The DNA of Work

Inside Bupa: how hybrid models are helping them thrive

March 14, 2023 Season 1 Episode 44
Inside Bupa: how hybrid models are helping them thrive
The DNA of Work
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The DNA of Work
Inside Bupa: how hybrid models are helping them thrive
Mar 14, 2023 Season 1 Episode 44

Bupa is a great example of aligning ways of working to a strategic vision of what the company needs to be. Senior leaders had already set Bupa on an agile journey before the pandemic and plans were well advanced - helping them adapt quickly when the pandemic struck. There have been many challenges, as for all organisations, but there are ambitious plans for the future.

And we'll hear about how the data AWA gathers from staff surveys helps to inform the design and planning of effective office environments, so that when people do come into the office, the experience is positive and they feel that they benefited from being there.

Here's a quick overview of the topics in this episode:

  • Becoming an agile business (05:00)
  • Getting the most from Bupa's portfolio (17:10)
  • Understanding what people do is fundamental to workplace design (21:34)
  • Using the data to best effect (25:04)

AWA Host: Karen Plum


  • Neil Jones, Property Director, Bupa
  • Clare Danahay, Associate, workplace planning and design, AWA

 AWA Guest details: 



AWA contact: Andrew Mawson 

AWA Institute contact: Natalia Savitcaia

Music: Licensed by Soundstripe – Lone Canyon

Want to know more about AWA?

Thanks for listening to the DNA of work podcast

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Bupa is a great example of aligning ways of working to a strategic vision of what the company needs to be. Senior leaders had already set Bupa on an agile journey before the pandemic and plans were well advanced - helping them adapt quickly when the pandemic struck. There have been many challenges, as for all organisations, but there are ambitious plans for the future.

And we'll hear about how the data AWA gathers from staff surveys helps to inform the design and planning of effective office environments, so that when people do come into the office, the experience is positive and they feel that they benefited from being there.

Here's a quick overview of the topics in this episode:

  • Becoming an agile business (05:00)
  • Getting the most from Bupa's portfolio (17:10)
  • Understanding what people do is fundamental to workplace design (21:34)
  • Using the data to best effect (25:04)

AWA Host: Karen Plum


  • Neil Jones, Property Director, Bupa
  • Clare Danahay, Associate, workplace planning and design, AWA

 AWA Guest details: 



AWA contact: Andrew Mawson 

AWA Institute contact: Natalia Savitcaia

Music: Licensed by Soundstripe – Lone Canyon

Want to know more about AWA?

Thanks for listening to the DNA of work podcast

00:00:00 Karen Plum

Hello there. When you're changing the way your organization works, there are lots of things to think about, from the strategic through to the tactical. The devil may be in the details, but if you don't align the way you work to your organization's vision and purpose, then things can get out of kilter and won't make sense to people. 

Let's find out what one organization has done, by exploring their journey both before and since the pandemic. 

00:00:29 INTRO: Welcome to AWA’s Podcast, which is all about the changing world of work and trying to figure out what's right for each organization, because we know that every one is unique. 

We talk to people who have walked the walk, who've got the T-shirt, and who've learned lessons that they're happy to share with us. I'm your host Karen Plum, and this is the DNA of work. 

00:00:54 Karen Plum

I'm delighted to share the experience of international health insurance and healthcare group Bupa in this episode, having had the opportunity to talk with property director Neil Jones, who's based in the UK.

Later in the episode we'll hear from AWA's Clare Danahay about the surveys that AWA uses to gain an understanding of what employees need at work. But right now, let's get into Bupa's journey. I started my chat with Neil Jones by asking him to tell us a little bit about Bupa. 

00:01:25 Neil Jones

Bupa stands for British United Provident Association. Created in 1947, believe it or not, so it's been around a long time. Whilst we are a health insurer, being our kind of our main part of our business, we're also a provision business, so that's made-up of a number of different categories. So we cover anything from hospitals, ophthalmology, dental health clinics, care homes and we have some other kind of specialisms that we run, depending on the geography that we're operating in, but obviously a huge variety across the healthcare streams. 

00:01:56 Karen Plum

Yes, and an international business as well. 

