Taking a tailored approach to reshaping work
Chris Tolley, Senior Director of People Services, Arm.
At Arm’s global headquarters in Cambridge, staff are used to breaking the mould to invent the future. What next for the working practices of the technology giant’s thousands of employees worldwide, as countries juggle restrictions and grapple with uncertainty?
We’ve grasped this as an opportunity to rethink how work gets done. The pandemic exposed structures, processes and practices that were not as efficient as they could be and encouraged us to rethink our approach to everything from travel to how we use our office spaces. Now our offices have reopened, it’s a chance to come back differently and to consider how to work more sustainably, flexibly and efficiently.
Arm has 30 years of growth based on face-to-face interaction for innovation. It’s vital we retain the collaboration that’s at the heart of our success, but we need to define how to do it effectively in a new world where people meet up less frequently.
During lockdown we took the physical world of work and tried to recreate it virtually. We learnt that some things just work better in person. Take white boarding for example – a practice that’s at the heart of engineering. We’ve tried a lot of different white boarding tools during the last 18 months, and we’ve got solutions out of the sessions. But none of those tools can yet replicate the energy and intensity of an in-person session. We know our engineers really miss the buzz of being in the room and in the moment.
Even tasks you might think lend themselves to working apart, like coding, have hidden collaboration needs. A challenge can often be solved in minutes by tapping a colleague on the shoulder and asking them to take a quick look. It takes more time and effort when you have to put a slot in someone’s diary to discuss. There’s a temptation to stick with the problem longer than you should, trying to resolve it alone. Last year we had a record year in terms of product releases, and that’s down to the incredible productivity of our teams throughout restrictions – but this hasn’t been without its challenges. In addition to the impact of remote work on how we perform tasks and productivity, we have realised that people really value feeling part of a community, and the social aspect of working in the office, such as building friendships and having a different physical location in their daily routines, is critical to many.
We believe some time together in person is crucial, probably as part of a hybrid working model, and have been trialling country-specific arrangements since our offices around the world began reopening. In Israel, a weekly check in where staff need to present a negative PCR test or show vaccination records has helped create sufficient confidence for a ‘critical mass day’ with attendance running at around 70%. Staff know most of their colleagues will be in, so it will be worth battling the Tel Aviv traffic to be there too. In France, unions have agreed that staff will be office-based 50% of their time, over a 6-month trial period, with flexibility for teams to decide how they organise themselves to achieve that 50%. Here in the UK, where employees can choose how often to come into the office, efforts focus on assessing how to use the working space most effectively, so people find it comfortable and rewarding to be there.
In Cambridge we know the majority of people want to be in the office two or three days a week. The question is how to make the best use of those days.
We’re trying to use our space differently to encourage collaboration in all its forms, so meeting rooms are reserved for solving a problem with others, while the canteen is for chats, and international meetings and larger remote meetings are done from desks or on days from home to foster the sense that everyone’s equal – we don’t want people not in the room to feel left out. Nor do we want people coming into the office to spend all day on Zoom calls – that’s not the value of being in the office. While some employers are moving to hot desking, we are not yet taking that decision for engineers. While our enterprise functions hot-desked before the pandemic and are used to working that way, we know engineers returning to the office want some stability in terms of where they’ll be working and with whom on the days that they come in. We’re trying to strike the right balance of certainty and flexibility.
Arm sees the coming months as a period of transition, especially in countries where lockdown was longest, and is prioritising listening, learning, and moving slowly. For example, we have seen an uptick in the number of people asking to establish different working patterns,including being fully remote or working from different countries.
While it will take time to create a solution, this is an important dynamic in a sector where demand for talent is high, and how work fits into a broader lifestyle is a key element in choosing where to work. We are running focus groups and engagement forums, and leaders are holding virtual coffee breaks and other meetings to take the pulse of the organisation and learn what works from each other to decide how to evolve working practices further. We’re all finding our way to a new future for which there’s no map. We’re creating it together.