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Press Release -- May 19th, 2021
Source: Ericsson

Podcast: What will future workplaces look like?

In this episode of the Ericsson News Podcast, we're speaking with Peter Laurin, Head of Managed Services at Ericsson, and the Executive Sponsor of the Workplace of the Future initiative, which is looking at the physical, virtual, and cultural environment of our future workplaces.

Future workplace

Host: Peter Laurin, thanks very much for joining for this podcast!

Peter Laurin: Thanks very much for having me, David.

Host: So, a lot has happened at Ericsson since the start of the pandemic, and I wanted to begin here. Can you just describe what our journey has looked like over the past year, and what our focus as a company is when it comes to our physical workplaces and collaborations between the teams?

Peter Laurin: Yeah, it's been quite a year. We have been working now from home for 14 months. When this started out in Wuhan early 2020 — and we have Ericsson staff in Wuhan — we had no idea that it would take such a big, profound change of our society. We believe that this way of working that we now started during the pandemic will change the way we work forever. We will never go back to the way we work before, and we're still not over the pandemic. We are still in it very much so.

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In this podcast, we're speaking with Peter Laurin, Head of Managed Services at Ericsson, and the Executive Sponsor of the Workplace of the Future initiative.

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But we saw early on in April of 2020 that we need to revisit the way we work, we need to revisit the flexibility levels, the office layout, and the technology that we use to cater for the new way of working. So, we formed a project called Workplace of the Future, and we gathered the IT staff, people from our people organization as well as other cross-functional areas. And since then, about a year now, we've taken quite a lot of decisions both on how we work today in the pandemic, but also how we going to work after the pandemic, how will the offices look like, and what technology should we bet in as well as what level of flexibility should we allow for as we come back.

So, we really want to reimagine the way we work, and we want Ericsson to be a modern company in the forefront of this. So, it has been a very exciting time, David, to really revisit the old ways of working.

Host: Another thing, I think, the pandemic has done is that it really put a spotlight, as we've talked about as a company many times, on the criticality of networks and network infrastructure.

I'm wondering, what has the market, and more importantly, what have our customers had to say about our support during this past year for this critical network infrastructure and even for the continued roll-out of technologies, like 5G?

Peter Laurin: That has been a very, I say, exciting journey with our customers. In the initial phase, it was very much traffic patterns that changed. It went from very urban-city centric, as a lot of handovers in the network, to a more static network, where we moved out to the more rural areas. So, we quickly helped our customers to change the network optimization, you can say, change the settings in the network to optimize for the new traffic pattern. So, that was the first part.

Then, in the discussions that I've had with customers over this year, have been very much about network performance, very much about resilience of the network. I think everyone realizes that to have a solid internet connection, it's critical. More mission-critical than anytime before, I would say. So, the need for the network to be up with very high resilience has increased. We are not over this pandemic yet, right? So, there are still a lot of challenges left, but I think that what remain afterward will be that we are much more digitalized and a more flexible company as a whole.

Host: I want to touch on a number that you mentioned before because the vast majority, almost all of our staff are working from home; 85,000 employees. This is making us ask some pretty fundamental questions about what the future workplace place — that we're going in to do our work — is going to look like. So, this is at the core of the initiative that you are spearheading. You're the Executive Sponsor for the Workplace of the Future program at Ericsson. So, what do we, as a company, want to achieve by reimagining what a workplace is going to look like in the future?

Peter Laurin: This is extremely exciting. I believe that we need to first acknowledge that we will never work as we did before. I think that was the first realization that we had in Ericsson in April-May timeframe that this was not a short thing. This was a thing that will prevail for some time and also that it will fundamentally change the way we work for the long run.

At that time, we started a project called Workplace of the Future, we also engage some other companies in the industry, like Facebook, Google, Accenture Alibaba, and others for small forum, you could say, where we discuss these issues because they are not, of course, not only confined, so to speak, to Ericsson. These are global issues that any company in any part of the value chain needs to deal with that we are now more digitalized, we will work in a different way, it will touch things at your flexibility as an individual and as a team, it will touch real estate and how the office should look like, it will touch technology and what tools we need to work as efficiently as possible. So, I think this is quite fundamental, and I think this pandemic has changed the way we work for the long run.

Host: One of those fundamental questions I know some of my colleagues are asking that is: Why would we ever go back into an office regularly again? Or what will the purpose of a physical workplace be in the future? What exactly is it going to offer us in this post-pandemic world?

Peter Laurin: Yeah, I think the office will still have a role. We believe that this hybrid model, where you work more flexible, but at the same time, you have an office to go to has a value. So, in our reimagination of the future workplace, we see that the office has a role. It has a different role, however. It has a role of energizing us, put creativity, ideation, innovation, we meet colleagues, we socialize. We build the culture in a different way in the office, and we do in the digital Teams or Zoom sessions.

