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Podcast: Designing the Office of the Future

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This roundtable debate centers around office structures and how organizations adapted their office environment during the pandemic.

The shift from in-person to remote and hybrid working over the past two years has led to some major restructuring within organizations. What does the office of the future look like?

With Lea Sellers moderating this roundtable, the speakers include:

  • Mudassar Ulhaq, Chief Information Officer, Waverton Investment Management
  • Miguel Callejo, CIO & CDO – Executive Director, Second Window
  • Adnan Ahmed, Head of ICT & CISO, Ornua
  • Simon Lamkin, CTO, FOD Mobility Group

Office structure – what works?

CIO at Waverton Investment Management, Mudassar Orhak, believes that the pandemic gave him the opportunity to review how staff worked in the new hybrid model. After conducting a staff survey in 2020, Mudassar found that flexible working hours needed to be introduced. In order to implement these new measures, with the help of Microsoft, Waverton “rolled out over 150 server devices”. 

Lea Sellers approached CIO, CDO and Executive Director at Second Window, Miguel Callejo, with the question, “What have you learnt in the last two years about the office?”.

One of the main challenges Miguel highlighted is teaching people how to use the Microsoft Teams platform. He went on to describe how some colleagues were unable to use the platforms properly. This resulted in a lot of “key players” missing out on important meetings. The solution they came up with was to collaborate with HR and teach employees how to use the software efficiently.

“We were hiring more people and had less desks”, said Adnan Ahmed, Head of ICT and CISO at Ornua. The situation changed when the pandemic began and people started working from home. One of the main challenges of this working environment shift was the lack of access to certain hardware, such as printers. Others struggled with navigating how to configure remotely with their team and had broadband issues.

Simon Lamkin, CTO at FOD Mobility Group, called the situation “interesting”. 

Before the pandemic began, his organization was office-based. “Suddenly, two years ago, we were hiving out making sure everyone had laptops and making sure everyone could work from home”, he said. 

During the process, Simon said the organization became similar to a logistics company, sending out kit, desks and even chairs where needed. Now, they are recruiting people further away from their office in West Yorkshire as more professionals are using the Teams interface to communicate and work remotely.

Floorspace formations

“We removed one of our three floors and offered that to one of the companies we acquired”, Mudassar said. With only 70% of desk occupancy required, the remaining rooms were converted into meeting spaces with Microsoft Teams systems implemented in every room. The spare pocket, or “huddle”, rooms were made into personal spaces where employees could collaborate and share ideas.

“How should we be using the office in the future?” Lea asked the speakers how they should be thinking about employee wellbeing and what their “office of the future” looks like.

Wellbeing, according to Miguel, is normally led by the organization’s HR department. On the other hand, senior leaders are aiming to improve wellbeing by trying to achieve the perfect work-life balance. One of the ways in which they hope to achieve this is to be as flexible as possible. “That means enabling a flexible timetable for the staff”, said Miguel. He added that employees also get two days of working from home.

Similarly, Simon detailed the process of closing down one of the office sites in Leeds once they realized that they didn’t need that capacity. “We’re taking on a much bigger office with a big, wide open-plan space”, he said. In addition to this, a separate room is being created into a wellbeing “creative zone” complete with sofas, a pool table and a football games room.

“We’re asking the staff what is it that you want to do to take some time out from your day job?”, said Simon. 

The office of the future – potential and technology

All the panelists came to the same conclusion that their respective organizations are becoming more critical in terms of the technology they are enabling. 

Adnan recalled a time where three employees in the same building worked in three separate floors. Despite all of them being present, they joined a Microsoft Teams call. 

The increase of flexible working and enabling people to work from home is blurring those “former boundaries” that had been put in place before, according to Miguel. Easier access to work means that more employees are beginning to work “outside their usual hours”. Miguel believes that this shift to a hybrid working environment has exposed them to more risks. One example he uses is poor connection during important calls and having to rely on 4G data. 

“Now, technology is a key player as part of our day-to-day roles”, Mudassar said. He highlights how having a proper connection for your device is more crucial than ever. He adds that: “The technology that you implement needs to be considered from a business resiliency perspective”. In other words, if there is any form of disconnect in a client meeting, for example, “that’s going to be raised to the highest level”. 

Adnan and Mudassar agree that training is key. Both speakers took the time over the past 18 months to train their staff in order for them to achieve that “IT savvy” status and keep up with the rapid changes that are taking place.

“Without technology hybrid working won’t go anywhere”, said Adnan.

This roundtable was recorded at The Studio.