Thoughts from a pandemic: Is the person-less office possible?
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, CBKSoft has found an unusual way of expressing its longing for its home-working staff while at the same time ensuring social distancing. Masked shop-window mannequins have been seated at the desks, resulting in scenes that can only be described as surreal.
Office workers and lifeless mannequins sit side by side in the modern offices of a software company in Ankara’s Bilkent Technology Development Zone. At first sight it takes you by surprise. The whole atmosphere is like a scene from a surreal movie.
The window-shop dummies can be found in the reception area, the meeting rooms – even in the cafeteria. On the collars of the mannequins, papers with the names of colleagues working from home and the phrase “see you at the office” draw attention. At the same time, a small number of staff continue to develop software and provide technical support from the office. On the walls is an exhibition of photographs entitled “Before Covid”, with pictures of the activities that were organized before social distancing and masks became part of our daily lives. They include football matches, bowling and paintball contests, PlayStation tournaments, picnics, breakfasts and birthday celebrations.
The employees were astounded when they first saw this spectacle. “I can’t tell you how shocked I was when I entered the office,” says Tenders and Contracts Manager Selvi Yardım. “It spooked me for a moment, I must say. When I found out the truth I was both saddened and amused. We really are missing the days when we all worked together in the office. If you ask me, what these mannequins tell us is that nothing can ever take the place of our colleagues.”
Putting people first
But what are those dummies really sitting at the software firm’s desks for? Through a kind of postmodern art, the firm is actually making a statement about how the pandemic has changed working life. Mr. Salih Kanlı, the CEO of CBKSoft, one of the firms in the Cyberpark, explains their intentions:
“Since June last year, some of our employees have been working from the office and some of them have been working from home. Like all firms, we have had some problems adapting to this so-called ‘new normal’ in terms of staff motivation. So we decided to do something different to try to raise the staff morale a little bit. We wanted to make it feel as if our home-working colleagues were here in the office too. You could think of it as a symbolic indication of how much we are missing them. Another reason, of course, was to remind those working in the office about the social distancing rule.”
Kanlı underlines that the firm has always adhered to the principle of putting people first. He says that they adapted rapidly to the new conditions, since software firms are amenable to the culture of working from home. “Of course, we are aware of the great transformations that have come about in the work-office-employee equation and in ways of doing business after the pandemic,” the CBKSoft CEO goes on. “In the near future, we will hear more and more about a working life independent of the office. From our point of view, both software development and technical support or systems issues are things that can be resolved without an office.” However, Mr Kanlı concludes, “in terms of loyalty to the firm, socialization and working together to develop solutions to the problems we encounter, the office remains an important common space in our view.”
No office without people
“In a sense,” adds CBKSoft Corporate Communications Manager Ayberk Yurtsever, the brains behind the mannequin project. “We have tried to use a postmodern approach to art to speak out about the increasing loneliness of individuals and employees in the course of the pandemic.”
CBKSoft specializes in electronic document management systems. Its key motto is that “The paperless office is possible”. With the digital transformation and the right kind of software, Mr. Yurtsever explains, “it really is possible to reduce the use of paper in an office to a minimum to create a paperless office. But one of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic is that the person-less office is out of the question! That’s why we have hung photos on the walls of the in-house activities, competitions and celebrations which we all used to join in before the pandemic – both to remember the good old days and to hold on to our hopes for the future.”
Mr. Yurtsever says they can hardly wait for the day when the company’s employees will return to take the places of the shop-window figures. “We have missed being together as a whole team, working together and having fun together.”
Research conducted in Turkey shows that working at a distance has altered the atmosphere at work while creating additional needs for IT infrastructure. It also shows that the capacities of a firm’s stakeholders to be ready to work from home can influence its performance. Working hours have become more flexible and longer, and holding on-line meetings among homes with children has proved difficult.