NEXTGEN DIARIES: ANETA POPIEL

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28 APRIL 2020

I am writing from my flat in West London, where I have been working since mid-March. Agile working, including working from home, is very much supported by my company, so I feel grateful for having had the opportunity to go through this experience, prior to Covid-19, even if not to such an extent. This has prepared me for this ‘new normal’ as I had the right tools and support to continue doing my job from day one.

What this situation has taught me, however, is how grateful I am for my dog and my balcony. Having a dog is a perfect excuse to go outside (still wearing a mask and gloves) and my balcony gave me the opportunity to meet my neighbours. I live in a new development, full of young professionals so this is the first time where we were together in our homes at the same time and could chat to each other from our balconies.

The weekend before the lockdown my sister visited me from Nottingham and she ‘got stuck’ with me in London. I am so grateful for this too, because in normal circumstances we would never have had the opportunity to live together again. We often Skype our parents, who live in Poland, and discuss how things are in our respective jobs and countries. We also play virtual games together, so having this ‘forced’ family connection feels like being kids again.

I work as a Workspace as a Service Manager at HB Reavis where I manage collaborative work of various work streams across six countries, which means that working from home is not a novelty for me. Perhaps working in the area that brings together the future trends of working meant that this transition was particularly kind to me, as I have been somewhat practicing remote work for some time. As this practice is widely used and supported by my company, the entire business has continued to do a brilliant job despite the circumstances. Our very innovative leadership team means that our company is well equipped and prepared to work remotely and still be as productive.

We have been provided with a huge support in terms of IT, but also human & collaborative activities, including HR calls, yoga, quizzes and weekly CEO updates. Everyone feels connected and up to speed with every project. All colleagues have also been very proactive in calling each other for virtual coffee catch ups and we have a big WhatsApp group where we even exchange pictures from our walks in nature, recipes, workouts and banter – all to keep the feeling of belonging to a team, a community.

Despite being used to working remotely with my various teams, we would still meet in the office for collaborative work, workshops, brainstorming sessions, meetings with clients, consultants and suppliers prior to the pandemic. We have had to adapt and make up for a loss of personal interactions.  There are certain senses and behaviours we needed to ‘develop’ to make up for not being able to read body language or emotions. This is something that we have previously taken for granted. We are working together now on adapting and bettering our offer to what our clients and communities may need post-COVID 19, in short, medium and long term.

What I miss the most, though, is going to visit a site. The ‘feeling’ of a space, what it is prior to, and what it may become after the development is still irreplaceable for me. We do use VR, AI and other tools which are fantastic, but I do miss satisfying all my senses, not just seeing and hearing. I am a very ‘touchy’ person, I like to touch materials and fabrics, I like to get my hands busy and often dirty, and I miss hugging my colleagues – I hope this custom won’t die off now? Although I am a huge fan of a ‘namaste’ greeting!

I have realised a few things so far:

  • Work from home is possible and can be as efficient as work from the office, provided that we have the right environment for it.
  • Less travel can increase productivity as we have more time to do our work, not forgetting its environmental benefits.
  • Collaborative work & networking cannot be done effectively from our homes. We will still need offices, they just need to be serving us better for fostering relationships, co-creating and growing our network, both professionally and socially. We also need a physical and mental barrier between work and life.
  • We have relaxed our attitude towards having a family, having a dog, having a slow internet connection. This is life – embrace it! Bring your dog and kid to the office.
  • Work patterns may shift – we may all need to embrace a nomadic style of working and be ‘at work’ at different places and times of the day, apart from when we need to do collaborative work.
  • Transport patters and security measures in cities will change – we need to think how cities will be redesigned now?

I would like to point out as well is that what we were already on a path of change amid the 4th Industrial Revolution and COVID-19 just happened to accelerate and trigger adaptation of some trends.

However, as much as we needed to adopt the technology, we also needed to see the revival of humanity. I think that this pandemic, despite being devastating, also showed us the power of humanity and communities and how technology is serving us, not the other way round. I hope we will learn the right lessons and turn them into opportunities and we will get back on our feet as people, businesses, communities and Cities – not ‘back to normal’, but ‘forward to better’.

Aneta Popiel

CPA NextGen Chair

Workspace as a Service Manager at HB Reavis UK