The combined accounts of Ava Virgitti, the Villa’s Feel Good Manager (current head of Orange HR’s employee experience project) and Magali Lahourcade-Siccardi, Orange HR’s Feel Good Manager for the Villa.
Digital along with the needs of the new generation are transforming classic work patterns. It was in an attempt to understand these changes and explore the work of tomorrow that Orange established the Villa Bonne Nouvelle in Paris. In this living laboratory dedicated to the Group’s HR innovation efforts, its 60 or so internal and external inhabitants use a “test and learn” methodology to run seasonal experiments into open and flexible working conditions. The aim: to transmit new collaborative practices with a view to delivering on Orange’s “digital and human” employee promise.
Ava Virgitti : The Villa Bonne Nouvelle is a living laboratory in which Orange employees undergo a cultural transformation. It is an incubator for new methods of working that aim to produce an environment with fewer barriers and more flexibility in which a culture of doing can emerge. This place for experimentation and learning is examining the evolution of work from five perspectives: relationship to time, work spaces, collaboration, management and openness to the outside world.
Magali Lahourcade-Siccardi: Orange’s teams are increasingly working in project mode. And yet it is difficult to collaborate when people don’t know each other or there is no clear reporting line in place. The Villa is Orange’s innovation shop front, running people-focused experiments into new methods of working and new collaborative and managerial practices, all under the watchful eyes of human resources experts and sociologists of organisation.
Ava Virgitti: When it was created, this 350 m2 facility was indisputably unconventional: completely open, with no dividing walls – an empty space with only two fixed communal areas (a kitchen and living room). The rest of the building’s areas are for the inhabitants to conceive and create as they choose using the modular and reconfigurable furniture available to them.
The Villa is open from Monday to Saturday. The way it operates is a little unusual: there are no fixed working hours, no punching in and out, no dress code and no locked offices. It is open to “guests” who may come and collaborate for one or more days. The idea behind it all is to unify the collective and to facilitate new encounters, with the only restriction being that everybody must work as part of this collective.
Ava Virgitti: Each season – or “school year” if you like prefer – sees the Villa receive about 60 inhabitants. Half of them are Orange employees who come to rub shoulders with startuppers, freelancers, artists and various groups of people affected by the issues covered by that particular season’s theme. All of them come to experience a collective adventure.
The Villa has already seen four seasons, the first of which was an unregulated pilot that brought together an HR team and a variety of Orange France and Innovation project teams. Season 2 tested out the role of Feel Good Manager in a space that couldn’t quite manage to function under total self-management. It also worked on management style and bringing inhabitants back to the reality of working at Orange following a season of immersion in the Villa. Season 3 was dedicated to collaboration.
Magali Lahourcade-Siccardi: Season 4 – which is still underway – has the theme: “business and happiness”. The external inhabitants are people with a vested interest in issues such as quality of life at work, assistance for corporate cultural transformation or post-burnout coaching, who are recruited either because of a project they are working on, for the skills they will bring to the table, or for their personality. This year we are working on two experiments. One is being conducted by an Orange employee who is completing a thesis at CNAM on the topic of experience-based skills that asks the questions: what skills do employees acquire during their time in the Villa? How does being observed by others bring out our own skills? What role do the collective and collaborative work play in this? The other experiment deals with the links between quality of life at work and performance. The aim is to establish an analysis protocol that will enable us to understand and measure the invariants and incitants as they relate to the issues of quality of life at work and performance. What stimulates me to be committed in my work on a day-to-day basis? What are my performance levers and why? And finally, what can slow my motivation and how to avoid this happening?
Ava Virgitti: In the literature, the duties of Feel Good Manager are all too often lumped in with the topic of well-being and happiness at work. Our Villa Bonne Nouvelle experiment was created with two objectives in mind. First of all, it should unify and stimulate the collective – something that doesn’t just happen by osmosis. My role consisted of helping and supporting the inhabitants as they made this unconventional space their own, bringing people of different ages, backgrounds and cultures together and getting them to share with one another. That’s why I introduced a set of rituals (presentations, inspiration workshops, etc.) to try and get the inhabitants to speak freely with one another, give feedback on their experience there, set house rules to govern collective life and help each other to find the expertise they need by creating a skills marketplace. It is a multifunctional role that straddles several disciplines requiring leadership, collective intelligence, co-construction using agile methods and design thinking.
Magali Lahourcade-Siccardi: The second core responsibility of the Feel Good Manager is to disseminate good collaborative and managerial practice within the Group. I am frequently brought in to advise Orange entities that are not involved with the Villa Bonne Nouvelle project and help them to transform their methods of working. This may involve providing support and guidance for future Feel Good Managers or giving consultations regarding new work spaces. For instance, this year we are a source of proposals for the Bridge project – Orange’s new Issy-les-Moulineaux headquarters – which will consolidate all of the Group’s support and operational entities under one roof. We are also receiving a huge number of visiting project teams and company directors who come to the site looking for inspiration. It is our ambition to turn Villa Bonne Nouvelle into a “Feel Good Hub” for the whole of Orange Group by sharing the good practice and experience we gain on our recently launched website (https://startup.orange.com/fr/la-villa-bonne-nouvelle/) and elsewhere.
Ava Virgitti: Our observations have shown us that collaboration is not possible without a strong collective. In order to create, people have to go out and meet and share with one another. When we talk about engagement, what we really mean is a social connection. This very “human” notion is what gives employees a reason to get up in the morning and come to work, and is what determines their level of engagement to a much greater extent than the project or company vision. It is the very fact that work is no longer limited strictly to the professional sphere, but is instead taking on a variety of new shapes and formats that is enabling employees to switch between multiple working positions throughout the course of their working day.
Magali Lahourcade-Siccardi: Second observation: A well-thought-out work space in conjunction with a well-led collective contributes to employee well-being and company performance. The organisation of the Villa’s physical space gives its inhabitants a wide variety of choice in terms of working positions (sitting, standing, at a table, in the kitchen, in the living room, etc.). It enables its inhabitants to build a social connection, unlock their initiative and creativity with time and efficiency gains, more agile exchanges, faster-flowing information, higher levels of project engagement and improved individual and collective efficiency. These developments also affect the role of managers, who end up spending less time giving orders and monitoring progress and more time supporting their employees. There are just so many things that make the Villa Bonne Nouvelle a “potential-building” place that feeds collective and individual performance.