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The Uber approach: practical tactics to adapt your physical office space right now, from Uber’s workplace VP.

October 13, 2020 / United Kingdom

Uber’s VP of Workplace and Real Estate, Mike Huaco, has his work cut out helping phase Uber employees across global offices back to work. In this article, he shares some practical action points to help other real estate and facilities managers adapt to this new normal. 

Take it away, Mike… 

Recalibrate dedicated workspaces

At Uber, we’re looking at a hybrid model of returning to work because that’s what our people want. It’s human nature – people want to work together. Collaboration is tethered to the office – but we also know, absolutely, that people can work from home long-term. 

Our offices need to reflect this new need for flexibility. The big thing for us now is recalibrating our physical space, because you probably won’t need dedicated space for every employee anymore. Instead, we need more spaces set-up for innovation and collaboration.

Four steps to recalibrate:

  1. Survey the workforce 
  2. Calculate how many people will be in-office at once
  3. Identify spaces for desk removal and repurposing
  4. Introduce a workspace booking system

Interviewing or surveying your workforce is a good place to start. Then you’ll have a good idea which teams need dedicated workspace and can calculate how many desks you need. I’d say you’ll probably end up with about 50% fewer desks, at least in the short term. Then, where you don’t need individual seating, those spaces can be reshuffled to allow people to work together better. 

Introduce hybrid catering 

Informal conversations, like those that happen over lunch, are huge for productivity and motivation. We know our people see eating together as a major part of returning to the office. The challenge is making sure those interactions still happen, even when traditional hot food catering options are off the table. And in a COVID-secure way, obviously. 

Think of the return to the office as a continuum. The question is, how can we facilitate people eating together at every phase? 

  • Phase 1. Opening the office for the first trickle of people. Pre-packaged food makes most sense here, as there’s still too much uncertainty for traditional catering to operate meaningfully. 
  • Phase 2. Office population increases. As more people start coming back to the office, reintroduce traditional hot food catering alongside individual pre-packaged food orders. 
  • Phase 3. The new normal and hybrid catering. Eventually people will want to ‘get back to normal’ but there’s this new flexibility to cater for too. A traditional hot food offering will probably always be valued but allowing people to order their own pre-packaged food makes sense from a flexibility and waste perspective. 

The most important thing right now is building a plan that can adapt to change. The COVID situation can change fast and until there’s a vaccine there’s no real certainty. What if your business moves from phase 2 to phase 1? Or phase 3 to phase 1? 

Using Uber Eats for Business is great because you can easily build and manage flexible custom meal plans across the workforce. It means you’ve laid the infrastructure to handle office eating, at every phase and whatever the future looks like. 

Then from a real estate perspective, it’s about ensuring there’s enough space – socially distanced – for people to eat together. Whether that’s eating hot food or food they’ve ordered in. 

Democratize information globally 

Navigating the return to work is a mammoth project. We’ve got hundreds of global offices so we’re operating at vast scale, and every office is governed by the rules in that local city, or even jurisdictions within the city.

Balancing global core principles – like focusing on safety as a top priority – with local implementation has been critical. We’ve been working with local health officers across the world to help us execute our safety-first outlook locally, because what’s right for Berlin isn’t the same as Buenos Aires, and so on.

To deliver global policy locally – and stop the business becoming fragmented on a by-office basis – you need to maintain bird’s eye oversight. Navigating the return to work is a slow, iterative process. 

I’d strongly recommend Estates and Facilitates Managers share knowledge across the business – it could be as simple as setting up a Slack channel and having weekly check-ins – to make sure insight isn’t siloed and you can accelerate lessons learned. 

Collaborate with content creators

When we first started to reopen our offices, we realised the employee experience risked becoming a major casualty. One big thing was how much anxiety employees had about returning to the office. It’s like, “what’s this ‘new normal’ going to look like? How’s everything going to work?” To defuse anxiety around these unknowns, we’ve been creating videos that bring the new office experience to life. 

Facilities and estates people should be collaborating with content creators, to create content that demystifies change. You’ve probably got tens of people, even hundreds, coordinating changes from their functional perspective. Work with content creators to communicate these changes in a cohesive way, to help employees know what to expect and how to behave. 

This blog is part of The team that Eats together initiative, a content series exploring what normal looks like now, and how to enhance the working world to meet evolved employee expectations.

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Bring the team back together, wherever they’re working.

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The views and opinions expressed are based on the research conducted and they do not intend to present an official policy of Uber or any of its subsidiaries. Examples of advice mentioned in this article are based on open source information and assumptions made within the article are not reflective of Uber’s position.