I believe that we can provide the sort of the best of two worlds. I don't think I'm the only one that misses to see colleagues, I miss the energy and the buzz in the office. When we come back, if you can create the good things of the digitalization, the good things that have come out of this new way of working and couple that with the very energizing social interaction and creativity that we have in the office, then I think we can get the best of two worlds.

Host: I think, you know, we're talking about the physical work places, but the virtual work environment is also equally important. I think this past year has really shown that we can work from home, right?

Peter Laurin: We can, and I believe that the tools need to be conducive enough. We need to have, of course, you needed a strong, solid internet connection, and that's where 5G can help out. But also, you need tools, like the collaboration tools we have today that are at least coming up to a certain level of quality. Then, I believe we will enhance that over time with AR, VR, and holograms. I mean, there will be so much technology in this that will sort of enable us to do the things that, I think, are little bit harder today.

For example, workshop sessions or creativity that could be a little bit less in some of these more two-dimensional ways of working with Teams and so on. But overall, I think the tools are there, the security is there — which is another very important part — and also this is a very sustainable way of working that travel could decrease. So, I believe that if we do the good things of the digitalization and couple that with a very interactive office environment, then it could be extremely exciting to come back.

Host: Also, Workplace of the Future has a lot to do with what type of work you're doing. I work in communication, so my work is very different than somebody who is programming or doing design work. So, I think, I've understood that a lot of our future workplace concepts have to do with an employee-centric or work-centric model, correct?

Peter Laurin: Correct. And we use quite a lot of research here. First, we did a survey of the 60,000 people. So, out of the 100,000, 60,000 not only based on their role, but also based on the office they were attached to. We looked at how — the guiding light or the north star of this whole project — has really been productivity, work-life balance, and employee satisfaction. But it starts with productivity.

So, it has not been any cost-saving piece of this, which I think is an important part. Cost saving, and I often get the question by real estate: Will you see less real estate? And yes, that could be an implication and a result, but it's not the starting point that is more of an effect.

So, when we did this work, we started out with the survey. We started out with the outside in view with our reference group that I talked about, and also, we had our Industry and Consumer Labs doing a study of the future workplace. What we found out was that there are certain things that we need to be cognizant of. So, we had five different personas that we have used because even in a certain job role, you could work in a certain way. You, David, you work in a certain way that is different from a colleague. So, there’re continued surveys of our staff to see what their preferences are based on their personas.

Host: I think one of the things that people are really interested in is what are these future offices going to look like? What are the designs of offices in the future going to be like, and how far have we come already when we talk about “the future”? What kind of time frames do we mean here?

Peter Laurin: We believe that the officers will have an important role. It will have an important role for the culture and the belonging and what we stand for as a company as well as of course the productivity aspects of innovation and the way we collaborate.

But we looked at this and using quite a lot of research and we looked at it what we call four experience pillars. The way we perform, the way we interact, the belonging part and the energizing part. The way we perform we need to have really conducive environment for this collaboration. What you can do on your own David at home in your job you can do at home. But when you come to the office, you should be doing the things that you do best in the office, which could be then interacting with colleagues, socializing, having the discussions that you might have harder times doing over more a digital session.

We believe that the offices will change in layout. One practical example is, of course, the desks or the traditional workspace. In an Ericsson office today, we have around 60 percent traditional workspace. We have since a long time gone to a more open landscape, so we don't have personal desks, we did that some 10 to 15 years ago. But still, we have 60% of workspace, we believe that will go to more around 20%, so a significant change.  Versus other parts, which are more the workshop rooms, the social areas, the collaboration spaces, those areas will increase and there will be more technology that is conducive for collaboration between teams, AR/VR, advanced video rooms that really sort of also I think democratize the way we interact. And also provides us with both the physical space in the office but also the technology so that we can interact between teams, between geographies in a much better way and in a much more sustainable way.

Host: We have touched upon this already a little bit, but I was wondering, we have done quite a lot of research both internally and externally outside of Ericsson, we've talked to staff. What have they told us about the ways in which they want to work in the future, what is their kind of input to this project?

Peter Laurin: We early on did a survey and we done follow-up surveys ever since. What we saw is that if we look at Ericsson's total base of hundred thousand employees before the pandemic that worked one day at home or outside the office not traveling. What we said then, what they said I should say is that their preference was three days. And then we looked at different roles, different offices and we came to a conclusion that it actually would serve productivity best and this is around productivity and it's about well-being of our staff and the balance in life, and so on, that about half of the time in the office and half of the time outside the office would be a good balance and a good guiding light for the level of flexibility that we see going forward.

But if you want to work 100 percent in the office, you can absolutely do that as well. This is a way where managers work with our teams to see how do we work most productive based on our both preferences but also surroundings and what customer expectations we have on that certain team. It should really be a more flexible way of working where each manager and team set that kind of way of working. Which is I think a very new way of doing this.

