Updated: Nov 16
APCO Worldwide is a global communications firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., which operates in over 30 countries, providing consulting services to corporations, governments, and trade bodies. APCO’s philosophy is to provide a ‘one company, one team’ approach to ensure its clients receive the highest quality client service from the APCO team, regardless of location. APCO Worldwide is broken up into several regions, including the MENA Region, of which Dubai is the regional headquarters.
As new working models emerged due to the pandemic, APCO Worldwide started a “Workplace for the Future” initiative to develop a clear vision for the role and usage of the office in the post-pandemic world. While a number of APCO flagship offices, such as New York and London, decided to move to new office spaces, APCO’s Dubai team chose to stay in their current office space and undergo a refurbishment process.
While APCO themselves are a team of consultants who support their own clients with change management, they hired Cosmic Centaurs to bring in a new external perspective and ensure they would have an unbiased understanding of the preferences of their staff.
You can watch the video of our case study session below:
Here are 3 takeaways from the work we did together.
1. Take the time to listen to employees
A people-centric approach was critical for this project. We began with a discovery phase using design thinking research methods to hear from employees, across all levels of the hierarchy. We uncovered everything we could by interviewing employees, speaking to leaders, conducting a company-wide survey, and observing how employees engage around the office through site visits. This allowed us to unearth and quantify the preferences of each employee population. Some of our findings were in contradiction with the global data. For example, we discovered that more than 70% of employees would like to come to the office to complete individual work. This led us to increase the share of individual desks vs. what we had originally envisioned.
2. Design the work model before the workplace
Shifting into a hybrid work model is about more than just redesigning the office space. We helped APCO leaders to take a step back and rethink the work model they want to adopt by making them answer questions about their process, activities, business strategy, work model, upskilling needs, etc.
This information helped us ensure that the space we were designing would support the activities intended for it. We were then able to improve space utilization and ensure flexibility and functionality across the office.
3. Consider changes in the role of the office
With the rise of flexibility, we have had to rethink the role of the office. We believe the office should be viewed as a channel or tool, in the same way that communication technologies like email, instant chat, and shared drives are used for their own unique qualities. In a hybrid work setting, the office is just one of the many channels that are available in our omnichannel setup.
The Omnichannel organization embraces that idea, and looks beyond a “one size fits all” approach for organizations. Structure, management, and leadership, are dependent on the contingencies of the situation for each particular organization. The office of the future can only be designed, by taking a step back and thinking about the unique role and purpose of the office.
To help APCO in the decision-making, we used our 9Cs framework (developed with Jose Santos, Affiliated Professor of Practice in Global Management at INSEAD) that breaks down the purpose of the office into 9 distinct categories. The categories are meant to reflect the specific ways in which we use the office as a channel or tool, in the same way that we would think of email or Slack.
We conducted a workshop with APCO leaders to help them decide what activities they want their refurbished office to support. This allowed us to decide on the typology and proportion of spaces to be incorporated.
Our intervention helped focus APCO’s leadership discussions, prevent circular conversations & personal preferences, and led to better and speedier decision-making. Employees were involved in the process and were updated along the way, which led to more engagement. Our approach was flagged by APCO leadership as a case study for future projects.