Let’s Change the Conversation and Create Moments That Matter in the New Flexible Workspace


The conversation about hybrid work often centers around technology. We have access to any number of solutions to help us reimagine the future of work. But businesses are becoming so preoccupied with the technology that powers hybrid work that they sometimes forget the ultimate goal: collaboration and connection.

Work is not where you go, it’s what you do. Rather than focus on technology as the end game, we should consider it a facilitator. It’s time to change the conversation about what hybrid work means.

Step 1: Design for Collaboration

I’m the Chief Digital Officer at Talent Garden, and we’ve been thinking differently about workspaces practically since our founding. Talent Garden is a network of innovation hubs that blend coworking spaces and educational activities. We work with startups, corporations, and freelancers to grow their skills and network to foster digital entrepreneurship. Talent Garden now has a presence in 11 different European countries, and currently retains more than 5,000 members while we train more than 25,000+ people a year. 

Work is not where you go, it’s what you do.

Talent Garden has grown by leaps and bounds since our initial founding in 2011, and we’ve put a lot of time, energy, and effort into what it means to foster community. It’s not enough to adopt new technology. The companies that are getting the most out of their employees incorporate technology into every element of a space, so being in a building is a seamless, connected experience where people want to engage. 

We talk about technology, but everything starts with design, the basic concept of reducing friction and combining that with science. As humans, we are used to collaborating with people less than 10 meters away. So it doesn’t matter if an office lacks walls; if it spans an entire floor and creates a lot of distance between people, there won’t be any spontaneous collaboration. 

And that spontaneous collaboration is what we want from these spaces. We don’t need to be in the office for head-down, earbuds-in work; we want to make room for the human experience of co-creation, collaboration, mentorship, and dynamic learning, seamlessly flowing between multiple environments to inspire teams to perform their best.

Technology can help here. We can use heat maps and video analytics to know where meetings tend to happen. Where do people spontaneously gather? How can we make that place more inviting? Successful workspaces combine high-quality features of a space with the value of the conversation that can carry on there.

Step 2: Seamless Integrations for Health and Well-Being

Years ago, we upgraded our network to unlock the value of our space and enable teams to work from anywhere. We adopted Cisco Meraki for new security appliances, access points, and switches. Since then, we have built on that foundation with Meraki sensors, cameras, and WiFi for seamless connectivity, security, and analytics. Our highly reliable network operates across multiple environments in dozens of locations giving us a single point of  access to the dashboard. 

Meraki also helps us facilitate frictionless, seamless, and invisible transitions between environments, so the focus is always on getting the best work out of people rather than the mechanics of technology. 

And good work begins with wellness. I was in touch with the power manager for our team in San Francisco a few weeks ago, talking about the importance of CO2 levels in the building. We know that air quality can significantly affect productivity and decision-making, which is why we use Meraki sensors to monitor air quality levels inside each coworking space. A common meeting format includes a presentation at the beginning, followed by a discussion, and then a decision of some kind at the end. But if we know that CO2 levels are too high in a room after an hour-long meeting, why would we want decisions to happen then? Based on the data of each coworking space, we can limit the use of areas when air quality is poor. We are working with the Cisco Webex team in Italy to design experiences in which we can block a meeting when the air quality in a space is not good enough to make a decision. 

It seems like a small thing, but time is money. If we make a good decision the first time, we won’t need multiple follow-up meetings. By unlocking efficiencies, we can optimize productivity, prioritize our collective health, and drive cost savings.

By unlocking efficiencies, we can optimize productivity, prioritize our collective health, and drive cost savings.

We’re also working on a project with camera sensors to measure the amount of light flowing into specific spaces and determine the mood of the building, as it were. We don’t need to ask about something like light conditions in a feedback form; instead, we aim to use technology to decipher mood-affecting information and act on it accordingly. If light levels are too low, we can explore our options for increasing the lumens in a given space.

Other integrations include Cisco Umbrella for cloud-delivered security for our employees, and we want to deepen our Webex integrations, potentially integrating it into the backend for all our media communications.  

Step 3: Consider the People

Where a lot of companies only started to think about smart, flexible working spaces during the pandemic, Talent Garden had developed a plan to engage members and appeal to our customers years ago. Rather than create what we thought a workspace should be, we started with a focus on the people who would be using the spaces first.

We primarily work with entrepreneurs and innovators who share a lot of pain points. They can have valuable conversations in the same space even if they’re not working together. We think a lot about value proximity, which is the degree of similarity between peoples’ values, and the closer that is, the greater chances of shared learning and conversation. When people become members of the Talent Garden community, we ask them, “What do you need right now?” We want to offer our community what they need.

We do the same internally. We have a team of developers who love to work from home. They can be highly effective there, but we still want to see them in the office sometimes. I thought, why not ask them what they want to see? We ended up with workstations that the developers designed for themselves, and now they’re in the office a couple of times a week by choice. Giving them an opportunity to be a part of the design process and personalize spaces created a strong relationship between the developers and where they work. 

The Future of Work Requires Flexibility

On some days, working from home is preferable. It may be more convenient if you have an early meeting or have to pick up the kids from school. On other days, distractions and disruptions at home mean collective workspaces are the better option, allowing you to be more socially engaged and productive at the same time. Cisco technology allows us to offer the flexible solutions members need.

Everyone needs to consider using technology to prioritize the employee experience and well-being

I encourage us all to consider using technology to prioritize the employee experience and well-being. Members will see you care, and this dedication will help retain and attract top talent. Ask yourself: Why do you want people in your office? What do you want the space features to include? From there, you can adopt new technologies and enhance your space to deliver great experiences at scale.

And just like that, you’ve changed the conversation.