By Corey Glickman
As vaccinations ramp up and a return to “normalcy” appears on the horizon, employees could slowly start returning to their offices. And business organizations, extrapolating from the wants and needs the pandemic ushered in, will transition their workplace to be healthy, smart, collaborative, digitally-enabled hybrid organizations utilizing technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) and devices such as sensors and cameras.
While productivity remains a priority, health and psychological wellness owing to the pandemic, and sustainability owing to climate change concerns, have gained substantial importance. Thus, apart from productivity, overall employee experience at the workplace and conservation will count as never before!
New Workplace Concerns
The future workplace must address three main concerns. The first is enabling returning employees to a physically and psychologically healthy environment. Then, even though sustainability was gaining in currency before COVID-19, workplaces must now urgently factor in the need for it. Finally, ensuring workplace productivity is a given, to survive in a competitive world.
These aren’t mutually exclusive goals but will dovetail in the new, emerging workplace, using common-sense learning and technology. They subsume several other factors including access control, security, space management, telepresence, and energy and water conservation.
Against all this is the big picture of automation and digitization that can provide capabilities such as digital assistants, smart lighting, and an augmented workplace environment. While the adoption of green building initiatives and smart spaces has been on the rise, the pandemic has played the role of a catalyst.
Productivity And The Workplace
Enterprises must use technology to improve physical infrastructure and deliver cutting-edge solutions and services for use across the virtual, physical, and connected environment. Besides, workplace productivity also involves everything from the use of ergonomic chairs to best-in-class communication and collaboration tools, cafeterias serving nutritious food, and other employee services and amenities. To ensure seamless working, it is important to integrate the physical and the digital workplace. Working with my firm, Infosys, the real estate owner and operator RXR Realty has developed RxWell, an app that is a solution to merge the physical environment and digital technologies to optimize workplace operations and enhance employee experience.
In the last 16 months, remote working, though it happened by default, has shown benefits as well, including productivity gains from psychological wellness when people savor more natural light and the soothing sight of foliage. Therefore, enterprises must think through a process of enabling productive work not just from the office, but when it is done remotely as well.
Surveys have found that 80% of respondents prefer working for firms allowing them to work remotely from a location of their choosing. Future workplaces must enable such desires too for productivity gains, this assuming new importance in an age of talent scarcity. But it is also true that personal interaction creates more commitment and cooperation among teammates.
An enterprise must balance such seemingly irreconcilable needs to go well beyond providing, for instance, smart lighting and best-in-class tools to optimize productivity.
Health And The Workplace
The pandemic has brought health concerns to the fore, beginning with masks and physical distancing. Workplace seating and working arrangements must assuage concerns of physical proximity to colleagues, and even regulate how many people can together wait for an elevator or enter one. The emphasis on health may even feature something simple but rarely thought of, such as movable walls for distancing staff.
Human resource departments need to have an expanded playbook with healthy workspaces dominating their to-do tasks. This means that office design, sanitation, ventilation, filtration, and spacing have gained attention like never before, casting an entirely new emphasis on facilities management, not to mention safety and health protocols.
The air quality will be of prime concern and devices that control air quality and filtration systems that dissipate or prevent viral and bacterial spread will come into play. Thankfully, while they may not be in common use, systems that ensure healthy air quality and detect, even dissipate viruses, are already available. Clean air also enhances productivity as employees become more “alert” with better breathing. And touchless technology, in opening doors for instance, or motion-sensing faucets, is gaining significance.
The post-pandemic workplace will require more regular monitoring of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems controlling temperature, humidity, air circulation, and quality, which must now increase airflow from outside to change the air more often. The Infosys-RXR partnership for RxWell also tracks social distancing and proper face mask-wearing, health and safety policy compliance, and among other things, optimizes cleaning schedules as well.
Sustainability And The Workplace
By happenstance, the pandemic emerged when ecological concerns were already gaining currency, so it is no wonder then that the future workplace cannot but address them.
This could be in the form of automated light switches or controls, sensors, and devices that detect when energy-using devices are not in use and automatically put them off, motion-sensing lights, reusing water, and the use of solar power instead of coal-fired electricity that now powers workspaces. There could be legislation mandating it soon, but the sentiment in the industry is that a firm not promoting sustainability isn’t considered a responsible one.
It is in this background that we mention WorxWell, again a solution emanating from Infosys’ partnership with RXR that provides real-time insights and automation for building owners and occupants to improve energy and operational efficiency and maximize the use of space.
The Future Of Workplace
The post-pandemic workplace will be a hybrid, shared, flexible, and secure one that cannot overly stress productivity alone, unlike in the past, but also on the physical and mental well-being of its employees and attune itself to conservation, for sustainability is key to future existence itself. There simply isn’t another way out, because, the future is not what it used to be!
Glickman is the head of Sustainability and Design at Infosys. Named among the top 100 influential designers of the decade, he leads the Sustainability, Smart Spaces, and Strategic Design Consulting Group Practices at Infosys. He is a member WEF council on Pioneer Cities, a program setting global policies for 36 cities around the globe on infrastructure and modernization. He is a member of MIT’s Global Technology Advisory Board and a faculty expert guest lecturer with Singularity University.