The digital revolution means we now need to redesign our working environment, creating a more informal and collaborative setup - a ‘we space’ which helps people to get together when they need to.

We talked to Nicole Turbé-Suetens, international expert on teleworking and new modes of organisation and founder of the Distance Expert network, on the sidelines of the recent Tribune discussion session for HR Managers on digital strategies, hosted in partnership with L'Atelier.

L'Atelier: In what ways is digital communication going to transform company behaviour and workspaces?

NT-S: Digital channels, and especially the dematerialisation and decentralisation of work which digital makes possible, have already begun to radically affect both public and private sector organisations due to the simple fact that with some very compact equipment you can work anywhere as long as you can get connected.  Being able to get connected is already today the important thing for many types of job rather than the physical place where you work. So the purpose of the workspace is changing.  In an ever-increasing number of cases, you no longer have to go to company premises in order to work. And when we do go in it’s very often to deal with specific things which need attending to or to see specific people.  And those people don’t necessarily have to have a fixed location at the company either.  All you need is to be able to reserve in advance the kind of space you need for your get-together with the others, or simple use a ‘we space’.

Do you see this ‘we space’ concept as the workplace of tomorrow?

I see the ‘we space’ as an informal venue for collaboration where you can meet up with people that you need, or want, to talk to at any particular moment.  This lounge hereinCrédit Agricole’s new Evergreen headquarters at Montrouge is a good example.  So in future there won’t be just one standard type of workplace, there’ll be a range of different types of workspace.  The type of space you have and the number of spaces available will depend on just what you need to do there, the degree of flexibility that the organisation can live with, how far it’s feasible to dematerialise and decentralise the processes – basically it all depends on the momentum coming from top management when they realise that the old control-based management approach is completely outdated. Today the major obstacle to further and faster organisational change – apart from management foot-dragging – is the degree of dematerialisation in a given company. Office organisation is simply a reflection of the company’s hierarchical organisation. And that rarely takes account of the tasks to be performed, the real needs as regards contact and movement – to say nothing of how the individual people get along with each other. 

Should companies see themselves nowadays as large campuses?

Well, that’s one possible solution. Others will probably emerge as well. Even a campus might end up being laid out in a traditional manner if people don’t grasp the fact that a campus should be all about flow and contact.  If you go back to the original California-style university campuses, the idea was to let students choose the best place to do their work depending on their preferred working methods and their particular needs at a given moment. So there are fixed areas on the campus where people come together for clearly-defined activities – a large auditorium for example – but including spots where you can sit down on the spur of the moment depending on how important a particular lecture or session is for you.  That’s the way they’ve organised the ATOS campus at Bezons.

So how can companies switch over to a ‘collaborative’ approach which allows creativity to flourish? 

Here in France we’re only at the very beginning of the organisational revolution and you have to work within the limits to the pace of change that human beings are able to tolerate if all sides are to draw benefit from the process.  We mustn’t forget that there’s a wide gap between the changes in the world of work that we’re able to envisage and our human ability to take on board real change, transformation and adjustment and – most importantly – to actually buy into the new ways of doing things. However, there’ll be no turning back because the active working population of today are not at all like their predecessors of 20 or 30 years ago and yet we’re still using organisational models which date from that era.