00:01:59 Neil Jones

Absolutely yes. So I actually operate in BGUK so we cover UK but also a number of other geographies within my market unit, but obviously Bupa also operate in another 190 countries. 

00:02:12 Karen Plum

Yeah, it's pretty big. Isn't it? 

00:02:13 Neil Jones

Big company, yes, it is!

00:02:15 Karen Plum

OK, so Neil when I talk to organizations about their journeys towards hybrid working, I usually start off by asking them how they were working before the pandemic hit, because for many organisations the pandemic was a catalyst for a lot of change. What did it look like for Bupa before 2020? 

00:02:35 Neil Jones

We were actually quite fortunate, so we'd had two large projects underway. So we created our new, our main health insurance business Call Centre, which was in Salford Quays. So we actually constructed that ourselves, so that was going on for kind of two and a half years and it actually opened in 2018. 

So going through that process, we were trying to move all of our staff from what I classed as kind of “it's my space, my desk”, into a more kind of agile footprint. So we looked at what staff and teams and work streams were doing at the current time and we kind of tried to adapt those into a more agile way of working and it was quite a difficult thing to go through, where you know some people have been at the same desk for 20 years plus in Salford Quays. 

But we, you know, we wanted to create neighborhoods; we wanted to downsize the amount of footprint that people had; people working at home that was the dirty word at the time; wanted to move into a more agile way of working and enabling kind of staff to have multiple places of work and for two people to use the same desk in the 

the week was actually doable. So we were already on that journey, which was really fortunate for us. 

So you know, obviously pre pandemic whilst the pandemic drove a lot of change throughout our business, I think we were in quite a fortunate space that we'd already moved into that agile culture. And the other project we did was our group head office in London, so we've moved out of Bupa House which was in Holborn and moved into Angel Court. Again, in exactly the same way, it was driven by our senior leadership. So the moving to an agile culture was a culture shift for us as a business, but also supported from the top, so again, and that really helps. 

So it was, we were driving that change from many different angles, which really helped us. So when the pandemic did hit, I think our mindset had changed about how we should react and working at home, what that meant, how we could change our businesses to make sure they adapted to that need. I think we're already a long way along that journey. 

If you ask me what did the pandemic do to us? I think all it did was brought some of the activities that might have been in the outer years forward. So, we’d have probably changed some of the process just by default as part of that agile journey. Having people to work at home full time, it's quite difficult because we've gone probably from one end of the spectrum through straight to the other, whereas we were probably halfway on that journey, may have, you know, in another couple of years been 75% down that journey, it brought all that very quickly.

But I think because we were on the trajectory we were already on, I think it enabled us to move at pace. I know we turned things around so quickly so you know, I think within four weeks we had everyone up and running, available to work at home in four weeks, which is pretty phenomenal based on the thousands of people we have working in our office environments. 

00:05:11 Karen Plum

I was interested in the attitude of your leadership team because as you say, it's absolutely vital that you have these sorts of changes led from the top. What vision do you think they had? What were they looking to achieve? 

00:05:23 Neil Jones

I think they were looking to become a more agile business, you know agile is a very popular word these days, isn't it, everyone uses it  

00:05:29 Karen Plum

Yeah, overworked! 

00:05:29 Neil Jones

For yeah, for a multiple of different things, but I think they actually wanted to provide, you know, the business to become more agile, to be able to flex not just with our own needs internally so looking inwards with how we operate, what we do, where we operate, the offices we have; but I think also the services and provisions. 

They were looking at, we want to become more digital, we'd gone down that journey. We continue to innovate - we want to be that company known to innovate. But equally you know if you want to be the leading healthcare provider, you've got to be able to offer all different types of requirements really, so you know whether it's how people work within your business, how we work for our customers, what services we provide, how our customers access those services, what platforms, whether is it by phone an e-mail, a conversation, a digital platform. 

So all that requires you to be agile, doesn't it? You've got to move with pace and you've got to move with the requirements of your customer base and your staff requirements as well. So I think their vision was they always wanted to have that ability to be more agile, be more flexible, work at a faster pace, change to their customer needs and our staff needs and they were already on that journey. 

