The new year isn’t just bringing Oktra a new office – we’re adopting a smarter work strategy.
The New Year is known as a time of transition. Associated with the tabula rasa mentality of new beginnings and a fresh start, the first month of the calendar year brings with it an opportunity for change. Varying ability to uphold personal resolutions aside, our teams are preparing for a massive workplace rejuvenation; as you may have heard by now, we’re moving office in 2020.
Moving office presents a unique opportunity for business transformation, and we’re taking advantage of that opportunity by choosing to adopt a greater degree of smart working practices. To find out more about the changes we’ll be making in our new workplace, we sat down with Nic Pryke, our Creative Director and Ben Lonsdale, our Strategic Operations Director. This is what they revealed about the new way we’ll be working – and why we’re making the change.
N: “Well, we’re kind of two-thirds agile.”
B: “I would describe our current way of working as a hybrid model between agile and more traditional fixed desking. The main issue isn’t the approach, it’s actually the number of people that are using our current space – there are approximately 150 of us using 9,000 sq ft.”
N: “You need a bit of operational rigour to make agile as good as it can be. You need courtesy and respect for other people’s time; if you’re going to work in an agile way, you’re setting yourself up to be disturbed in a lot of settings.
And it’d be very hard to do from next week, because there are a lot of entrenched habits in this office, but you can do it when you move – you can change things. You can create etiquettes. Everyone needs to be up for it, and you’re always going to get some people who need a little bit of the stick as well as the carrot.”
N: “Well, that’s a massive question isn’t it? It does tonnes of things. It does lots of positive things, like we have a great agile space that does all sorts of jobs and is, in particular, a social space for people. I think people really appreciate it, especially the way it can be used as an alternative to going to the pub – it’s an open space with free beer. It definitely creates energy. You go there and there are people doing all sorts of stuff, there’s noise, there’s music, it’s really positive. Even if you don’t use that space much, just knowing it exists makes you feel differently about sitting at a desk.
There’s a negative aspect to this office which is that there are too many people here. We’ve gone over the tipping point: there are too many desks, they’re all too close, the proportion of desks to other spaces isn’t right. There are all sorts of things like that going on because we’ve outgrown it – we’ve been more successful in the space, faster than we anticipated.”
B: “There are several impacts of having too many people using the space. The user experience dies, which impacts both the team as well as our clients – our workspace needs to do a number of different jobs, including help us win new business. The space is only suited to a few types of people, so it’s not fit for purpose. The ratios of spatial types don’t reflect the people that are actually using the space. And our IT infrastructure, technology and management style have not evolved and so don’t alleviate the pressure we’re under in our physical space. All things, including the physical space, need to be in harmony for the business to really perform.”
N: “Smart working is the same as agile working. It’s using space and time really efficiently. It’s about being super flexible and responsive, having spaces that specifically deal with the tasks you need to do.”
B: “Smart working is the right people, doing the right things, in the right way for the right clients. There are two ways to achieve it: by design, or by luck!”
N: “We’re going to move around a lot more. We’re going to have a load of work settings that we found out we need, that we don’t have here. For example, we’re going to have a space that we’re calling ‘The Library.’ The behaviour in it will be like that in a library – we wouldn’t be having this conversation; we’d be whispering or we’d go out. I’m hoping people will leave their mobile phones on a shelf before they go in.
There are going to be different work settings, but the space is going to do other stuff for us as well. We’re focussing on making it a really interesting visitor experience. It’s going to enable us to hold events that we don’t currently have the facilities for. We’re creating a really nice space to present and pitch, which we tend to do outside of our current office. We’ll be encouraging clients to come to us because we’ll have a dedicated space to facilitate that. So, it’ll do a lot more than our current office.”
B: “The main change I foresee with our new space is our ability to reset our user experience and realign our workplace strategy to our operating model.
We are also planning on making a number of major investments in our technology infrastructure over the next 2 years, and these changes will also need to be reflected in our new space.
By having a clear understanding of what our operating model will look like in 2 years’ time, we are able to ensure the design of the new workplace has the resilience to adjust to these changes as they happen.”
N: “We’re creating these neighbourhoods that are all very similar. They’ll have their own facilities, not just desks, but their own breakout spaces, access to meeting rooms, brainstorming space. And that will do lots of things; it will stop people collecting clutter because it will be like moving house every two months, it will help with communication, cross-pollination between teams and across the business – and it will be fun.
It will also prevent any hierarchies from forming. When we got the new space, everyone’s second sentence to me was, ‘don’t put me in the basement.’ Everyone’s going to go in the basement, and no one’s going to go in the basement because we’re all going to move around, we’ll all take turns. People will come to own the whole office instead of just living in their own corner.”
N: “I hope it’s going to rejuvenate it. There are some people here who have been here for a really long time, who remember when it was easy to have a really nice company culture. It wasn’t because we were nicer people, it was just easier – you didn’t have to work so hard at it because we were such a small business.”
B: “Our rapid growth and shift from a small to a medium-sized enterprise has put an incredible strain on our company culture.”
N: “Part of that is the space we’re in. When we go to the new space, it’s going to help people be brilliant at work. Stuff will work and people can worry about being great instead of battling against the office.”
B: “The move to the new office will allow the group to come together and form around the next iteration of Oktra’s company culture – the Oktra Way 3.0. This will provide us will a huge boost – the next challenge will be maintaining the positive energy.”
N: “People are always going to come together – I believe that. It’s a more positive experience than staring at screens, so I think that’s always going to happen, but I think the edges of offices will get softer. I think more and more people will work in places other than where they all come together.
People will become even more mobile. Maybe you’ll end up with the prime purpose of the office being a space for people to come together and meet, rather than to sit and work all day. Spaces will be more about meeting and collaboration than about sitting at a computer. It’s not just that technology allows us to be mobile: we behave in different ways. Surely, soon we won’t even be typing, we’ll be talking to our computers – it’ll all become more fluid. It’s going to be great, it’s quite exciting.”
B: “I think flexible working is here to stay. It provides businesses of all shapes and sizes a service offering that is appropriate to a particular moment in time within one’s lifecycle. If anything, I think we will see an increase in the use of flexible working in tandem with more traditional working. This will provide businesses with the ultimate form of resilience and will allow companies to try new things and use those learnings to help support the evolution of their workplace strategy.”
B: “It’s important because it reflects the transient nature of businesses and people. This makes it relatable to almost everyone including those in mature organisations and industries looking for ways to innovate and transition back into the growth phase of their lifecycle.”
B: “Before you make any big decisions, spend the time creating a workplace strategy. This document will help to articulate the role the workplace plays in supporting your operating model and delivering the business’s strategic intent. It will also articulate the type of user experiences you need to create for your team and your clients in order for the workplace to deliver success, as well as the technology infrastructure required to enable the thing to work properly.
You also need to get a feel for the amount of change you will need to manage in order to transition from where you are today. Once all of these things have been considered and a business case has been developed to articulate the value those changes will generate, you are ready to build an integrated programme showing the path to your destination. This process is highly iterative and will need to be reviewed frequently to ensure you are getting the most out of your workplace.”
N: “Be bold. Do it properly. Don’t do it in a half-hearted way because you’ve got some negative voices in the office – there will be some. Always. Be bold and do it properly because otherwise you have the pain of transitioning to a new way of working without the benefits. Actually work differently. Really go for it.”
N: “Really taking a lot of trouble to figure out what all the tasks are that are done within your organisation, and then creating spaces that are going to give people what they need to do those tasks. Not worrying about stuff that slows that down, like hierarchy.”