Masterclass: How to make a more collaborative office

Use this opportunity to improve your workspace but ensure changes are made for the right reasons, says Tim Scott

The pandemic completely changed the way my organisation operates. At the start of 2020 we had around 480 employees, the majority of whom were office based, but there was no hot-desking or remote working. 

Throughout the pandemic, we conducted pulse surveys and found most of our team were on a scale, with “I hate working from home and can’t wait to get back to the office” at one extreme and “I never want to set foot in the office again” at the other. Overall, the cultural changes were welcomed as long as we maintained as much flexibility as possible.

We quickly established a cross-functional team of HR, operations, facilities and tech and decided to create a collaborative space on the ground floor with more conventional office space on other floors. We deliberately chose to have a variety of spaces because we recognised the need for different types of interaction. 

Previously, we had a mix of meeting rooms but our people told us they needed spaces for one-to-one conversations as well, plus some larger spaces for full team collaboration. This fits in with our new way of working as many of our teams are only in the office to work together. This maximises people’s ability to have meaningful facetime when they are in the office.

If you are going to make a collaborative office space, you need to think creatively about communication. We hit some scepticism because people were apprehensive that we wouldn’t make a culture change, and not everyone was in the office to see what was happening. We created a video walk-around to show our new furniture and meeting pods, and put it on our internal Yammer group. 

There’s no single magic solution. In the past, it felt like everyone wanted to be Google and thought it was cool to have foosball tables, but if that isn’t your culture you are wasting your time. Like a lot of initiatives, I suspect one of the pitfalls is trying to emulate what other companies are doing. 

There’s no point installing funky one-to-one pods around an office if no one is comfortable having conversations in them. Building in flexibility is important too. 

We’re fortunate that some of our rooms lend themselves to being partitioned in such a way that they can be opened up into larger ones as and when required. 

Lastly, I’d suggest thinking carefully before making major investments in office furniture or renovations – it’s early days and we’re still learning about the world of post-pandemic work.

Tim Scott is people director at Fletchers Solicitors