We'd already written kind of a paper as an example, to say what does agile culture mean to us? When we looked at changing our workplace, we’d said this is what a workplace needs to be. And that came from our senior leadership all the way from our Board downwards. So it was great to have that, I suppose, that thinking was sitting behind the direction of the business. 

00:06:57 Karen Plum

I'm wondering about the levels of working from home because obviously agility in the working environment, in the office, is quite different to embracing having lots of people working remotely. Clearly during lockdown that was one situation. But do you think that the organization has embraced more levels of working remotely as a consequence of COVID?

00:07:20 Neil Jones

Absolutely yeah. So choice, I say is one of the main things now so, but you know people have choice as to where they want to work. And they have choice to make that decision around they're working there for the right reasons. So clearly, we want people to interact, we want them to collaborate and we want them to innovate. Equally there’s other times and work requirements that you might like some isolation, need time to think to yourself, don't want any noise.

So we want to create choice and I think what the pandemic has accelerated, that ability of choice, giving people more flexibility so you now have a choice of where you wanna work and you now have the flexibility to understand and decide why you wanna work in that space. If you took Salford Quays, it's a great office. It was a brand new build and it had everything from not just typical desk and office and meeting spaces, it has lots of collaboration spaces, it has great spaces you can meet and network with your colleagues. 

But I think with that whole value piece, it's kind of what do employees value? Do they value the choice of working at home or do they value the choice of being in the office and I think that's accelerated so now when we're recruiting people, they have that choice and we value both sides. 

We value people working at home because it might meet their needs and what they've got within their own personal lives. And some of the choices they have to make, but equally they've got the other side where they can go and work in the office and be with their colleagues and collaborate and socialize. It's just a really good balance of what hybrid actually means. 

00:08:46 Karen Plum

Yes, absolutely. I'm wondering, you mentioned ‘when we recruit people’, do you feel that the changes, I mean obviously you've been on this journey for a while, but are you really seeing an impact on recruitment and indeed levels of retention, as a result of being more agile, moving into hybrid ways of working, embracing more remote working, is that having an impact for you? 

00:09:12 Neil Jones

Yeah, I think it is in a positive way. I think you know, as a business, if you can give your staff members the flexibility to have ownership behind their day, we've got trust, we've got ownership behind; you know, saying to someone if you work for Bupa, we trust you to decide for yourself what's the best operational environment for you to work in. And also that's not just for production of work but also for yourself personally, but also at the same time they're supported in that way as well, their line management, their teams, they all support them. 

You've got the flexibility now to do both, and I think if you're recruiting someone, if you just said, uh, you know you've gotta come to an office five days a week, you've gotta be in there every day and you've gotta be there from 9 till 5 every day, you've suddenly isolated that person into a routine that might not suit their own personal needs and as a result of that you might miss out on the opportunity to recruit that person. 

Whereas if they've got choice and they personally can see the value of that choice that, by me working for Bupa, I can work at home when I need to work at home, but I can work in the office when I need the support of my team or my line manager or I need to collaborate with other teams to benefit my role. They can do that and I think that big word of trust also comes into it as well. 

Before, I can go back ten years and say when you say I'm gonna work at home today, it was kind of like, oh, you know, people you thought that, oh yeah, what are you doing and that kind of thing. 

But you know, I think that the whole industry’s changed. Where we've changed is we want to move to that next stage now as well. We wanna almost push that further and push that boundary further so choice becomes something that's of massive value to people and those choices aren't just about your work location or your desk location, it's about managing your employees’ wellbeing, making sure you've got a volume of different choices to enable them to do that. 

Giving people the time, the locations, the resources to be able to do that as well, all that impacts on people's personal energy and obviously the outcome is you get, the resource becomes a happier place, but also, they deliver at pace because everyone's got that, you know, that extra energy to do it. 

00:11:13 Karen Plum

Yeah, I'm interested in your managers. I know for a lot of organizations, managers felt quite nervous when people were sent to work from home, they didn't necessarily have the skills to manage a remote workforce. How have you managed with your managers? 

