How flexibility is driving the reinvention of the workplace

In March 2020, when the pandemic hit and a state of emergency was declared, a large portion of the workforce, especially office-based staff, decamped and quickly transitioned to working from home. Business processes pivoted to embrace paperless processing, digital signatures, and video conferencing. Zoom meetings became the rage and “You’re on mute” was the phrase of 2020.

As 2020 wore on, it became clear that working from home was possible, and even successful, at scale. Naturally, this led to the more recent conversation about what we now need from an office, if we need one at all. While some small, satellite offices have been rationalized, the consensus is that an enterprise needs a home and its people need to come together…but maybe not like they did previously.

Considerations for the future of the workplace

While each enterprise must assess what is best for them, discussions and decisions will center around the following:

Density – Space per employee has been shrinking, as has distance from others, and the pandemic will surely drive against that trend, creating more required space per person and raising the importance of space planning and flexibility.

Assigned desks vs. hoteling – The days of assigned seating may be behind us, especially if a significant part of the workforce continues to work from home with increasing frequency.

Meeting rooms and collaborative space – We’ll also have to rethink meeting rooms as it is unlikely that people will be excited to overcrowd any given space just to be part of a meeting. These rooms need to give way to better collaborative spaces as teams return to the office together.

Flexible space – Both indoor and outdoor open spaces have grown in popularity. In order to drive collaboration and culture, having large spaces that can be quickly repurposed will be of increasing importance as ways to bring larger groups together safely without sacrificing utility during more normal business activities.

Space as a service – Ancillary income can be brought into the organization by making some of your space available on marketplaces like WeWork. Similarly, space needs outside of non-core office areas may be met with the use of flexible space from similar marketplaces and providers. The ability to quickly flex space up and down to meet needs is a growing trend.

How technology can transform your office environment

In addition to defining how space will be used, there are a number of opportunities to leverage technologies for space access and usage:

Space planning tools – These can help your organization clearly and visually understand space layouts, staff density, flow and other elements of the configuration and to create alternatives that provide for the space options listed above.

Workspace reservation systems – As space becomes more fluid, technology can be used to facilitate workspace and collaboration space reservations, including in-space displays of current and coming reservations.

Entry/exit timing tools – There are certain high traffic moments that must be addressed when returning to the office. Interestingly, the lunch period is often more densely trafficked than the start or end of the day. To better ensure social distancing, some organizations are using time blocks to manage peak traffic to better address employee safety.

Access control and on-location awareness – Understanding who has access to a space, where they are allowed and, most importantly, if they are on-location is increasingly important. Presence management is key for:

  • Air quality and other HVAC/climate sensors – Air quality and efficacy of filtration functions should be added to existing systems to ensure temperature is economically managed in conjunction with space usage.
  • On-location messaging – Broadcast or individualized messaging can better facilitate entry and exit windows and space assignments while also providing a method for communications about various safety alerts and visitor services.
  • Wayfinding – With more fluid use of space, employees may need wayfinding assistance to get to and from their key locations or to a colleague.
  • Health and safety tracking – Unfortunately, contact tracing will still be an important topic as we get back to the office.

In-room video conferencing tools – Given the success that has been enjoyed with video conferencing capabilities, meeting rooms and other collaborative spaces will need to be fit with updated technologies that allow for in-person and remote staff to be equally included in collaborative experiences as the days of poor audio over a speakerphone are long gone.

As we continue further into 2021, the workplace will be reshaped not through incremental evolution, but with the lessons of a prolonged pause, a rapid adoption of technology and much thought about what a mobile, distributed, hyper-connected workforce really needs.

Learn more about the future of the workspace and how technology can help you prepare.

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