The importance of a productive environment for colleagues to thrive
‘Back’ to work: post-lockdown reflections from a Geneva-based NGO
Introducing hybrid and flexible into a modern and more collaborative work space - Norwegian Refugee Council is leading the way
29 Dec 2021

Returning to ‘normal’ (in this very changed world), ‘back’ to work (although we never really stopped working) and keeping an eye over our shoulders for the ever-possible new wave of Covid-19 have been at the fore of organizational management for the past year. As we now start to bounce between our home-office and office-office, a new era of change is taking hold in the workplace.

Humanitarian flexibility?

Hybrid working, flexitime, better work-life balance – not your average humanitarian employee perks. But having experienced this for two years, employees have proved that these perks don’t necessarily impact quality, engagement or the standard of our work. Perhaps even the opposite. There’s a bigger cultural ‘trust’ shift for managers out there, but I think it’s fair to say we’re working through it.

Many organizations are putting policies in place to strike a balance between flexibility and presence. How does an international NGO introduce measures which are fair and applicable across multiple capital cities? From a public health perspective, an HQ in Oslo will be facing different regulations to a Representation Office in Geneva. Managers in different offices also have varying approaches to flexibility and team management. What seems to be consistent across offices is the general preference to maintain this hybrid working, flexitime and overall improved work-life balance.

The Humanitarian Hub

Despite the advantages of working from home, the office space is still central to a healthy and functioning team and for healthy and functioning employees, particularly parents who find the office a much-needed sanctuary to get on with a productive day.

While an NGO might struggle to fundraise for transforming a typically dated (rather beige) office into a high-tech workspace where we gather around for coffee tasting or drop into the wellness centre for a free massage after work (sadly), the ‘return-to-office’ has also prompted conversations about the office space itself. What do we need and value in our shared work environment to thrive?

At NRC we are saying ‘bye’ to the beige and will be moving offices to an open plan space shared with five other agencies and smaller programmes. This Humanitarian Hub seeks to promote organic collaboration across teams and agencies, integrating quiet pods for focus time, more meeting rooms and a mix of collaborative spaces between a lounge layout and desks available when necessary. Furthermore, the construction and design will match ambitious environmental standards, in line with our organizational ‘greening’ strategy and targets.

From July 2022, co-workers in the Hub will be reaping the benefits of increased flexibility, with a more adaptive physical work environment. There is a sense of excitement among colleagues about what is to come.

Change for good

Change can be positive. Change can challenge us to be better people, teams and organizations. Consultation and collaboration drive this change in the right direction. At NRC we are enjoying the benefits of flexible, hybrid working, and will soon enjoy working in our new Humanitarian Hub. So, watch this space – we might be offering coffee tastings before you know it.

* Issie Cobb is Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at Norwegian Refugee Council, Geneva.
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