00:11:29 Neil Jones

I think that's been quite a difficult challenge if I'm being really honest, and I'd say that because we're a very diverse business, so if you look at the different types of teams we have, you could have, in Bupa Place we could have in excess of eighty, ninety teams, the back of house function teams, so you know things like finance, marketing, all those supportive functions; to people that are talking to our customers frontline and they can spend an hour and a half on a phone call with someone.

So trying to take that, I suppose that diverse population and then manage them all remotely, it was quite difficult. We all had to adapt. What was best and most suitable for our teams, really, I suppose.

And look, through the pandemic, we never closed one office – just to say that as well. We never did that because some people also don't like working in a remote way so I just want to say that because I think it’s really important because we have the ability still to support people face to face. 

We put a huge amount of effort into our office resources to make sure they were safe, COVID safe. We did a huge amount of work to make sure that was consistent and at huge expense, but we wanted to do that to make sure that even through the pandemic, you still have that choice, we’re not saying everyone had to work at home, so if people were struggling with support, they had the ability to go in and still speak to people, be in the office amongst their colleagues, be amongst friends, to collaborate with their colleagues in a safe way and still see their managers face to face. 

You know, don’t get me wrong, I mean, we all lived and breathed on Teams, didn't we, for a period of time, but still have the ability to collaborate in a great way on Teams. So again, I think with a business, with the culture we have, we managed to innovate, to come up with alternative routes of good management.

We did a survey through AWA, which was great. We went out to all of our employees and said, you know, what worked, what doesn't work? What have you seen as a benefit as a result of COVID, what would you like to see more of? 

So we've asked all those questions and we're very much a “you said, we did” type business. We've launched so many different additions to our business over the years, we've launched different things that are all supportive around people's wellbeing, which was fantastic. 

00:13:34 Karen Plum

So important, isn't it? And I absolutely agree with you, giving people choice, letting people come in if they want to come in, because not everybody likes to work remotely, absolutely. But it doesn't surprise me to hear that you're also really attuned to people’s mental health concerns and considerations and that's something I believe, having looked at your website and social media, that's something that you're really pushing forward on. 

00:13:59 Neil Jones

We are yeah, physical and mental wellbeing across many different areas as well. It's huge for us. We need to look inwards as well as outwards obviously. Clearly, we want to provide our customers with the best services across every different area associated with both those areas, but equally we need to look inwards as well and make sure we're providing that to our own employees and staff because it's really important that we do that. 

I think mental wellbeing through COVID was incredibly hard, wasn't it. I think it was hard for everyone - one of the biggest challenges we probably will all see in our lifetimes. Anything from people having to home school their children, through to not being able to see loved ones. 

Being a Healthcare Group, it was even more challenging for us because our staff in our provision businesses are not only having those challenges in their own home environments; but they're then having to go to work and work in a very different way, very quickly to adapt to support our customers and our customer needs. Particularly in our care homes and places like that where you've got some high medical needs from our customers. 

All I can say was I was immensely proud throughout the pandemic how our business reacted all the way through, from our leadership through to our frontline but particularly our frontline, they're absolute heroes. If you've ever been in a care home and see what they do on a daily basis, or see how people work in a hospital or some of the other things they do within our clinics, et cetera, it's phenomenal.

And I think it's a real calling for people, but to do that whilst under the pressure that everyone had within their homes and also still provide fantastic care for our customers and deal with new things where they weren't also allowed to deal with, see their families, and that again puts even more pressure on our own staff to be able to provide that comfort and support to our customers.

So yeah, it was really, really really challenging. You look back on it, you think how immensely proud you are of what your company's done and what the business has done and what the staff have done. 

00:15:43 Karen Plum

Yeah, it really is awe inspiring, isn't it. 

00:15:46 Neil Jones

Immensely, immensely. It is a calling, being a carer in a general day-to-day BAU, but when you saw what they had to deal with, and we were getting thrown new requirements, new regulations, needs, daily almost, sometimes, and having to deal with that was really difficult, and so coming back to the point that mental wellbeing, I mean mental resilience to some people is phenomenal, when you look at what they did and how they did it. 

But yeah, I think our business really really tried their absolute utmost and put so many additional services in place, whether that's people to speak to, but platforms that people could deal with, so how you could get hold of support, where it was, it was very visible to everyone all the way through the pandemic. It was constantly talked about so it doesn't become something that people just hide behind. 

