In 2020 most knowledge work shifted to the home office due to the pandemic. What seemed
a radical shift at the time, has historically been our default way of work. Prior
to the industrial revolution and mass manufacturing, most jobs were all done in
the confines of our own homes. Now, companies around the world, big and small, are
considering whether to allow employees to work from home once again.
In search of answers for our own work policies, we’ve looked through scientific research, surveys
and articles. Not only did it help us to think more clearly about the topic, but
also made us understand how indoor positioning technologies can play a vital
role in improving the workplace experience. Below is a collection of the most insightful
resources we’ve reviewed and a case study on how we helped to improve the work
experience at a prominent co-working space in Oslo.
- Science’s take on remote work
- Employee preference for workstyle, flexibility, and key reasons to leave in 2022
- Recommendations for remote/hybrid organizations
- The implications of a changing workstyle for commercial real estate owners and operators
- Co-working spaces as a post-pandemic office alternative
- Enhancing the co-working experience with Indoor Positioning – A Rebel Case Study
- The top 10 co-working spaces in Oslo
1. Science’s take on remote work
Over a period of 6 months in 2020, researchers have analyzed the impact of a remote work policy on the collaboration and communication of over 61,000 US-based Microsoft employees. Here is what they found.
Important concepts in human collaboration & communication
Before we dive into the specifics of the Microsoft study, here are a few background concepts that are important to know and understand when it comes to human collaboration and communication.
Strong and weak ties
Strong ties between co-workers enable easier communication and better mutual understanding, while weak ties are often the source of new and non-redundant information and require less time and energy to maintain. In short, developing strong and weak ties are equally important for a company’s productivity. These ties spur innovation and help minimize siloed behavior.
Access to new information usually comes from cross-departmental ties, bridging ties, weak ties and added ties.
Media richness theory
Richer communication channels, such as in-person meetings, are better suited for communicating complex information and ideas.
Media synchronicity theory
Research indicates that asynchronous communication (e.g., email) and synchronous communication (e.g., video call) should play different roles in human collaboration. Asynchronous channels are better suited for communicating information while synchronous channels for converging on the meaning of the information.
Impact of remote work on collaboration & communication at Microsoft
Remote work and collaboration
Change in collaboration
During the study, researchers measured the number of hours Microsoft employees spent collaborating with each other. They identified six statistically significant changes related to remote work:
- Employees spend equal time collaborating with colleagues
- Employees spend less time collaborating with colleagues from other departments
- Employees established fewer connections with colleagues from other departments
- Employees spend less time collaborating with newly established connections
- Employees spend less time with weak connections in their network
- Employees spend more time with strong connections in their network
Implications of the changes in collaboration
The above observations made were generally applicable, regardless of the employees managerial status, tenure or role. This means the following for remote companies:
- Less information and knowledge is flowing between employees who only recently got to know each other or do not know each other very well
- More fragmented and static networks across the organization
- More siloed behaviour across the organization can be expected
Remote work and communication
Change in communication
The patterns of communications were also examined by the researchers. Similar to collaboration, statistically significant changes were found. The seven insights were:
- Employees use less scheduled meeting hours
- Employees use more unscheduled calls
- Employees use less synchronous video/audio communication
- Employees use more asynchronous communication
- Employees use more email and instant messaging to communicate
- Employees spend more time working
- Managers use more instant messaging, emails, and unscheduled video/audio
- Engineers use more instant messages and unscheduled call hours
Implications of the changes in communication
Previous research has shown that complex information is transferred most effectively through synchronous and rich communication. Given the increase in asynchronous channels and less rich communication (email and instant messaging), remote companies will struggle with the transfer of complex information. This might aggravate or even cause the negative impact on collaboration, in particular siloed behavior, as mentioned previously.
Implications from the Microsoft study on the design of the workplace experience
Science’s take on the implications of remote work is clear: unmanaged, a company-wide remote-work policy will lead to more siloed behavior and worse flow of complex information, jeopardizing productivity in the long term.
For companies that choose remote as their default option, it will be important to create the right formal company structure and leverage existing technology that can counteract these effects. An example of the latter is the Donut app that we have previously written about here. It randomly assigns employees to connect online via video, essentially replacing the informal connections that one would make in the office, during lunch, etc. with virtual ones.
