Work Smart Coaching
In today’s offices, up to four generations work side by side. Jasmine Torfi, Head of Work Smart Coaching at Swisscom, explains in an interview what needs to be taken into account.
The interview appeared in Sedus Insights in March 2018
Ms Torfi, what aspects have be taken into account when designing a working atmosphere that will promote collaboration between different age groups?
Two aspects are particularly relevant:
1. Including all generations and allowing them to contribute to the design process.
The office space should convey a homely feeling among people. They ought to be able to identify with the environment and feel at ease. For example, in conjunction with Facility Management, we designed and decorated the offices ourselves with our own department team. We equipped desks with castors in order to be more flexible, painted the walls and sprayed them to improve their appearance, and included plenty of wood and curtains. It’s certainly not something that you could do with every team, but it makes a considerable contribution to allowing people to identify with the office. This new office space is now very popular; all generations in the office are very pleased with them, as is top management.
2. Creating offerings and office space to satisfy different requirements.
For customers we support with our Work Smart Coaching, the most important thing is creating zones that promote communication and allow people to have a spontaneous exchange of views. This shortens the paths of communication and significantly increases the ability to innovate within the organisations. The collaborative zones are complemented with quieter areas known as silent zones, where people can retreat in order to work with fewer distractions.
You were one of the founders of the Future Work Experience Team and are responsible for Work Smart Coaching at Swisscom. What is the purpose of this team and what is its role in the company?
We have identified three fields of action at Swisscom: Work Smart as Swisscom content, product and service innovation and Work Smart Coaching. In each of these three areas there is a responsible pilot and a co-pilot. I myself am responsible for the Work Smart Coaching area. My task consists of establishing and anchoring new forms of work for our customers. The office space, technology, management and work culture are the main factors involved. At Swisscom, as early as 2010, the introduction of a new communications solution that linked everybody was the driver of cultural change. One of the factors was the removal of fixed telephones. Within Swisscom, a new collaboration platform was launched that had the aim of sharing knowledge, creating transparency and learning from one another. We call this plan our “open book culture”. Initial success in our own company led to our customers also learning about it. That is how we came to start offering Work Smart Coaching as a service. With our team, we have now accompanied over 70 companies through this process. Our third task is assisting with the introduction of new technologies to promote collaboration and communication. Lessons learned from these applications are fed back into the company, helping us to expand on our offerings.
You also developed “reverse mentoring”. How does it work and how can you get various generations involved in it?
The coaching process also involves younger employees helping their older colleagues with new technologies. For example, videos produced by the team can explain, in a simple way, how to handle digital tools. Cultural aspects are also conveyed by the younger generation in a natural and even playful manner.
Sometimes we also deploy staff on site in order to help with work and with handling new technology. They wear red jumpers, which makes them easy to recognise for people who are currently in need of support. Interestingly, we found out that the older generation is very open to being taught how to handle new digital devices by the younger generation. We arrange for young people to give presentations about new working methods and also give them responsibility for managing projects. For example, the manager of the Workspace & Collaboration department received reverse mentoring from one of our younger employees for a few weeks. One explained how Work Smart works, while the other conveyed a sense of what a management position is like. This enabled them to learn from one another and each was able to help the other develop.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities offered by a multi-generational office? How do you handle the different expectations and demands from each generation when you are launching Work Smart concepts?
We are currently in a situation where particularly older employees often contact our team. Sometimes they are worried that their job can be done by a younger person and that they could therefore lose it. We are convinced, however, that everybody is unique within their own area. We often observe that older employees have particularly significant strengths in project management, while younger employees are very familiar with new technologies. We want to promote and build on these different strengths, regardless of an employee's age and origin. This allows us to deploy employees in an optimum manner in accordance with their abilities. We motivate employees to recognise and value others’ strengths instead of concentrating on differences. This produces an environment of trust in which people find the courage to overcome their inhibitions and develop curiosity.
What measures are required to enable all generations to benefit and how can the measures contribute to a feeling of well-being across the generations?
Social proof is the decisive factor. When implementing Work Smart, it is extremely important that the plan be represented, promoted and exemplified by management. Integrating various corporate departments such as IT, HR, FM and communication plays an important role. Another aspect is empowering young people and entrusting them with responsibility. We recently experienced how a CEO encouraged a young employee to help him formulate the company vision.
Openness to change and a readiness to also redefine the roles of young employees contribute to vertical integration. This opens up new perspectives and creates an environment that leads away from control and towards trust and transparency. Suitable office space offers opportunities for both young and old to converse and exchange ideas. New communities are developing thanks to these measures. At Swisscom, we also, by the way, have a virtual employee on our team called “Smartina”. She acts as a contact point and can provide advice and answers when questions arise about new working methods.
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