Using data to support office culture change when returning to work

people looking at plans in a sunny office

As companies now plan to return to work at the office, many have taken the opportunity the renew their offices, not just from a design point of view, but from the office culture point of view as well.  Changing office culture is notably challenging and a continuous process that includes many elements all the way from leadership to the needs of individual employees. I talked to Sini Norta from Workspace about office culture change and how space and real-time data can be used to change office culture.

The hardest part of the office culture change is to make permanent changes in behaviour

People tend not to like change. It seems to be a part of human nature to get stuck in doing things the way they’ve always been done before.  However, sometimes change is necessary, and companies need to develop with the times and be ready to answer the needs of their employees. When a company wants to make changes in their office culture, the hardest part is not drawing out plans for the new ways, but getting everyone in the company on board and making permanent changes in behaviour.

I asked Sini Norta, the CEO of Workspace, how and why cultural changes are made in the workplace.

“Usually, we look at least three points of view for cultural changes:

  • 1. We look at the organisation’s strategy and think what kind of company culture would drive the strategy forward and what behavioural changes the strategy requires
  • 2. We look at where work-life in general is going. There are many trends in working life that set certain frames for organisations and we need to be aware of those trends
  • 3. We look at the everyday lives of the employees to see what kind of preconditions that puts for the office culture change

“From there we start to write down how the customer wishes their company would operate in the future. Then we create a model of the operations to identify the most critical points through which we could bring the changes forward.”

“To answer why companies want to make changes in company culture, I believe more and more companies are interested in the overall impact of their company, and cultural changes often fall under that larger theme”.

What are the most common pain points in office culture change?

Co-operation and communication rise as the most common paint point in office culture change. It seems that these two topics are the ones we always come back to when companies want to break down silos in the work community and create spaces and opportunities for co-operation and innovation.

People have begun to regard co-operation differently during COVID. As Sini says, co-operation has already been one of the biggest challenges in work communities before the pandemic, and now issues with co-operation and communication have grown exponentially. In companies, one of the newer concerns is the ability to innovate and create something new when communication is limited to Teams chat and online meetings.

“We know that we can work and do our everyday tasks pretty much the same way as before, but many customers are asking: Are we creating anything new and are we staying competitive?”

Sini Norta also names questions over the hybrid work model as one of the common questions companies raise right now.

“Companies are thinking about where they will settle in the scale of hybrid working, and how their office spaces will serve them after COVID”.

When we talk about returning to work at the office, we should by no means return to the old ways. We should be moving forward and figure out how we can work smarter than before

Sini Norta, CEO, Workspace

How can data support culture change at the office?

When it comes to cultural change, different kinds of data is used to support the changes and find out the bottlenecks that hold the organisation back.

Important data can be gathered from the users themselves through questionnaires, interviews, and workshops that are often done before, during and after a project. In addition, data can be gathered from the office spaces in the form of occupancy data, usage rates, environmental data and more.

computer showing data to support office culture change

“Right now, organisations are thinking about how much space they need and how to use spaces in the best possible way. Traditionally, gathering space utilisation data has been done by observing, but nowadays it’s also possible through sensor technology as well”, Sini Norta explains.

Test: Can you reduce office space?

Example of data-driven office cultural change: activity-based working

Let’s look at an example of changing office culture and policies: a company has decided to move from assigned seating to activity-based working. Activity-based working allows employees to choose their working environment according to the nature of what they are doing, e.g., quiet work or co-operation. In activity-based working, the employees will not necessarily be working at the same spot the entire day.

coffee mug on office table
One coffee mug can ruin the purpose of activity-based working

To make activity-based working easy, companies need to have visibility to the working areas and make sure everyone gets the working spot they need. With no visibility to occupation data, a simple coffee mug can wreck the entire system: if someone leaves a mug on a desk, it will act as a ‘reservation’ whether that’s what the person intended or not. When someone else sees the mug on the desk, they assume the desk is taken and need to find different working space. This is where real-time data comes in. If the office has real-time desk utilisation data visible, the person can check if the desk has been used that day and if not, they can remove the mug and use the desk. This is a simple example of data driving change in behaviour.

Making permanent changes in office culture is highly dependent on the company’s willingness to take on new ways. According to Sini Norta, the office culture is forever transforming but creating new behavioural batters takes about three months. It’s my opinion that companies using data to support their cultural change, can implement the changes faster, but also make them stick.

Planning office space requires reliable data

Getting people to leave the comfort of their homes and work at the office again is another challenge Sini Norta often comes across when talking with customers.

“Nowadays, companies want to create spaces that enable human interaction and good co-operation. The office space needs to attract people to come to the physical office and offer something that the home office does not. To measure human interaction in the office, we need data that shows what kind of interactions happen in what spaces and how that can be fitted in the office design”.

“We believe that space directs people’s behaviour and company culture, and as company culture is always changing, we need to continuously gather data from those spaces to know how they need to be developed to fit the current needs”.

Data remains neutral

Having neutral, real-time data over utilisation, for example, can direct people’s behaviour without anyone needing to guard the new policies. In addition, data is not affected by anyone’s biases.

Like in the example before, people are far more likely the check themselves when data is visualized to them. When people know unoccupied desks are shown as free on their office solution, they’re far less likely to leave their things on the desk for reservation.

In addition to data making cultural change easier, it can also show when changes are not working:

“We often do different kinds of experiments with our customers to see what works for them. Through data, we can see if a change remained permanent and if it led to the desired outcome”.

Return to work has opened the door for office culture change

Now is the time to start gathering data from your employees and from your spaces to learn how people wish to work, and what spaces serve your strategy best. We have a lot of momentum to drive work culture change forward and look at things from a completely new perspective. As Sini Norta says:

“When we talk about returning to work at the office, we should by no means return to the old ways. We should be moving forward and figure out how we can work smarter than before”.

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About Workspace

Workspace helps their customers modernize their business operations, turn strategy into practice and design new practices and spaces that help to create better work-life.