Host: My understanding is this new flexible environment places a lot of new challenges on employers. I wonder at the executive level at Ericsson what types of issues have you been discussing that you think might come up in this in this future work environment?

Peter Laurin: Yeah, it's very much been on the agenda for the executive team. How will the pandemic change the way we work and what are the things that we need to address immediately? There have been questions like security, questions like ergonomics, as well as IT support. We early in the pandemic took a few decisions in the executive team around the need to support our staff with better technology, being, for example, an extra screen, an extra keyboard or mouse or headset and so on. That was the first part. The second part was around ergonomics. We've been helping our staff with a desk, a chair, and a lamp in different means and ways where depending on where you sit. But as easy as possible where you click and get delivered to your house.

The same thing when it comes to after the pandemic. A lot of discussing in the executive team around when do we actually think we can go back? Just that question is, of course, very much on everyone's mind. We've said from a company point of view now that we are aiming for end of 2021. But that, of course, will be different. In China, we already back. We will monitor the situation very closely on this. When it comes to the workplace of the future, the discussions have been very much around level of flexibility, what technology do we need to invest in to be as conducive as possible both at home but also very much in the office. Then it's been a lot around how do we redesign the offices? What should be our target state, how do we reimagine the way we work. This discussion continues in the executive team.

Host: You have talked about the design of offices and the way in which the preferences that employees have for how they want to work in the future. I think what people are really interested in as well is what kind of technologies are going to enable this type of flexibility. What will a typical workday look like in our new future workplaces that you and I might be working in?

Peter Laurin: Excellent question. If I may, if I take an example and we take a colleague, she or he of our hundred thousand colleagues, an individual out there. Starting her day by doing some tasks at home, checking emails, connecting on the Ericsson app, how does the office look like today, can I book a desk, will I have colleagues that will come in? Then transitioning into the office and starting a collaboration session in one of we call it garage or project rooms, that could be conducive technology there with AR/ RV.

It could be other sort of video equipment and who knows, holograms in the future. But there will be equipment both physical locations rooms as well as technology that enables us to be as creative as we possibly can and really get the most out of us as colleagues interacting with other colleagues or customers or partners in other locations in a very secure way. That is from a data and privacy security point of view. You go to the office to get energized, to be creative, to meet colleagues, to socialize and the other tasks that you could be better off doing at home, administrative tasks you do at home. And that mix that you then work with your team to see how you as a group become most productive is a new way of working. And a new way of working also for the leaders. This would be much more trust-based and this will be more demanding I would say on the leaders. But I think it will be a much more rewarding environment to work in.

Host: Of course, all of these VR environments, these concepts like 3D holograms are they all require pretty robust connectivity and low latency and support systems to keep these the infrastructure that supports all of this running smoothly, right?

Peter Laurin: Exactly. I also believe that what we provide 5G enables that. So that the experience is equally good outside the office as inside the office, right? In the old days when you went into the office because that's where you could access certain systems, that were you had good bandwidth, I think those days are gone. Now we are in a more and cloud-based environment where the what I call the enterprise workloads is distributed into the cloud and we will as a company have an equally good experience outside the office as inside the office. And where the security systems allow us to do all tasks outside the office. We are not bound by the geography of that certain office.

What you do in the office is really interacting, socializing, meeting colleagues in a very interactive way. By that, I think we will get the best of two worlds and also increase the work-life balance and increase the productivity.

Host: This has been really interesting to talk about and get a picture of what our future workplace will look like. I just have one more question before we wrap up and with all we've been talking about what our physical workplaces will look like, what our way of working will look like. I'm just wondering how all of this impact the types of jobs that we are going to have in the future? I imagine this is having a fundamental impact on the job marketing in general.

Peter Laurin: I think you're right, David. I think that this will change a lot. I don't think we have all the answers yet how this will play out. What we see right now is that many of the job types will remain. So, if you talk about product creation or marketing or sales or supply or delivery or roll out. However, the jobs as such I believe will change. The way we do the work, work is an activity not the destination. That I think is so important that we at the same time as we upscale our staff because I think that will happen all the time now to be more data-driven.

I think that is one part of it but the other part is also that we as social individuals and as colleagues keep being creative, keeping social positive energy will still be there and required. Maybe it's not so much that is changing in the type of role, it more changes how we do those roles and how we get the best of everyone. This could be an opportunity I believe to also democratize the working environment and it's not about headquarters it's about anyone in the company both partners as well as customers but more also then, of course, the Ericsson base but it could be a great opportunity to work in a different way and much more sustainable way but also bringing the best of every individual regardless of where they sit you graphically.

Host: Peter Laurin, thank you very much for joining for this podcast it's been a really interesting conversation.

Peter Laurin: Thanks for having me.

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