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Collaboration in the Office

Innovation in the Return to Work: Collaboration Zones

Time to Read: 4 minutes

The Return to Work (or better the Return to the Office / Workplace as many have been working very effectively from home) is about much more than creating a Covid-secure environment. It’s about ensuring that the office has evolved to provide workers with space that recognises the change in how we are all working, that provides for the activities that cannot effectively be done at home, gives them a reason to come back to the office, and mitigates the potential risks associated with coming back to a public environment.

Collaboration in the Office

The New Normal

There is no doubt that the future of the office and indeed the whole future of how we work post pandemic is a topic for debate right now, and one that is likely to continue for some time and to generate many different solutions.  However, whilst keeping one eye on the long-term approach to the office may be sensible to ensure that current decisions align to future strategy, at the moment it is ensuring the success of the #returntowork that is of paramount importance.

As part of our ongoing relationship with Sky across their UK estate, Baker Stuart have been working hard since the start of the pandemic to ensure that workplaces are Covid-secure for those unable to work from home, and are now completing the return to site process ready for more people to return to a hybrid office that enables flexibility and the ability to work in the most appropriate setting – either from home or in the office.

But, enabling the return to the office / return to work is far more than the completion of a checklist that fulfils social distancing requirements and keeps people safe.  Not only does it need to take account of the Government guidance and the changes therein, but also to show an awareness and understanding of the changed needs of those that are to occupy the space.

Planning the Return to Work

Initial planning for the return to work acknowledged the difficulty of collaborating remotely, and the benefits of being able to work together in certain circumstances.  With this in mind meeting rooms across Sky were all reviewed to ensure that they were Covid-secure and met with the following guidelines;

  • Remote working tools were used wherever possible to avoid unnecessary face to face meetings
  • Only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and should maintain 2m separation
  • Avoiding transmission during meetings by eliminating sharing of pens and other objects
  • Providing hand sanitiser in all meeting rooms
  • Ensuring that set times were adhered to with a 15 minute ‘changeover’ period between different meetings to minimise gatherings during any swapover

The Challenges of a Covid-secure Office

Whilst all of the above interventions “ticked the box”, and enabled Sky to provide meeting options that were both Covid-secure and face to face, what has become apparent is that it misses the point of the meeting for many.

Taking the views of the staff at Sky and undertaking regular surveys to gauge how people feel has given us an insight into how they are finding the new normal, and when reviewing feedback on the return to the office, we realised that we don’t have it right just yet.  It’s not just about meeting with people, but about collaborating with them – whether in a formal room or in a breakout area.  It’s about the opportunity to involve more people, to have the technology to share ideas and to enable people not just to work safely on site, but to connect with colleagues whilst doing so.

Evolving the Office Environment – Collaboration Zones

And so, the idea of Collaboration Zones has been formulated and is being rolled out and trialled as we speak.  We are ripping up the rule book; ignoring the way things have been done in the past and the way meeting rooms have been traditionally used, thinking about the balance of activities between home and the office, listening to what people need and want and looking at innovative ways to use the space we have. 

We recognise this means a fundamental shift in how offices are planned. Rather than the desk being the primary work setting and all other spaces are “alternative” to that, the new approach brings colllaboration and social spaces front and centre. All of this has resulted in us taking the open spaces in offices that have historically been used for desk / laptop work and turning them into our new collaboration spaces, whilst meeting rooms with much reduced capacity can be used for quiet working if necessary in between meetings – let’s face it; if you need to spend the day on the laptop then why come into the office in the first place?

These new Collaboration Zones are intended to have space for up to 12 people to work together as one.  We are using flexible seating arrangements, with sofas, chairs and high benches to cater for all and to provide variety, and we are ensuring that all zones have mobile whiteboards, integrated AV and additional writable wall surfaces.  All of these measures ensure that we facilitate the involvement of all of the team whilst ensuring that we still adhere to the 2m social distancing and are confident in the safety of our staff. Additionally, by limiting the size of each zone, it effectively acts as a bubble itself, reducing the risk of cross team infection.

At present, different options are being trialled to look at the most effective style and layout of our Collaboration Zones.  All will contain the necessary technology in sufficient volumes to ensure that safety isn’t compromised and people don’t have to share unnecessarily. However, we want to understand what combination of furniture – alongside this technology – offers teams the best experience, and a confidence to come into the office and get back to working together.

What have we learnt?

Many organisations don’t have the luxury of delaying the Return to Work indefinitely and need to start the return to normality sooner rather than later.  There is no value in coming in for the sake of it, and our notion of a hybrid workforce recognises that there are many tasks that could and should still be completed from home.  However, in order for staff to come into the office with confidence there needs to be an incentive for them to do so in order to balance the risks faced when no longer solely working from home. 

Our Collaboration zones are designed specifically to facilitate interaction and teamwork and to go beyond a checklist that ensures a Covid-secure environment.  They will evolve over the coming weeks as we get feedback on their effectiveness, but over time will provide a blueprint to enable teams to go back to collaborating easily, with confidence and secure in the knowledge that their health is appropriately safeguarded.

Currently, Baker Stuart are supporting Sky with the roll out of 19 Collaboration Zones across their UK Head Office in Osterley with a view to these all going live over September and October.  Once reviewed, there is the potential for this concept to be rolled out across all office environments by the end of the year.  We look forward to sharing how this is received, and pictures of the zones created over the coming weeks.

Wayne Spiller
Wayne Spiller is a Director of Baker Stuart and has been working closely with Sky as their Head of Accommodation Strategy for the last 11 years. He is involved in all aspects of workplace design solutions – from space concepts through to turnkey project delivery, and continual change development.
About Baker Stuart

We are an independent specialist consultancy providing a comprehensive range of innovative workplace strategy, workplace management and change, move management, project management and programme management services. Thinking about optimising your organisation? Get in touch with us here.


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