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Promoting Innovation in the
New Hybrid Work Environment

The pandemic was, and still is to some extent, one of the greatest global disruptions to business ever experienced. The very manner in which we work has been completely flipped on its head (or at least it can feel that way).

Love it or hate it, this has created new, hybridized work realities all industries have had to face, and that includes the construction sector, with millions of people seeking a work-life balance complete with normal and new challenges. Change has come extremely rapidly, creating with it a huge need for innovation.

So, how can we not only meet these challenges, but turn the tide of hybridization to our advantage? Recently, InEight got together with a panel of experts in various yet related fields for their unique perspectives on the ever-evolving virtual world of work. What follows are some of the key realizations from that collaboration.

 

Innovation and Technology

Innovation is often seen as synonymous with technology, but true innovation also puts people at the heart of any type of change. Yet how can we best embrace change and bring people together to create, collaborate and innovate in meaningful ways when we’re no longer in the same room?

In the architecture arm of the construction industry, we’ve seen a big cultural shift already, with working from home becoming not so much a privilege, but more of an expectation.

For everyone’s expectations to be met, however, the lines of communication need to be open at all stages. As people-focused organizations, we’ve had to listen and try to make it work for the employees. Interestingly, the more or less automatic belief that most construction work happens on the construction site has been reversed as in truth, there is a whole lot of work that can and is being newly done off-site.

For example, for the design, engineering, and project controls teams, almost all administrative work that’s associated with major capital projects can be done remotely. To make this happen, though, there has been a huge  increase in the use of virtual tools to collaborate on projects that’s being facilitated by software such as Miro, Mural, Zoom, Teams and many more. But success, as it turns out, depends on more than simply new tech tools.

When it comes to actual schedules, some companies have already adopted an informal arrangement where everybody is allowed to choose to work at least one day from home per week. Others have gone totally remote already. Yet whatever the format, now there’s a question of how we should think about the outputs that people produce.

In other words, people are asking questions like, “You know that meeting we used to go to? Well, do we still need to have that meeting? Does it actually have a purpose?” This means that core work practices are evolving too, and what we might have deemed essential when in-person, now can be set aside for a more productive experience. Of course, to a plumber, Zoom’s obviously not a big help. If I’m in tech, however, I can be anywhere in the world doing my work.

 

Creating Hybrid-Friendly Physical Spaces

When it comes to bringing people back into the office in a hybrid way, the evolution of office design is helping accelerate positive change not just attractiveness, but also in the quality of what happens within those walls.

This is because whether it’s an office or a school or a general creative space, the pandemic has made us reevaluate what really matters. And that means the importance of health and wellbeing has come into sharp focus.

This might lead to designing an office with more plants, natural lighting, a better flow, or perhaps a somewhat homelike setting. Whatever the atmosphere, it must reinforce what we already know; that different people learn differently, and different people work differently, so being able to provide the appropriate settings that would accommodate those different needs is essential to everyone’s success.

Perhaps, for example, a company has a history of getting people together offsite, out of their workplace, to be creative. We may see a reversal of this practice since their workplace is now their home with the office now being the “offsite” location.

Therefore, the office will likely become the place where they can go to collaborate for special team-building events. This means that the fit and finish our offices will need to be designed so that there are lots of places for people to hang out and create and fewer places for a sort of heads-down, cubicle type scenario.

 

Making Our Time Together Really Count

There will always be certain tasks that people will choose to do at home, in a quiet way, which will be more productive for them. But at the same time, we still need to value the moments that we’re together physically to collaborate and connect in-person. Pre-pandemic, it was quite easy to take the in-person experience for granted as we had it every day. Now we want to capitalize on the different energy we encounter in a physical space by being a little bit more inspiring for each other to gain better outcomes. It’s more quality than quantity now.

In the academic world, there is a different hybrid effect. You might be invited by your colleagues to go to classes at Stanford, Cambridge, Oxford, or Harvard, for example, where they have an interesting speaker coming in a particular week. They might invite you with something like, “We’d like you to sit in on the class,” with the “sit” part now meaning in-person or online.

In the construction world, remotely dialing in may also lead to a higher quality experience for the meeting format itself as you will need to start re-thinking things a bit, like:

  • If I hold this event, what are the outcomes I want?
  • How do I want the audience to feel about this company and about me as a leader?
  • What about the work we’re doing? Is it just transactional, or should it be inspirational?
  • Are we simply trying to get things done, or are we’re trying to elevate people?

By honestly answering such questions, you’ll get much better at designing and practicing the craft of being purposeful and managerial, as opposed to just thinking up bright new things to do.

No matter the business, it all comes down to being more deliberate in your planning and a lot more aware. There is also the aspect of mental health or wellbeing, and the importance of mixing that with the work-life balance for a more human experience that blends the best of both worlds.

 

A More Human Perspective

How do you communicate in an engaging way in a digital space as well as a physical room? Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, it can be quite a challenge. Say, for example, you are running a workshop. You have some people in person, some people online. Being inclusive and making sure that people are not feeling left out online is a key point; they must be allowed the same level of participation that the in-person folks have so their experience is positive.

Thinking about this, we need to discuss “spatial affordances” meaning that you choose to look at the experience you want to create first before deciding how to proceed. You need to ask what your goal is in terms of experience. Consider the size of the group, what kind of interactions your spatial setting would provide for that size group, and how long they will be interacting. This can give you the correct cues to start to curate and refine their experience so that it’s as engaging and human as possible.

And it’s that humanizing element that’s come through for people working from home. But sometimes, human applies to unscripted moments that can be a bit awkward at best and downright embarrassing at worst.

For example, during the pandemic, when kids were at home all day for months on end and needing attention, a meeting attendee might rush in and feel the need to apologize to those already online. What really occurs now, though? Happily, where the response pre-pandemic might have been harsh, people are finding it’s more “No, no, no, not a problem at all. We’re all in the same boat.” A new-found empathy and understanding have prevailed.

 

Lessons for the Future

When we talk about generalizations, like collaboration, teamwork, and culture, we’re really all wondering what the new hybrid work means for all of us as individuals. In other words, in-person work needs a reason now in a way it didn’t before. This is a definite shift in mindset.

What this comes down to is that we’re going to have to start thinking about people as individuals, not as collectives in a company, and try and work out what their needs really are. Yes, we all know that companies are set up for commercial principles, so there must be outcomes achieved. But many of us now realize that how we enable people to achieve success can look very different from what we knew, and that that’s not only ok, but even preferable, as productivity increases have shown across the board.

Staying agile and continuing to listen to people and their needs is a key factor because all of this is still an ongoing experiment. There’s a lot to learn for everyone, whether it’s making the best out of digital platforms, making sure that they are inclusive, or ensuring your people get their best experience for you to get your best output.

Think about this: when we are implementing our solutions with our own customers, our biggest challenge is getting the customers to stop thinking about doing things the way they used to and embracing new paradigms, right? Therefore, for us and our ways of working, we need to be able to keep challenging our people and opening their minds to different ways of doing things and the idea that change is a good thing in the end.

It may be very early on in transforming our workforces, but we’re doing it. It’s like any big change; some days, you’ll take giant leaps, other days, you’ll have to be happy with baby steps.

Ready to take a deeper dive? Download the full report here, then schedule a one-on-one consultation to find out how InEight can help you succeed in your construction digitalization and modeling journey.

 

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