes at Rasa and their quantity. In our concept we bundled Rasa’s work modes into three clear zones: The Quiet Zone, The Public Zone, and The Social Zone. For each zone we created a schematic floor plan packed with innovative solutions. Additionally, we provided behavioral guidelines to help adopt the ideal use of each zone.
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-working and office-based-working 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. This has them in “calling” distance during work sessions, enables quick brainstorming situations, or, in the Social Zone, provides the chance to “bump” into each other.
What limits most remote creative group work is poor technology: Sound, image quality, or a fixed perspective. 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 from. For example, great remote conferencing and workshopping equipment creates an atmosphere that brings the remote experience much closer to real-life.
The third principle revolved around culture. Reaching true team cohesion is probably the hardest challenge for a remote team. Our solution included a range of measures along this path, simple solutions to tackle a functional, but also very emotional need: feeling connected to your colleagues. Our solution included a range of measures, for example manifesting personal stories in the real and virtual space, or creating a simple mechanism for both people in the office as well as remote that signals when colleagues across all timezones are available for exchange.
All in all, we can confidently say that it is possible to have the best of both worlds: to maintain an office space while pushing for a remote-first work culture. With a human-centered approach to remote workplace strategy we were able to update the employee 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.