We’ve partnered with our friends at Interaction to put together a short series on what the future of workplaces and spaces might look like for leading businesses, by asking those businesses themselves.
For the second feature of the series, we have Andy Rogers, co-CEO at Amdaris.
Imagining a future where Lockdown is over, vaccines are available and the pandemic has settled down. People have got adjusted to some new paradigms in terms of how they work. How do you envision your workplace being used then?
Great question; I think our focus will be on this idea of activity-based working. And I think that’s just going to become more and more of a thing: I’m not a prophet, but I think once everyone gets back into the office, there will be a warmer approach to it. Big organizations will likely try and cut some immediate costs by reconsidering their space and focusing on space to collaborate and create.
We’re big on whiteboarding and collaboration, which is amazingly helpful in terms of decision-making and allows people to reflect, think and engage in debate and discussion. So, we’ll be doing things where it’s more about whiteboarding, small meetings and collaboration, the together activities. And of course, there’s still going to be space for people to work, but it will be more flexible. I wouldn’t say that we’ll do away with individual seats for people, because there are people that like it and need the practicality of their own desk.
And so, what I think will happen, especially with us, is that we’ll have some people who want to come to the office every day to their own desk, and flexi seating for everyone else. I don’t think it’ll be hot desking as in lines of faceless tables – it will be more dynamic; it will be little spaces that people can go and work.
I’m totally sympathetic to working from home, allowing people to have flexibility, as long as it doesn’t degrade your potential to solve problems and get things done. Everything will be driven by outcomes – what needs to be produced, what needs to be done.
You also need to be able to build in space for ad hoc meetings, but you’ve got to balance that kind of dynamic, entrepreneurial sort of side with the more process-driven planned approach. We are keen not to be unreasonable in our expectations of people; they’ve got a job to do and we don’t expect them to drop everything all the time.
We have to find that sort of balance; respecting the individuals need to be able to go and do their job and our need to collaborate and brainstorm.
Leading on from that point, something we’re really interested in company culture and how to keep that strong when people are dispersed. Are you doing anything to safeguard your culture during times when people are working remotely and you’re not seeing as much face to face?
To be honest, it’s an issue we’re trying to tackle. We’ve seen we’ve seen a little bit of a degradation with a lot of people working from home, which was okay to start with, but now we’re starting to see the impact of that. There’s a sense that our cultural cohesion is dissipating somewhat. People who are committed to the company in the long term find they can bear with it, but others may struggle.
People have coped and have coped for months, and we’re starting to see fatigue kick in.
Pre-Lockdown 2.0, we started to get people into the office more where possible. And that’s that really helped. But there’s still a lot of fear and there’s still a lot of anxiety. Some people are happy to take managed risks and others are completely risk averse – and you have to respect people’s differences. But at the same time, I’m aware that if we don’t bring people in and we don’t have that sense of community, we might struggle to get that cohesion, which then affects productivity and outcomes.
Culturally, we have had success last year too. We do things like local team building activities, but on a much, much smaller scale – you keep the energy going rather than switching everything off. You bring it down a step. Things like award events where if people want to come into the office, they come into the office, have been incredibly valuable.
As a business, we’ve had our best first half of the year, but the cultural side of things takes just as much work as it did before all of this.
A lot of people are relying on technology in terms of team communications, from Zoom to asynchronous video. What’s interesting to you?
I think those things are fine, but it can take some getting used to. I have an approach where if it’s important it goes in an email: chat is for chatting. Then if you need to have meetings, try and do them via video conferencing. Generally, if you can have video on, it’s just much more human. I think there will be a move towards mobile, people working on laptops rather than desktops – even coders who like high spec machines.
We have a 360-degree video camera, called an Owl, which allows you to have a video conference with people in a room and see everyone. It has software that enables it to focus on who’s talking. It’s neat because then you can see everyone in the room and communication is more natural.
Do you think the perspective of employees has changed over the lockdown period? A lot of people have re-evaluated their work life balance. People have thought about what’s most important to them. Do you feel any shift in those things at all or is that still somewhere down the line or not happening?
I think people are more concerned about the current impact of Covid rather than thinking, ‘how is this going to affect my life for the future?’
The feedback I’ve had from listening to people is that, yes, let’s be more flexible about working, but I think they are also thinking, I just want to get through this. I think the conversations about work will kick off once it starts to wane, which it will eventually.
How important to Amdaris is having an owned, branded space?
It’s really important for us growing our business, absolutely vital. And we made the choice to be in this situation; our space is our shop front. However, we’ve changed our marketing. We’ve used virtual roundtables and other techniques. The irony is that because people don’t have to travel, the attendance is much higher, the cancellation rates are much lower, so long-term, it will change some of the channels we use.
Although the COVID pandemic has been difficult it has thrown up different ways of doing things and given all the challenges it is great to take away some positives. And it’s the businesses that pivot and accept ‘what we used to do isn’t going to work’, so let’s adjust’ who will find success.
It’s accelerated where things were going. If you had a problem culture before, then it’s going to have got worse. If you have a great culture before, it’s still going to be a great culture. It’s probably just going to take a little bit of extra effort to try to strengthen that.