And I think even as a culture I've found that the first question behind any calls with any of the teams was, “how are you getting on” - so it wasn't straight into the work, it was also around how people were feeling about dealing with a pandemic, you know, and Bupa did so many different things to make sure that people could access things easily, quickly and it was readily available for everyone. 

00:16:52 Karen Plum

Great to hear about it. I guess just before we finish, it would be remiss of me not to ask you about the heartland of your role and to ask you about the amount of space that you manage. Are there plans to reconfigure and downsize the portfolio as a result of these different ways of working? 

00:17:10 Neil Jones

I wouldn't say necessary downsize. I'd say that we might have locations that probably don't offer us value for our staff or for our business to be in those locations anymore, when we've got such a wide portfolio, so I think growth is always a key thing for us, we always wanna grow as a business, clearly, wanna grow our customers, we wanna grow the services we provide, et cetera. But then within our new agile locations, I think - would we look to offload space? I think if it didn't offer us value, probably. However, we're looking what those spaces as an alternative could be, so we want to innovate those spaces again to offer even more to people. So we're looking at multiple different propositions at the moment to see what those spaces could be. 

Equally, it's just choice again, if we can get those, it's of value to our staff that they have that choice, that's gotta be a benefit to everyone. It's a benefit to us as an employer, it improves our recruitment and retention and it's just great for our staff if they've got alternative facilities they can use that gives them that choice. And when you go into your workplace, it doesn't wanna be, I've just got to sit at the desk and do work. 

You know we want people to have energy and we want people to have that energy because they're supported by all of the wellbeing services and facilities we can provide them. So we look after a huge space, but we're always trying to improve our spaces. 

That's not just in our office spaces, if you look at all of our provision facilities as well, we're constantly trying to evolve them into something that's akin to what customers are wanting and how we can improve on the services we provide, whether it's delivery of care, whether it's for our staff’s ability to deliver services for Bupa and equally even in the, kind of, the digital world, constantly trying to evolve that platform as well to make it more accessible. 

Some people don't have the ability to go get in a car and drive to a location so they need to access those services more remotely but still feel that they're in the room if that makes sense. Constantly evolving! 

00:18:57 Karen Plum

So Neil, final question - what are you most excited about as you look into 2023? 

00:19:03 Neil Jones

We've launched a number of new different things, so we had an unstoppable event, we have them quite regularly – so it's where our senior exec gets everyone excited about all the things that we're doing as a business. So we’ve just had one about the Manchester ID project, so that's a center of innovation that we're gonna support. 

We've partnered with a thing called JAAQ - just ask any question - which I thought was phenomenal. We are the healthcare provider now for the Paralympic team going into Paris in 2024. We're constantly evolving our portfolio to adapt to our customer needs. We're spending a lot of money on our facilities, which is fantastic, and lots of projects going on and expanding our portfolio, which is exciting for us as a property team. 

Sustainability and climate change is a real focus for us. We announced some years ago that we're gonna be net zero by 2040. Big focus for us this year, as well as we start some significant projects in that space around the management of not just our carbon, but also the wider climate change activities we do as well

We're really excited about all - there's loads of things that we're involved in. I think the pace in which we do things as well, which will continue to increase, I think because if we can get the company really energized and get everyone in that right space then I think pace will just continue to grow, just lots of exciting innovation I think that's happening within the business. 

00:20:17 Karen Plum

Absolutely well, I'm excited listening to all of that lot!

Neil, it's been delightful talking with you, thanks so much for your time. 

00:20:24 Neil Jones

Thanks for having me, Karen. 

00:20:25 Karen Plum

So many times our podcast guests emphasize the importance of choice. It makes a lot of sense. If you want people to work in a way that best suits them, give them choice and empower them to make those decisions. 

Yes, there are still powerful people who believe that all leaders secretly want staff back in the office, but I genuinely believe that isn't the case. Some yes, but not everyone's afraid of change and many understand the benefits of treating people like adults. 

Anyway, it was refreshing to hear Neil talking about Bupa's approach, led by the vision of its senior leaders, who quite a while ago realized that a more agile way of working would help them achieve their vision to be an organization that can adapt, to embrace innovation and to change at pace. 

