Mihaela Oltean, Managing Director Steelcase Global Business Center in Cluj
- What was the most challenging thing your company, people, and you, personally, had to face in 2020?
Definitely, 2020 was a year with many changes and unexpected turns, from day-to-day. It was a year in which all our beliefs, norms, habits, fears, hopes, and in a nutshell lives, we’re constantly challenged to change and adapt fast to the new realities.
From a company perspective, we went through different stages: in the first part of the year the biggest achievement was adaptability, speed to accommodate the new reality. Shifting from the “normal” way of working, to working from home for each of us, in 24 hours was an amazing achievement. We all proved that we can rapidly embrace such a huge change. After the first few months, we started to see high adaptation to the “new normal”. And the feedback was positive both from our employees and from the company. However, the great results we had were built on the strong foundation we had: on our culture, network, cross-functional collaboration, and people relationships. With very limited face to face interactions, this capital started to erode; and from a psychological perspective, the initial response of anxiety and fear, which brought about also positive aspects, revealing fast survival instincts and the drive to perform, we all got accustomed to the new reality. We moved to a “run the business” mindset and less of innovation for future advancement. Towards the end of the year, we’ve seen an increased level of stress, tiredness, but also of hopes for 2021.
2020 was a disruptive year for our industry with massive shifts, yet beneath all these challenges we see many opportunities to design better work experiences. The rapid move for many companies to adapt work from home as the new way of working for the majority of employees created the amazing context for a wide and deep global experiment and research about all the needs for users and our customers. At Steelcase, we put people at the center of what we do, and we see this shift as a huge opportunity to rethink the way our customers and their employees will return to better. We conducted a massive research experiment, speaking to over 32,000 people in 10 countries and we are excited and eager to share our findings and help our customers on their journey to adapt and provide a better workplace than before. We know now that employees’ expectations changed and companies will have to rethink, rebuild and create a new way of working to accommodate these expectations. Employees’ top five needs are safety, a sense of belonging, productivity, comfort, and control. At the same time, companies struggle to keep or to advance their culture, while facing challenges with teams productivity and especially innovation. So businesses will have to consider 4 macro shifts in their future planning for their workplaces: a design for safety, design for productivity, design for flexibility, and design for inspiration.
And what I like the most as being part of Steelcase, is that we are applying all our findings with our employees and within our company and we learn from it every day.
For me personally, it was a year of continuous crisis management, a year in which I had to learn mainly to make plans for a short term, keep these flexible and be happy and grateful if, in the end, these plans turn into reality.
- What pleasantly surprised you last year? / What are you grateful for?
The flexibility of all of us and the speed to adapt to this new reality. I was surprised by many things: I was surprised to learn a lot about our brain plasticity and the psychological power we all have. Last year many of us turned towards personal introspection and learned more about human psychology. For example, I was amazed about the power a small action (like just making a vacation plan) has and the hope it can bring to you.
I am extremely grateful to all scientists, doctors, and medical workers, who are the true heroes of last year and for the amazing synergy between all of them in discovering a vaccine that will help us to return to a better life in the near future. And about the global collaboration between all these actors.
- What are your plans and expectations for 2021?
I want to continue building on what we achieved last year and reconnect to the experiences we created before the “COVID era”. I also expect that with the increased access to vaccination, the world will be able to contain the COVID 19 impact and slowly we will be able to return to a normal life. And with this, I expect that economies will return to stability and eventually to growth.
- What do you foresee it will be different this year and what impact it will have on our industry/Romania/your company/your people?
I believe 2021 is a year of hope, but also challenges. I expect that we will continue to see the COVID 19 impact until fall and then everything will slowly improve. For our industry, I see a very active year, as many companies are thinking about how and when will they return to the office and what that work experience should look like. For our employees, it will be a year of continuous changes, since we aim to learn from our experience of returning to a better workplace than before.
- What is your message for the ABSL community?
Continue to build on our resilience and network. This is tremendously helpful and learning from each other makes a big difference.
- What could we do to grow stronger as a community?
I think that you did great to adapt the ABSL community to the digital environment. I am looking forward to a face to face event, to feel the energy and build on each other’s ideas.
- A message for ABSL or a suggestion.
Keep doing what you are doing. And thank you for all you do to connect, exchange and inspire this community.