Returning to an innovative working environment

PraxisAuril member, Louise Hammond, Director of Operations at UCL Business (UCLB) describes how a planned move to a new location, coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic, provided the opportunity for an innovative rethink on the way that UCLB works.

In most organisations, change management is a careful process. It takes time and endeavour for people to adapt and grow into a new working situation and few organisations would take on several ambitious change projects at once, to avoid overloading people.

For UCL Business, the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with a planned office relocation and the result is that we have needed to rethink almost every aspect of both our physical working environment and the way we work. For an organisation that fosters, facilitates and manages innovation, this presented an opportunity to be innovative ourselves and create an environment that better supports our colleagues to deliver outstanding commercialisation and knowledge exchange.

Adjusting to change

For primarily office-based work like ours, COVID-19 saw an enormous and sudden shift to digital and remote working. Alongside that, the relationships between work, home and our commitment to our families changed significantly too. Throughout the pandemic, we saw changes in how our teams needed to work flexibly or adjust working patterns to support their families, which we made sure to accommodate.

By carrying out regular surveys over the past 18 months, we knew that attitudes and preferences had been changed for good, not just in the short term. Some colleagues will prefer to work in the office more of the time, but some will find it more productive to work from home more. We also know that while virtual tools are generally working well, there is value in time spent together as a team in person, collaborating and working creatively to find solutions. Deal making, which is core to significant parts of our work, still works best face to face, with real people in a real room.

Reducing uncertainty

While over the past few months we have seen major companies alter their previous commitments to working from home, we felt certainty was crucial for empowering our teams.

A key change was to update our employment contracts, so that the new hybrid working policy was set in place. It means that while almost all staff will work in part from home, we will also expect at least a portion of everyone’s time to be spent in the office, providing it is possible to safely do so.

The benefit is that our teams can find the best working pattern for them, while being able to find time to work together in person and maximise the value of their time in the office.

Rewarding teamwork

What the changes forced by COVID-19 made clear is that success depends on many of us working together, not just individual brilliance. To respond to this, we also innovated in how we reward performance.

Firstly, we changed what we consider to be performance. We updated our measures to reward not just the outcomes of work, but also the way in which those outcomes were achieved by identifying the behaviours we wanted to incentivise, such as outstanding teamwork.

We also saw clearly how, especially under the pressures of lockdown, significant achievements in the commercialisation of research relied on an entire team of professionals contributing together in a working from home environment. We wanted to find a way to ensure we recognised the support of project managers, communicators and others who often support major accomplishments.

To do this, we introduced a new Team Appreciation Award system in which individuals receiving awards are encouraged to identify how those outside of their immediate circle have supported them. As such, we find ways to recognise and reward achievements and the contributions that made them possible.

An environment for innovation and collaboration

Even before the pandemic we started replacing our old, fixed desks with new highly adaptable desks, which move from seated to standing positions and are bookable online. This meant that we could better support individual preferences, and health and wellbeing, and help people to locate themselves near to those they’re eager to be working with on a given day.

While we hadn’t planned to move office during COVID-19, relocation meant that we had an opportunity to put changes into practice and create an environment that actively fosters innovation, encourages collaboration and supports people to work in the ways that best suit them.

Firstly, we recognised that to properly encourage hybrid working, most of our staff would no longer need a permanent desk. Other furniture has been selected to bring people together and give people easy opportunities to share ideas and discuss their work.

We wanted to ensure that everyone can be productive and contribute, whether they’re working remotely or in the office. Meeting rooms in the new space will be equipped with Teams and other collaborative virtual platforms in mind from the get-go, with easy-access connectivity, and cameras and screens, integrated into the room.

Whereas before this may have been a perk of a particular room, we now need this to be the standard.

Embedding change

The changes we’ve made over the past year mean that UCL Business’s skilled commercialisation, legal, finance and operational teams are returning to a more innovative, collaborative environment by design, whether they’re working in person or working remotely. This is backed by working patterns and principles that actively help people to work the way they prefer, and to do so productively together.

While the change we’ve been through has been seismic, and certainly not planned, we’re excited to be returning to a more collaborative, adaptable and innovative working environment.





Louise Hammond, Director of Operations, UCL Business