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Connected Work Innovation Hub – Sprinting towards the working world of the future

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Catharina Sauer
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How will we work in a post-Covid-19 world? After six months of intensive project work, the “Connected Work Innovation Hub” study report now provides answers to this question. The innovative project network developed joint ideas and trend-setting action models for a new hybrid working world.

s and design concepts for this new hybrid workplace in the post-Covid-19 world. As a result, the partners not only benefited from one another, but also received an overview of the progress of research in this area, as well as a scientifically-based presentation of confirmed findings and questions that still need to be answered. At the same time, they themselves contributed their concentrated specialist knowledge and extensive expertise. “We are proud of what we have achieved across the six months of intensive work on this project alongside our project partners. There was a great need to find answers to the pressing questions surrounding hybridity in a short amount of time; after all, the workplace is currently changing more profoundly and rapidly than ever before. The collaboration was special in several respects: Not only are the ideas and concepts that we developed innovative, but the approach to the project has never before been seen in this form at Fraunhofer IAO,” says Dr. Stefan Rief, Project Manager and Head of the Organizational Development and Work Design research division at Fraunhofer IAO.

Innovative project work provides forward-looking guidance
The project network yielded fundamental insights on innovation, leadership, employee engagement, office infrastructures and performance measurement in the hybrid workplace. Combining the extensive knowledge, range of experiences and available resources in order to collectively think ahead about interdependency and success models and strategies to shape hybridity is both meaningful and sustainable — after all, almost every organization is facing the same task. In addition to linking science and practice during the sprints, the research team conducted an empirical survey to gain other significant insights that companies should consider when shaping the future of work within their organizations. In conjunction, model solutions — known as blueprints — were developed for the new challenges of hybridity. They serve as forward-looking guidance from a variety of perspectives.

Inspiration and training instead of commuting: use time gained as inspiration time
What can employees do with their newfound time when working from home eliminates the need for time-consuming commuting? One of the blueprints answered this very question. This is because eliminating commuting time not only has a positive effect on the carbon footprint, but also allows time and space for other activities. One scenario developed as part of the project was as follows: Some of the additional time can be used to participate in inspiring and educational virtual offerings and schemes. At the same time, this strengthens innovation within a company, which is a challenge in hybridity because the chance encounters that are so important for ideas and inspiration no longer take place. The empirical study aspect of the “Connected Work Innovation Hub” report confirms this idea: Around 40 percent of the employees surveyed would like to use the additional time for further training and inspiration.

Office infrastructure plays a key role in successful hybrid collaboration
How can a sufficient amount of informal, spontaneous and unplanned meetings and communications be ensured in a hybrid workplace, even if workforces are spread across a large area? The project network assigns a key role to the organization of the office or shared space in this regard. As such, booking systems for workplaces and rooms fulfill, among other things, “social” functionalities that ensure a high probability of encounters within teams, but also for cross-disciplinary and cross-functional encounters. In such a way, the office, equipped with this digital layer, becomes a place for spontaneous meetings and informal conversations. In hybrid meeting rooms, hybrid collaboration can succeed with as little friction as possible between the groups in attendance and can include participants or employees connecting from home or from workplaces abroad. The empirical survey revealed that employees not only work from home or different locations, but would also like to extend these mobile forms of work to other countries in order to meet their desire for individual flexibility. The topic of working remotely from abroad will therefore undoubtedly become established, but still faces legal challenges. The related legal framework conditions were therefore worked out with legal experts and a pragmatic operational regulatory approach to work remotely from elsewhere within the EU for a maximum period of 30 days was designed as a handout.

New leadership skills are required
Managers also face significant challenges in the shift towards hybrid workplaces. According to the research team, managers would be well advised to develop their own leadership presence in the hybrid context, not only by widening participation opportunities for individual employees and the entire team, but also by simultaneously handing over more responsibility and requiring increased self and team responsibility. The ability to form relationships in a positive way is becoming particularly relevant. This includes, among other things, giving and receiving trust and being able to actively communicate through all media channels in order to reach a satisfactory understanding.

In conclusion, it can be stated across all subject areas that hybrid forms of work are complex in their design, but compared to purely virtual or purely in-person models, they are more likely to represent the favored working model for the years to come post-pandemic. All companies face the enormous challenge of successfully managing the transformation to a hybrid working environment.

Six sprints to the workplace of the future
In terms of methodology, the project has shown that a great deal of knowledge can be shared, experiences exchanged and networks established in a short period of time. In the open and trusting atmosphere of a discussion and development platform, the participants developed pragmatic approaches to solutions under the guidance of Fraunhofer IAO and identified relevant findings and development needs. To this end, they worked on a total of six topic areas in four-week sprints. Breaking the project down into so-called “mini-projects” and elaborating on these has proven its worth, as this application-oriented and co-creative methodology delivers fast results and new approaches all at once. The participants of this project have therefore moved themselves into an experimental space. The methodological and structural insights gained in this way can serve as a model for future large-scale projects.

Phase two is at the starting blocks
The second phase of the project will start in the fall. After all, hybridity brings with it a complex and dynamic working world where new questions are continually arising, which the project network will address. The scenario technique is used to look into the future for the next five years and, together with the partner companies, to develop consistent future scenarios and analyze their consequences. In addition, the team looks at emerging trends and related design challenges to develop new blueprints.

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