By Luis De Souza
With vaccines making their mark, there’s no doubt a return to the office will feel easier now in 2021. But some fundamental changes will remain — and now is the time to plan for them globally. With pundits discussing a re-imagining of the office, let’s look at what’s ahead for #workplace2021 — and what the opportunities are for maximum efficiency, well-being, and productivity. What 5 key changes does the workplace need to accommodate?
- The home working revolution
- Growing collaboration
- New technologies
- A reduced office footprint
- Employee demands, perspectives and wellness
1. The home working revolution
COVID-19 has shown that employees can work just as productively from home as they can from the office. Firms including Google have already suggested that some workers may never return to the office, and others are likely to embrace remote working or a hybrid approach split between office and home.
This hybrid approach is popular among knowledge workers. A recent Workplace Transformation study of over 9,000 workers by Slack found that 72% of workers preferred the flexibility of choosing where they worked.
The traditional office is far from finished, but it’s not going to be the only game in town. As an employer, think about how you can attract and engage this workforce.
2. Growing collaboration
The drive to remote and hybrid working has seen advances in virtual technology, and the lines between virtual and physical are becoming increasingly blurred. Microsoft has even developed in-room devices which are completely touch-free with attendees only needing to touch their own devices to share files.
Workplace leaders are working hard in 2021, and will do so beyond this year, to refine this blended collaboration, and it’s worth the effort — companies that foster working together perform up to five times better than companies that don’t.
3. New technologies
One accelerating technological trend in #workplace2021 will be integration, as consumers demand more from their devices and software. Big names such as Samsung, Google, and Microsoft are actively collaborating and sharing their expertise to deliver ever more exciting digital experiences.
With this flexibility comes the need to offer more mobile devices to navigate the digital workplace — speeding up essential remote processes such as video calling or e-mail, and helping people organize their day. Mobile devices are also revolutionizing the use of desks, which can now be booked via an app. The same app can locate and reserve Teams, Zoom, and Skype enabled meeting rooms quickly, making the most of the evolving collaboration technologies.
4. A reduced office footprint
While many are working at home during the pandemic, many offices still need all their space to accommodate social distancing. But a survey of the UK Institute of Directors in October 2020 showed that more than half of company bosses are planning to cut back office space as home working continues. And this may be the case in the U.S. during 2021.
That’s a cost-saver, no doubt, but not if it becomes counter-productive. Offices provide space for the lifeblood of any organization — collaboration, and companies need to plan their space carefully to ensure maximum utilization and minimum disruption to staff and operations. Again, agile working software will have a huge part to play.
5. Employee demands, perspectives and wellness
With a pandemic to outwit, it’s probably no surprise that wellness has risen to the top of the business agenda. But it has long-lasting implications for companies designing #workplace2021.
Happy, healthy workers are productive, take fewer sick days and tend to stay in their jobs longer. Yet many organizations merely paid lip-service to the concept of a good work-life balance before the pandemic struck. They’ll have to do a lot better as the big return to the office takes place. Workers who have enjoyed swapping a tedious commute for stepping into their home office will resist getting back on the train five days a week.
Studies show that people appreciate companies who trust them. A study by Payscale showed 72% of workers who feel able to act and make decisions on their own are satisfied in their jobs. Crucially, over three-quarters who say their boss doesn’t trust them also say they will look for a new job within months.
What will deliver the best outcomes for staff and employers?
The situation is still shaping up and many unknowns are still in play — the length of time it will take to vaccinate everyone, for instance. But although planning ahead now might seem like building on sand, there are elements you can consider now — together with the reliable workspace data that your workplace technology will have captured before and during this crisis.
We’ve looked to our own international client base and other organizations for examples of best practice in operation. These are our top trends to act upon as we move forward to #workplace2021:
- Greater flexibility
- Greater adoption of the right technology
- An enlightened approach to staff engagement
- Better planning for the home working revolution
- Creating collaboration centers of excellence
1. Greater flexibility
There’s never really been a one-size-fits-all solution to creating efficient and effective operations and driving productivity, and that’s even more so.