Bupa are a much-valued client and I enjoyed talking with Neil. During our discussion he mentioned a survey that AWA ran and I thought it would be interesting to find out more about that approach. 

So I talked to AWA's Clare Danahay, a strategic workplace planner and designer who's worked with lots of clients to design effective office space and working environments. I started by asking her to explain the purpose of the survey that Neil mentioned. 

00:21:35 Clare Danahay

It's really important that we try to understand what people actually are doing on a day-to-day basis, because obviously functions throughout any business are very different, at senior level, all the way down to the most junior people and roles are very different and every task that people carry out on a daily basis will vary. 

So we really need to understand what activities people are doing, which will inform what types of spaces they need to be working within when they are in the office. But also understanding how many times a week they might be coming into the office and what are the reasons that they're coming in. Part of the process of designing a great space is making sure that people actually have the right settings to support their tasks. So if people are coming into the office for collaboration and social connection, what types of spaces do they need? 

They certainly don't need to be sitting just at a desk all day long, so is that a typical standard meeting room, or is that more of a project space or a really informal collaborative space that they need to be in when they are coming together? 

And also understanding how many days a week they might be coming into the office can vary between different roles and different tasks and that will again help us understand the space demand. We also like to try to understand what's going on culturally and that will link back to some of our science based research around the six factors. So kind of understand how well teams are working together, for example. 

00:22:56 Karen Plum

And I think working out what's the best mix of time for each individual and for each team and that's really what the working together agreements are all about, which we've talked about on other episodes. 

So in your experience, what sorts of things come out of these surveys, are you ever surprised by the findings? 

00:23:15 Clare Danahay

One thing that we have seen, which is really interesting, is a real difference between what senior leaders expect, what managers expect, and then perhaps what the most junior people in the business expect. One of the most interesting pieces around that really is that the senior leaders have an awful lot of autonomy, so can do what they want to do really. And are used to managing their own diaries and being all around they might be, you know, travelling around different locations, so therefore actually they probably are often only in the office one or two days a week, because they're just here, there and everywhere. 

But they assume that everybody else has to be there to do the job and they like to be able to walk in and it be a busy office and a busy environment. So for them, even though they might not actually be in that location that regularly, they have an office first mentality that they want to see people when they go in, so they like the idea of presenteeism. 

But then you know they might not want to necessarily say “we expect you in every day”, because they know that that's a bit controversial. Middle managers are then left in a bit of a quandary because they feel that they need their teams to be in because they sort of feel that that's what's coming from above, but they don't really know what to do with that and can they dictate it, can they not dictate it? 

Bit of a disconnect, I think between all the levels of organization, and I think that's one of the challenges that businesses face moving forward to make sure that everybody throughout the organization has a really clear vision, they know what their workplace future looks like, have agreed that working together agreement, so that everybody's on board with it and know what behaviors are expected of them in a hybrid world. 

00:24:48 Karen Plum

From a design point of view, how does this data help you in terms of the physical solutions for an office space, if you're redesigning a space or designing perhaps a new space, if an organization's relocating. How does this data help you? 

00:25:04 Clare Danahay

It's actually really useful. We feed it into some algorithms which we use within our space modeling calculator, which will help inform us how many desks we need, what the occupancy of the space might be on a daily basis, and there's several ways that we can look at that. We can look at it on if it was working on the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday peak, where we've got a quieter Monday and Friday, which is often the case within organizations.

And that will help us, like I said, so what do we expect from what we're hearing from people's behavior, how frequently they're coming in, what days are likely to be coming in, what to expect the peak occupancy of the week's going to be and then we're also looking at the types of behaviors that people are saying they're going to do what they're coming in for. 

Are they coming in for sitting and working at a desk or they're collaborating? Are they coming in because they'll be in client meetings? Or will they have a real mix of a day where they might be doing all sorts of activities. 

People really need to be coming into the office for a positive experience, people aren't as happy to travel in and do the commute, all the pain that that might be causing, organize their life at home so that it's easy for them to get into the office, unless it's really a positive experience, you should be coming away from the office feeling as though you've actually gained something from being in there. 

