#WisdomWednesday: Imagining the workplace of the future
Corona’s influence has been far-reaching, and it’s had an irreversible effect on the way we work. So what will workplaces look like once the pandemic has passed? Blogger and storyteller Magali De Reu sat down with Start it @KBC and Start it X founder Lode Uytterschaut and Vincent Vanderbeck of Hangar K, a co-working and incubation concept bringing startups, scale-ups and corporates together in West Flanders. Here’s what they saw in Lode and Vincent’s crystal ball:
Small innovation hubs for corporates and startups
Startups and corporates need each other: startups can benefit from the know-how and network of bigger companies to grow, while corporates benefit from the innovative mindset and energy of entrepreneurs to evolve faster. Hangar K tries to bring them together so they can play on each other’s strengths. “For example, tech corporation Barco leaned on one of our startups to develop a new app,” Vincent cites proudly. “It was a conscious choice by Barco to place a team here working on healthcare products, so that they could go about things independently from headquarters, and to learn from startups and pick up their mentality. Another corporate we host is building tech company Unilin: three of their company departments were placed here to help them work better together.”
A change of context can create new perspectives and a different way of thinking. “It’s important to get people out of the box,” confirms Lode. “You get that bit of serendipity around the coffee machine, and get to know others through events. It’s those kinds of practical things that help people find new approaches. Corporates have the same challenges as startups do when launching something new: you have to explore the market, the verticals, the priorities.”
The corona crisis has forced companies to reinvent themselves at record speed, as Vincent and Lode are well aware. But doesn’t it also make it more difficult to physically put heads together? “Corona does make it tough, but we assume the pandemic won’t last forever,” says Vincent. Lode agrees, adding: “In any case, the future of work is a mix of online and offline collaboration.”
Hybrid working is gaining ground
That brings us to the next development in the workplace of the future: hybrid working. In essence the hybrid model is a combination of working from the office and working remotely, whether it be at home or in a café or co-working space. The focus is not so much on where people are working as on results, and this model lets people achieve that output in the way that works best for them.
Not only does the hybrid model give the freedom to choose where to work, it also creates more flexibility around when people will work. Employees can schedule work around other demands and commitments, and get their work done when it suits them best. Companies get the best out of their employees in terms of productivity and satisfaction. Everyone wins by combining the structure and social contact of the office with the freedom and flexibility of working from home, and digital tools will help hold it all together.
Lode is a holy believer in a post-corona world where the workplace is more decentralised. “A lot of people will want to keep working from home,” he says. “In the future companies are going to work more through satellite offices, or have teams spread out in the Hangar K’s of the world, to give them some structure and social contact. It’s not corporate, but it is inspiring.”
For some meetings, going on-site is still the best solution, finds Vincent. “It’s tricky to lead a board of directors from home, to be as present and responsive as you need to be. We bought a Barco conferencing system so we can do hybrid meetings, more and more people are starting to do that too.” Start it @KBC has seen how well digital formats can work, for example during the highly successful digital pitching days. “But is face to face going to disappear completely?” asks Lode. “I don’t think so.”
Fast access to talent
As digitalisation accelerates, it’s also important for both corporates and startups to bring the right talent on board. Hangar K not only helps tech startups and big companies join forces, they also give companies of all sizes access to great talent.
“Hangar K can host people in a flexible way,” Vincent explains enthusiastically. “Corona has been a catalyst for this kind of flexible use of space. We offer people a spot to meet, a place with quality equipment that meets your needs. Corporates conduct interviews with potential employees here, where it’s much more attractive than some warehouse in a backwater town. It gives corporates the chance to present themselves as innovative and forward-thinking.”
Lode points out that it’s not just the hip hub that attracts people, but also the people behind Hangar K who play a crucial role. “It’s about the organisation, not just a nice space,” he explains. “That’s what makes it more than just a co-working space. It depends on people who get what’s happening in the business world and who can meet those needs.” A concept like Hangar K needs both people who drive business and people who build the community. “Placing people at Hangar K doesn’t keep them from clocking out at 5 pm,” he says. “The corporation has to send people the message that they are there to interact with others, not to sit in a silo, otherwise people stay stuck on their little island.”
How are you looking forward to working in the post-corona future? The possibilities are endless!