For companies pursuing hybrid solutions, the findings invalidate the commonly suggested “team days” solution. As most new information that employees receive stems from new or weak ties, assigning teams to dedicated office days does not increase the interaction between weak/new ties. Employers need to balance the time spent by team members and non-team members at the office. One potential solution that comes to mind is to rotate the teams that are simultaneously at the office, for example on a weekly basis.
Lastly, for companies that decide that their operating model is in-office, the transition must be managed carefully. As the “Great Resignation” has shown, employees are willing to leave their current employers for jobs that are either fully remote or provide more flexibility. Improving the workplace experience is one, or potentially the key factor, that can be used to entice employees to come back to the office.
2. Employee preference for workstyle, flexibility, and reasons to leave in 2022
In a recent study conducted by JLL, 4000 office workers from 10 countries gave their top preferences for flexibility options and reasons to leave a job.
Top 10 Flexibility Preferences (in decreasing importance)
- Choosing my working hours, having flexible schedules
- Switching to a 4-day working week, with 1 day available for my free time
- Being allowed unlimited holidays
- Having an annual package of remote-work days that I can spend the way I want
- Working remotely full-time and living where I want (in another region, abroad, etc.)
- Subsidized travel to the office
- Free access to fresh and healthy food on-site
- Living far away from the city and going to the office only when necessary
- Discounts and partnerships with amenities near the office
- Social events
Top 10 Reasons to Leave (in decreasing importance)
- I am looking for a better salary
- I want to improve my quality of life
- I am looking for better rewards/ a better package outside of my salary
- I want more flexibility in my job
- I have reconsidered the part that work plays in my life
- I feel I am not recognized by my company
- I want to develop new skills that my current position does not provide
- I am looking for a new work environment
- I want to take on more responsibility
- My ethical values are no longer the same as those of my company
Implications of the JLL study on the design of the workplace experience
Hybrid is king. The majority of employees want and are already working in a hybrid way and expect their employers to support their remote workstyle with financing and technology. Allowing employees to work remotely shows empathy and is mostly appreciated by managers, Gen Z, Gen Y and caregivers (young families with children or people with disabled family members). However, all employees crave for some social interaction, and some for more than others. Companies need to find ways to cater to both groups, pro-remote and pro-office supporters.
3. Six recommendations for remote/hybrid organizations
As we’ve seen from surveys, most employees want some flexibility around remote vs in-office work, and most companies are forward-leaning on this. While designing a hybrid work culture, researchers identified 6 principles to ensure a good workplace experience:
- Avoid frequent tech issues by ensuring control over the technologies that are used
- Keep the team engaged, and agree on and stick to best practices, such as regular team meetings, keeping the video on, etc.
- Keep the team healthy and productive with team management strategies
- Create and normalize a remote work culture
- Understand and find the most suitable tools and practices for your organizational context
- Find and deploy measurement tools that can help verify how well employees integrate their personal and work-life
4. The implications of the changing way-of-work for commercial real estate owners and operators
So far, the trend toward remote and hybrid work has been mostly absorbed by employers who have accepted lower utilization of their rented office space. However, there is a real risk that employers pass down the impact of the new workstyle to real estate owners and operators and reduce the amount of rented office space. To put it in McKinsey’s words, there is “an oversupply of space and a scarcity of offices that are purpose-built for hybrid work”. In the latest report published by the consultancy, there are 5 take-aways for commercial real estate owners and operators:
- Become part of the solution
Instead of simply negotiating, help your tenants to understand how much spaces they need and what they need it for. Advanced sensor technologies can help here to understand the utilization and usage patterns of desks, meeting/conference rooms, different areas, etc.
- Digitize the workspace
Coming to work has to be worth the effort. Modern office spaces, in which you can see space availability and book desks, order food or monitor the air quality and safety compliance via your phone, will create the necessary wow-effect to incentivize people to come back.
- Provide contract flexibility
On the path of figuring out how much office space a company needs, it will require flexibility in expanding and contracting its rented space. Commercial real estate owners and operators who manage to recreate their business models or emulate providers of co-working spaces to allow for this process will be favored by tenants.