And therefore the types of spaces that you need might not be rows of desks, but there needs to be better quality environment when you're in there and it be purposeful when you go in. And those spaces might be as space hungry as desks, it's just a different type of setting. 

So I think people need to be careful about thinking they can offload space. It's just about really carefully thinking about how they plan it and what activities go on. Making sure that it's really good experience for people when they’re in. 

00:26:54 Karen Plum

Yes, it's a really good point. I think you're right. Lots of organizations do think because the demand on the building is a lot less, then they can just get rid of a lot of space, but for some of those activities, if you're going to have them in the open plan, collaboration in open plan areas, that will create noise and buzz and again that will travel to other parts of the building. 

00:27:16 Clare Danahay

Yeah, and then it will be a negative environment to be in, people won't want to come in, so you'll actually have the opposite impact and then people will say well, I'm not getting anything done, I don't enjoy being in there. It's too noisy. It's got to be a positive experience and therefore well considered space has to be a priority, and it's not necessarily going to mean less space. 

It's just got to be really carefully designed space for the needs of the people that are there. It's not saying it's got to be very, very expensive fit out, but it's got to be very, very considered. 

00:27:47 Karen Plum

Can you give me an example of something that you might otherwise have not planned for that came from input from staff surveys? 

00:27:56 Clare Danahay

One of the things I think that's come out of post pandemic working is that individual space is much more needed. We were already very aware before 2020, that meeting rooms were often planned too large. You know we'd have lots of eight to ten, twelve-person meeting rooms, which often had occupants of two in them.

So smaller spaces were often more important, one to one spaces, three-to-four-person meeting rooms - they're always very high on the agenda. But what Teams calls have meant within the office is that people actually need a space to be able to go away and just do a Teams call. 

So those kind of much smaller pods are really important, and what we can understand from the survey, it's not necessarily a surprise, but what we do understand now is that the quantities of those calls that might be taking place, and again that will depend on how many days a week people are in the office, but I think the idea that one of us will get through a day without having a Teams call, regardless of your location, is quite unlikely because we're all having to jump on them all the time. 

I actually don't think there's anything worse than sitting in an open plan space trying to do a Teams call because you've got all the noise and distraction from around you. I think cognitively it's really difficult to have that much stimuli going on when you're trying to look at the screen visually, listen to the audio, you might have several people on that Teams meeting, not just one to one. You've then got people moving around you, there's an awful lot going on, and I think it's a bit overloading for us mentally.

I've had this discussion with a few people about, well, we used to be on the phone in an open plan environment, and that's absolutely fine, but I think there's something about just having the audio and not having the visual. Also, if you're on the audio, you're not on a call with potentially ten people on screen that you're all trying to read their expressions, read that room, perhaps read the chat that's going on, try and manage the call, who's put their hand up first. And what, you know, do a presentation. 

All those things that we're trying to do with all the background noise of an open plan office and visual movement going on at the same time and I think it's very, very overloading. So those private spaces have become significantly important when we're designing the space. 

00:30:10 Karen Plum

And actually, the person on the phone might think it was perfectly fine, but all the people around them might not have thought it was! 

00:30:16 Clare Danahay

Especially depending on the volume of their voice!

00:30:21 Karen Plum

Absolutely yes. What's good for me isn't necessarily good for the ten people around me, 

And that links back to what Claire was saying about positive experiences in the office. If your day is full of Teams calls, you're almost certainly better off to take them in a quiet environment, away from visual or audible distractions. And where you won't be disturbing lots of other people while you take your call. 

What I found particularly insightful was realizing that the amount of space needed won't just decrease because there are fewer people in the office on a daily basis. If we need quality spaces for different types of collaborative interactions they can be just as space hungry as rows of desks or individual offices, and that's why we need to gather data and carefully consider the needs of those working in the office. 

My thanks to Claire and again to Neil for sharing their thoughts and experiences in this episode. I hope you found their insights valuable and that we've given you some food for thought. 

00:31:20 CLOSE: If you'd like to hear future episodes of the DNA of work, just follow or like the show. You can contact us on our website, advanced-workplace. com. Thank you so much for listening. See you next time. Goodbye!

Clare Danahay