Collab about more than apps (and potentially less about hot-desks)

Published on the 02/03/2017 | Written by Anthony Caruana

It’s clear office workspaces are changing. The days of the private office are behind us, replaced by open-plan offices where people are placed in corrals that often make us feel more like farm animals than workers…

The 80’s and 90’s had cube farms. The 2000’s and into the 2010’s is arguably making that, like the legendary Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen skit, look like luxury, as the era (or, potentially, error) of hot-desks heralds the end of dedicated workspaces. Instead, people are now allocated an impersonal and somewhat random place to work.

Alison Hirst, from Anglia Ruskin University, said ‘hot-deskers’ are made to feel like the homeless people of the office world. And it can also harm inter-office interactions.

“You will also be sitting regularly alongside relative strangers. It’s not acceptable to introduce yourself, because that would interrupt them. Instead, the normal manner is what sociologist Erving Goffman calls ‘civil inattention’. This is the practice of signalling to others nearby that you are not available for communication with them, despite your close proximity – it’s the kind of manner most people adopt on a crowded commuter train.”

One the challenges facing hot-desk workers is the need to get going quickly at the start of each day. Most of us rely on certain infrastructure being in place when we arrive at our desks. While opening our laptops and connecting to the wireless LAN is easy, there are other challenges, such as phones, that need to know where we are and if you’re available.

On the back of a recent study released by IDC New Zealand, Polycom founder Jeff Rodman said the impact of digital transformation is forcing a rethink of what is required from workspaces. He explained that throughout the world, traditional offices are being replaced with more open, technology-enabled environments – albeit at different speeds.

At the heart of this change is collaboration. While open-plan and hot-desking have been touted as offering collaboration benefits by moving people around and removing the barriers between them, they have not necessarily been realised.

During Polycom’s Innovation Roadshow breakfast in Sydney, Jace Moreno from Microsoft Australia said, “The essence of a digital transformation is a cultural transformation [recently discussed by Westpac’s Karen Dallas]. The single biggest challenge an organisation faces during this transformation is their people. The greatest technology in the world will not be enough if people are not readily armed to embrace it. In the workplace of the future, being ‘at work’ means so much more than visibility in a physical office. Technology is giving all of us location liberation – the ability to make work what we need it to be to get to the result faster.”

The business case around open-plan and hot-desking is often made around the cost savings that come from squeezing more people into increasingly expensive real estate. But those benefits can be eroded unless there’s an associated culture shift and the provision of tools that help businesses establish relationships and effectively collaborate.

Ron McClay, CIO at The Australian Human Right’s Commission said “Putting in place a carefully planned change management program to support our own journey was key. Our workplace culture is evolving in line with our new technology. Faster decision making, enabling people to work and collaborate from anywhere and at any time has facilitated greater productivity and these are just some of the benefits we are seeing.”

The challenge of creating great workspaces is significant. Often, IT is dragged into the process where supporting infrastructure is critical. But IT practitioners often end up being roped into deploying collaboration systems such as IM platforms, point-to-point video-conferencing and other applications. And while these things are important, designing a worker-friendly environment and taking people on a journey through cultural change is arguably where the difference between success and failure will be found.

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