So as workplace leaders start building on the shifting sands mentioned above, flexibility is even more important than ever. The truth is, some organizations previously had a poor record in this area, but they have now learned the hard way that flexibility is a virtue.
So the trick now is to take the lessons learned during the pandemic and evolve them into a workplace that flexes to meet the needs not only of the company, but also its employees. And then flexes again…and again. The problem is that flexibility, done wrong, can look a lot like chaos. Keeping track of workers, where they are, and what they are doing is a big task — and so is driving collaboration when not all attendees are in the same room.
As business functions experts McKinsey point out: “History shows mixing virtual and on-site working might be a lot harder than it looks, despite its success during the pandemic…Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer ended that company’s remote-working experiment in 2013, observing that the company needed to become ‘one Yahoo!’ again.”
So this is where the savvy workplace leaders will be leaning hard on their workspace technology. They’ll use it not only to keep track of workers and resources, ensure great space utilization, and promote collaboration, but also to provide the real-time data that supports good, cost-effective decisions.
2. Greater adoption of the right technology
That brief rundown shows how important technology is — but when you are choosing the right agile working system, what should you look for?
Here at NFS Technology, we saw one of our clients, a major Irish law firm, make good use during the pandemic of software with an API-first approach, allowing full integration with other systems such as Outlook to stream operations and maintain business (nearly) as usual.
The technology can integrate with other best-in-breed technologies including digital signage, in-room panels, and occupancy sensors to create a convenient and agile journey for their workers when they return to the office.
The journey starts by booking a desk via an app on their phone from home. When they arrive at the office they use an RFID card to enter the building, and on approaching their pre-booked desk a desk sensor shows whether it is still out for cleaning or available. If it’s available, they use the same RFID card to check in and out of the desk. At the heart of this is an agile booking system powering and triggering all these interactions.
3. An enlightened approach to staff engagement
Managers are already pondering how to make sure staff feels part of a team when they’re not physically in the room for part, or all, of the working week. That’s why the new role of Head of Remote is trending around the world — tying in HR with management and technology to pull a team together when face-to-face is not always possible.
The new Heads of Remote, and others who perform the engagement role, have five key challenges ahead of them in #workplace2021 — Check out the solutions in this NFS guide.
4. Better planning for the home working revolution
Even if your staff have been working from home for the past year, it’s ambitious to think you’ve got it sorted; getting it right is a continuing process of refinement.
The NFS client IDC, the premier global market intelligence company, provides a good example of a company that has successfully adopted a whole new approach when it comes to staff engagement and technology support in key areas including mobile, sensors and digital signage. Watch this short video to discover more.
5. Creating collaboration centers of excellence
What will the office model of the future look like? We think we know, courtesy of a project we are working on with Lendlease, one of the biggest property companies in Australia. They are developing a collaborative center of excellence with the University of Melbourne, where multiple tenants will share space and resources in an impressive building.
Sharing means fewer facilities are needed and less square footage is wasted — but charging each tenant accurately could be a headache. Rendezvous workspace scheduling technology from NFS will allow Lendlease to supply digital coupons to tenants that they can “spend” on desks, meeting spaces. and other facilities.
Our near-future vision
A return to the office is going to be an exciting and different experience in 2021, and beyond. Technology will be driving that experience whether it’s through collaborative meeting technology, office productivity suites, mobile computing, sensor technology or a combination of all these elements.
Joining the digital touchpoints together into an integrated ecosystem is the best way to create a seamless, safe and truly agile workplace. We believe these changes will usher in a new era of productivity and worker wellness.
Employees who return to the office will spend less time trying to find a workspace or organizing videoconferences and more time on billable knowledge work. They’ll enjoy their time in the office more – and they’ll feel less frustrated and stressed too. That’s a win-win for absolutely everyone.
De Souza is CEO of NFS Technology Group, the UK-based international provider of leading workspace management technology Rendezvous Workspace.