Due to the pandemic’s restrictions, AWA replaced this year’s series of live Workplace Week events in London, New York and Paris with a four-day virtual festival. Simon Iatrou reviews the standout virtual tours from 2020.
As 2020 comes to a close, it is difficult to understate just how transformative the year has been for the workplace industry. Nine months of home working has moved the dial, forcing organizations to rethink how, when, where and even why of work.
Despite the imposition of home working for millions of employees, many have realized that that they can be effective away from the office. At the very least, people have gained benefits around flexibility, including no more nightmare commutes and extra time to spend with family, that they don’t want to lose when the pandemic finally ends.
As Nick LiVigne, Head of Workplace Solutions at Convene, argues here, all of this points to a future of ‘hybrid work’ in which organizations provide greater “access to flexibility and choice in location, and an increased emphasis on driving higher levels of employee experience and engagement through workplace design and strategy.” Workplace Week International 2020, a digital event organized by global change management consultants Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA), provided us with an opportunity to see how some global organizations are now putting this idea into practice.
The pandemic’s restrictions on public gatherings and global travel encouraged AWA to replace this year’s series of live Workplace Week events in London, New York and Paris with a four-day virtual festival. However, the premise remained the same: a number of workplace tours (albeit digital), roundtables, seminars and fringe events.
Here’s what we saw:
Take-Two Interactive is a leading video game publisher behind some of the world’s most popular series, including Grand Theft Auto and NBA 2K. Its corporate HQ is situated in the heart of Midtown Manhattan next to prestigious banks and law firms. Nonetheless, when the company moved to the two-floor workplace on 10 W 44th Street, it was keen to eschew the corporate culture of its neighbours and create a space in its own unique image.
Fortune magazine recognized the office as one of the Best Workplaces in New York in 2020. It is a “hospitality driven” space that puts a great deal of emphasis on the employee experience. Take-Two wants the space to convey a “sense of fun” for its community in addition to rewarding and recognizing employees for the important work that they do. It is also a highly social space compared to the previous Soho workplace, with lots of benches and other informal seating areas instead of private offices.
As an organization with an office-first culture, Take-Two understood that it had to respond quickly to the pandemic. A Covid-19 taskforce was established to determine a plan of action and the company was able to test its home working capability before the state enforced shelter-in-place orders on March 20th. Once in lockdown, the company worked hard to maintain the buzzy culture of its workplace and the easy access employees had to the leadership team. Digital communications became more regular and the events team set out to deliver a range of virtual events, from karaoke and trivia to lunches and workout sessions. In the height of lockdown, some calls had more than 100 attendees. Take-Two explained that “it’s not just about fun or mental health but also how to engage and keep these meaningful connections.”
The organisation knows that it will continue many of the virtual events beyond the pandemic, though its team is also certain that its current workplace approach to office design has left it in a good position to deal with Covid-19 and whatever comes next. Now, with addition of safety measures such as sanitization stations and a new terrace almost ready to open, Take-Two employees have the opportunity to use a space that still inspires them while staying safe and healthy.
Innocent Drinks is a UK-based producer of smoothies and juices. The organization’s head office, Fruit Towers, is in Kensal Green, a neighbourhood in north-west London. It is a light, spacious and vibrant space that features bright green synthetic grass, park benches and suspended basket chairs, a design that brings the organization’s fun and distinct brand to life.
Despite its incredible growth over the past two decades, Innocent Drinks never wants to lose the feel of a small company. Its tone of voice is “honest, natural and engaging” much like the drinks it sells and the motto behind its work culture is “go home happier.”
The organization is keen to explain that these are values that it doesn’t just project externally. It believes in open communication, making sure to tell its employees any news as soon as it has it.
There’s also a special ‘banana phone’ in the office that rings every desk in the head office. The number appears on Innocent products and the website and can ring hundreds of times a day. Callers are guaranteed to chat to a member of staff whatever the topic of conversation. As a B Corp, the organization gives 10% of its annual profits to charity. The Innocent Foundation helps tackle hunger in some of the world’s disadvantaged communities.
Innocent embarked on a significant refurbishment of Fruit Towers in 2019 with the aim of squeezing as much flexibility and community-style working out of the space as possible. The workplace features numerous alternative areas for employees to work and collaborate, including benches, tables and TV stands designed for communal gatherings.
Like everyone else, the organization has had to adapt to the pandemic. Its employees were sent home to work when UK’s shelter-in-place order came through in late March. Since then, Innocent Drinks has ensured even more regular digital communications with its staff and is placing even greater emphasis on health and wellbeing. The UK government has advised all UK workers to work from home until the spring if they can. For its part, Innocent Drinks would like employees to return to the office, but they also want the staff to have a say in what works best for them.
The organization sees the future as defined by greater flexibility. They want people to want to be in Fruity Towers. They want the workplace to be great but not so that people feel like they are missing out if they are away from it.
For Take-Two Interactive and Innocent Drinks, the workplace is a critical driver of community and culture. The organizations have invested a great deal of time, money and effort into creating workplaces that act as magnets for their employees and have had to find ways to keep that magic alive during the pandemic. The lesson here for anyone preparing for a future of hybrid work feel empowered and connected wherever they work.