The Changing Workplace — Future of Work

In September of this year, Cancer Research UK will be going through a major change. We’ll be saying goodbye to the home we created ten years ago and moving headquarters to a new office in Stratford.

As with all new major changes, it’s a great chance to assess where we are, where we want to be and the barriers that hold us back from getting there. So, this is exactly what we did.

In the days before laptops, the internet and mobile phones, workplaces created a very static working environment. Staff became comfortable with the stability of travelling to the same office every day, sitting at the same desk, switching on a computer that doesn’t move and spending most of their day in face-to-face meetings, because there was no other way to work together.

Thanks to technology and greater connectivity, change started to happen. We can now work around family commitments or when we’re most productive. And, as a result, organisations retain amazing talent and attract a new workforce who couldn’t easily work in previous conditions, such as working parents, like myself.

Cancer Research UK has recognised this shift, and we’re using the move to Stratford to explore and test a new working environment that’s more flexible, collaborative and adaptive. The vision of the Future of Work programme was to understand the changing workplace and the challenges that exist at Cancer Research UK, and remove the technical barriers to working in a flexible, collaborative and adaptive way. As well as exploring and testing different ways of working to move us closer to this vision.

When we use words like ‘adaptive’ it can mean different things to different people. So, it was important to us to define what each of these words meant upfront. Since they’re all core to the goals of Future of Work.

Flexible: Having the technology, environment and policies that allow staff to work in a location that best suits the type of work they are doing.

Collaborative: Enabling more cross-collaboration, sharing and working on projects together and building communities.

Adaptive: Building the willingness and resilience to try new things, learn from experiences and actively make change to improve ourselves, processes and ways of working.

Productive: We believe by building a flexible, collaborative and adaptive environment we will spend more time on the things that add value to the charity.

Our plan for delivering change

The programme is split into 3 waves of activity:

Wave 1 aims to give staff the right tools and technology to work more flexibly and collaboratively. This includes new laptops for everyone, rolling out Office 365 and Skype Enterprise Voice. Wave 1 also provides training and introduces initial experiments and insights gathering to understand challenges and appetite for change.

Wave 2 aims to fully embed test and learn as a methodology for exploring new ways of working, based around the organisational challenges that were identified during wave 1. Some of these themes include consistently embedding flexible working practices across the organisation, like implementing a new activity-based working policy.

Wave 3 aims to take what we have learnt from the wave 2 experiments and embed them into our policies, processes and way of working — so it becomes our ‘new normal’.

What have we done, what we’re doing now and what’s our next steps?

We’re over half way through wave 1. With almost everyone across the charity now in possession of a new laptop and Office 365 and staff are more able to physically work anywhere.

We’ve done a lot of listening across the organisation to create the areas of focus for wave 2 (organisational themes) that culturally move us towards our vision. These themes have each been designed as self-organised experiments to enable anyone across the organisation to get involved in and start trialling.

The organisational themes that have been identified are:

· Flexible working: with the support of a refreshed flexible working policy and managers toolkit, this experiment is designed to enable staff to test the informal flexible working arrangements that best suit their needs. The outcomes from this experiment will inform iterations to the policy, etiquette and culture around flexible working.

· Activity-based working: a self-organised experiment enabling staff to utilise the right physical space to support the type of work they are doing. For example, using a ‘touch-down’ desk when having meetings throughout the day.

· Online tools: trialling 3 different ways to provide training and support for the suite of tools available. 1. Self-service training for those who feel comfortable using new tools 2. Weekly Skype training sessions with a spot light on specific tools 3. Bespoke experiments that delve into the specific challenges within a department to co-design an experiment to meet their needs using the tools available.

· Reducing paper: an organisation-wide challenge to utilise the tools available to reduce the amount of paper used. For example, using Microsoft One Note to make notes in meetings or Microsoft Whiteboard for workshops.

· File management: organising our files to enable staff to collaborate and access the right information regardless of location.

· Meeting etiquette: a self-reported experiment allowing everyone in the organisation to co-design the face-to-face and online meeting etiquette.

With wave 2 now kicking off we’ve started engaging with teams across the organisation, supporting them to run experiments, all with the purpose of learning what works and what doesn’t ahead of the move to our new headquarters in Stratford and beyond.

We believe by using test and learn methodologies to build our working culture at Cancer Research UK we will enable every staff member to shape our future and build a resilient organisation that can survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

You can hear more about Future of Work at Cancer Research UK by listening to my podcast or attending Camp Digital on 12 June.