- Optimize the tenant mix
When selecting tenants, owners and operators should think carefully about the stage of the company and what the space will be utilized for. Done right, the right tenant mix and serve as a hedge for long-term occupancy.
- Increase operational efficiency
To improve the tenant experience and lower costs, real estate owners and operators have to leverage technology to improve the servicing of their buildings. As offices are still not operating at full capacity, this is a great time to pilot new technologies, for example, around energy usage and predictive maintenance/staffing.
5. Co-working spaces as a post-pandemic office alternative
The number of co-working spaces grew by 100x between 2008 and 2018. Here are the top 5 arguments backed by research as to why they are the next-best alternative to the traditional office space:
- More flexibility for corporations to expand and shrink their available space
- Reduced costs since a company only pays for what it uses
- Increased employee satisfaction due to a sense of community
- Increased motivation and productivity by seeing others, especially founders, work hard
- Increased innovation due to knowledge spillovers that inherently rely on spatial proximity between humans
6. Enhancing the co-working experience with indoor positioning – A Rebel Case Study
Co-working – The rise of a new work style
Co-working had a substantial rise in popularity in the last few years. Between 2011 and 2021, the total number of co-working spaces grew by approximately 27x, from 700 to 19,345. Apart from cool Silicon Valley-inspired designs and free snacks, researchers have found tangible benefits for this new workstyle, ranging from increased individual motivation to higher organizational innovation. With hybrid work on the rise, co-working spaces continue to solidify their importance amongst start-ups and corporates. With increased competition, co-working operators are looking for ways to improve their customer experience and distinguish themselves.
Rebel – The hottest co-working space in Oslo
One of the hottest co-working spaces in Oslo is Rebel. With a long waitlist for memberships, the creators of Rebel have managed to not only create a space that is exciting with its various food courts, multipurpose rooms, and hidden Easter Eggs; but also bring companies together can complement each other’s IT knowledge and push the tech boundaries, by carefully curating the tenant list.
Rebel & Indoor Positioning – Improving the user experience
One problem that Rebel identified was navigation within its co-working space. Located in the old Telenor building in the center of Oslo, with 27,000 square meters that house over 1000 office spaces, finding your way around can be daunting. To help new visitors, employees, or anybody who is lost, Rebel has staff that shows you the way. But with space for up to 1,500 people, Rebel was looking for some leverage to help them solve this problem at scale while also improving the user experience.
Reviewing documents, conducting user interviews, and making observations on-site, several user needs were identified. For example, visitors and employees want to know where they are, have an overview of the different points-of-interest (POIs), be guided without human intervention to their desired POI, and use their phones to access the building and book meeting rooms. Naturally, being a hub for tech companies, Rebel itself turned to technology to address these challenges.
Two companies collaborated to develop a solution for Rebel: Forkbeard and Shortcut. Forkbeard provided its indoor positioning hardware and software for users to be accurately positioned on the map and guided to POIs. And summer interns at Shortcut, a leading mobile app development company, conducted user research to understand requirements and implement the needed technologies to create an app-based solution. With the help of the other partners, the prototype developed by the interns allowed Rebel users to see a digital map of the building with all its POIs, understand their current location, and navigate in real-time toward their selected POIs.
Co-working spaces are here to stay. With the rise of hybrid work post-pandemic, startups and corporates are embracing co-working spaces to appeal to both in-office and remote advocates and avoid decreasing workforce motivation and corporate innovation. With the growth in co-working spaces and competition amongst operators, the user experience within a particular co-working space becomes increasingly important.
Custom apps and technologies that simplify accessing and getting around the co-working space do not only allow users to make the most out of their membership and increase retention rates, but also improve the user experience and thereby help operators distinguish themselves from the crowd, driving demand.
7. The top 10 co-working spaces in Oslo
Here is our list of Top 10 Co-Working Spaces in Oslo, for startups and corporates who want to reap the previously mentioned benefits of co-working and hybrid work:
5. Oslo International Hub
– For: Startups
– Website: oslointernationalhub
10. Greenhouse Oslo
– For: Food tech and sustainability
– Website: greenhouseoslo.no