What we learned from Dave Coplin in ‘Envisioning the post-COVID workplace’


  • General news,
  • Workplace

30 July 2020

Dave Coplin

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, IWFM has launched 'Navigating turbulent times': a new regular webinar series where a variety of expert guests delve into the global economy's greatest challenges. In a webinar recorded live on Wednesday 17 June, a panel of experts discussed the fundamental shifts in the workplace management mindset that the COVID-19 crisis has forced to the fore.

There is an immediate and pragmatic need for workplace managers to make changes to the workplace as they prepare for the steady return of those who occupy it. But what lies beyond? What are the ramifications for our profession of looser connections between worker and workplace? How does this affect the way we interact with our extra-departmental management peers, and those we provide service for?

The webinar hosted by Martin Read, Editor at the award-winning Facilitate magazine, featured tech guru Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at The Envisioners and speaker at IWFM Conference 2020, to discuss some of the big questions around the future of work and the workplace post-COVID-19.

Key take-outs from the webinar are below.

To view a recording of the full webinar, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgLU2B-vll0&feature=youtu.be

To explore future webinars in the series, visit: https://www.iwfm.org.uk/coronavirus-resources/webinar-series-navigating-turbulent-times.html

Key take-outs:

The end of command and control?

It is time for organisations to recognise that the crisis represents a massive cultural change in how we think about work. Those that will do best are those who can wean themselves off the command and control style of management. Gone are the days of ‘bums on seats’; empowerment will be a prevalent theme looking forward.

This being said, it won’t be an easy change: the idea of flexible working has been discussed for at least a decade. This will require a fundamental change in leadership style and will be particularly challenging for middle managers. Workplace and facilities managers need to create a workplace that is fit for this cultural change.

Outside-in thinking

It is important to understand what it feels like to be an employee or to be a customer, especially right now. How are your employees feeling about returning to work? Put yourself in their shoes. The challenge is offering flexible options for a broad range of employee expectations to suit everyone's needs.

Organisations should remember that this is a long term commitment. FMs should continue to evaluate and listen to employees as the ‘new normal’ evolves and be ready to make changes in reaction to this.

An end to office-centricity?

COVID-19 has finally made work an activity, not simply a destination. One of the biggest impacts of this collective experience is that for twelve weeks every single office worker in the country had to experience the joys and challenges of working remotely.

We now know the best and worst; we need to learn from our experience and perpetuate this going forward. This goes back to working with employees to find the right balance and continuing to adapt plans accordingly. We’ve broken many cultural taboos, such as video calling; now is the time to make a real change to culture. We will need to disassemble what we do and build it into something entirely different. Technology enables this as it allows us to do different things in many different ways - our workplace processes can undoubtedly benefit from this.

Tackling the post-COVID skills gap

Tech ignorance is no longer acceptable in organisations; the ability to use technology is part of our job roles. The capacity for empathy in the workplace management role of 2020 and beyond is extremely important. We are moving towards a new way of learning and it will take time to adapt.

Organisations, leaders and individuals should constantly optimise not only the process for learning, but also the outcomes. The role of the facilities professional has had to adapt fast in the past few months, responding quickly to new government guidelines. This has been a steep learning curve for many as we can no longer dictate and execute - we are dictated to.

Avoiding presenteeism

A recent survey found the average office worker is now working an extra week per month whilst working from home. This shows a real rise in presenteeism; we may or may not be getting more done, but there is a desire to be seen to be working hard.

To engage with the opportunity presented by mass remote working, people need to take responsibility for their own time, be confident in their contribution to the organisation, and avoid the temptation to wanting to be seen online constantly. This enables us to focus on getting things done efficiently, though it also requires the right company culture. The best teams are those that are formed on trust, where presenteeism tends to drift away.

This brings us back to the importance of purpose. If organisations can be straightforward about what their purpose is, they can infuse it into every employee so that they are guided about how to work efficiently, even when working remotely. Those that have open engagement and empowerment, driven by a strong sense of purpose, will thrive in this world.

The data dimension and AI

We’ve moved beyond the IT bandwagon of big tech and big data - we now actually understand how it works. The challenge in the workplace is that the data we would love to have may be inappropriate from a privacy perspective and it would take a bold-cultured organisation to lean into that. Even where intentions are benign and genuinely intended to help employees by looking in detail at their data, there would still be a number of concerns to overcome.

Whilst people genuinely understand the opportunity of AI, we’ve got to take them on a journey with the value of the data. Whilst it is a cultural and societal shift, it is also a fundamental shift in skillset to be able to implement AI safely and effectively. Companies like Microsoft are enabling this by creating tools to make understanding data simpler and easier, enabling every member of the organisation to understand the basic principles of data and AI, such as algorithmic bias - systematic and repeatable errors in a computer system that create unfair outcomes, such as privileging one arbitrary group of users over another.

Every organisation needs a data culture to keep everyone engaged. From a skills perspective, this is a giant leap for the pre-digital workplace and facilities manager and will require knowledge in how to use data for insight, whilst also adding a layer of human intelligence and experience.

Re-wiring routines

The COVID-19 crisis could encourage organisations to look to introduce more local hubs and shared spaces, instead of simply having large offices in city centres. In turn, this would energise high streets by moving to a more distributed model for smaller premises, distributing wealth away from the cities and making economic sense for the country. Technology gives us the opportunity to democratise this capability. This also makes a big environmental difference, with fewer people having to commute and travel a distance for work.

It will take a big, bold step forwards to make these changes happen, but culturally we are now ready for it.