Adapting to the work spaces of the 2020s
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“We won’t go back.” These were the words of Twitter’s Head of HR, Jennifer Christie, when discussing how the company’s work setting would never be the same again. Shortly afterwards, they announced that employees could work from home forever, while companies like Google and Facebook have extended their policies through to early 2021. So, why do companies like Facebook and Google want to roll out the runway, while Apple is keen to get people back into the office, and what is the right balance for the return to work? There are many perspectives on the future, and no single answer, but we do know one thing is certain: as it has in the past, technology will be at the heart of our changing behaviours and adaptations to the new normal.
Accelerated states of change are something we are no stranger to. BCG’s Yves Morieux has tracked how organizations add complexity to their processes at almost the square route of the external factors that drive them, but 2020 saw business complexity challenged on an entirely unprecedented level.
Microsoft Teams saw usage jump 70%, with up to 200 million daily users, setting records of over 2.7 billion meeting minutes in a single day
In the previous decade, working conditions stalled our productivity, with urban populations leading to office densification, as companies like WeWork accelerated the change, giving workers less than 50 square feet of space each. Open office noise and interruptions, along with increasing demand for flexible working and globalization lead to remote work and distributed teams, which in turn challenged our collaboration. And technology enabled solutions to all these challenges. But the radical circumstances of this year have been a true tipping point.
Business – and any other – travel came to a standstill, with airlines experiencing a 95% drop in passengers in the US, while teleconferencing technology boomed, with Google’s Meet adding 3 million users a day. That’s more than 2 packed Yankee stadiums an hour, or 55 each day. Zoom rocketed from 10 million users in December, to over 200 million in early April and then more than 300 million later that month. Microsoft Teams saw usage jump 70%, with up to 200 million daily users, setting records of over 2.7 billion meeting minutes in a single day. But everyone from organizations to the big tech companies were caught off guard.
Google’s Meet added 3 million users a day. That’s more than 2 packed Yankee stadiums an hour, or 55 each day.
According to Gartner, 54% of HR leaders indicated poor technology and/or infrastructure as their biggest barrier to effective remote working, as people scrambled to get headsets, web cameras and software that enabled business continuity for knowledge workers. And while the challenges of remote work are still vast, it seems that the majority of the US population would prefer it in the long term.
A PWC survey estimates that over 50% of organizations are considering permanent work for the roles that allowed it, while the majority of Americans in a recent Gallup poll have said they want to continue from home for as long as possible. And many will need to, as concepts like Cushman and Wakefield’s “6ft office” lower office capacities, and companies shed an estimated quarter of their real-estate footprints to save costs.
A Gartner study found that even if our productivity drops 5% from home, businesses can still save 20% through reducing their office spaces. But there are downsides too. When our office is in our living room, we have a harder time switching off. Recent server analysis indicates that we’re working more than 3 hours longer each day, while loneliness and boredom are increasing through isolated work.
54% of HR leaders indicated poor technology and/or infrastructure as their biggest barrier to effective remote working
What is clear is that as we phase in a return to work with rotated and reduced workforces, technology will bear the weight of maintaining flexible and continuous business. Bringing people back into the office helps maintain a strong connection, building confidence and engagement. And where remote workers benefit from productivity gains, they are challenged in collaborative efficiency, with creativity, problem solving and innovation paying the price. For this reason, Steve Jobs advocated office work to foster the ideas arising from chance encounters and corridor moments.
State by state, politics and industry differences will see each organization returning to work differently, but the phased return will involve rotated workforces for most. Slack’s SVP of People, Robby Kwok explains how “it’s easier to manage a company that is 100 percent remote than one where employees are 50 percent remote and 50 percent in the office.” This is where technology fundamentals come into play.
Logging and monitoring capacities are key as you manage these endpoints that can give you insights and a virtual dashboard of your teams.
When you deploy hundreds or thousands of devices to your employees to effectively concentrate, communicate and collaborate remotely, managing them is critical. Logging and monitoring capacities are key as you manage these endpoints that can give you insights and a virtual dashboard of your teams. Forming a critical component of a larger and more connected virtual office, being able to manage devices like laptops and headsets can help you identify the call quality issues that impact collaboration, as well as environmental stressors taking a toll on employee productivity. In the future, sentiment analysis can also help to track and manage stress levels for remote workers.
Headsets are the only body-worn technology employees use, becoming central gateways to controlling smart contactless buildings in the future of office work.
Beyond these remote functionalities, headsets are the only body-worn technology employees use, becoming central gateways to controlling smart contactless buildings in the future of office work. As the internet of things and connected workplaces improve, employees can invoke their voice assistants to start meetings, control lifts, search for available rooms or even make coffee without the touch of a button.
Combined with gesture control functionality from meeting-rooms cameras, connected work spaces will require far less contact as health-safety concerns prevail. Headsets can also act as proximity sensors to help maintain social distancing guidelines in the office, while 180° meeting room cameras give teams safe distance collaboration, while remaining inclusive.
Combined with gesture control functionality from meeting-rooms cameras, connected work spaces will require far less contact as health-safety concerns prevail
Ultimately, the complexity in differences across industries means that there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and organizations will individually use the comings months as a testing ground for what works. What we do know though, is that we have reached the tipping point, and managers or organizations who revert to old systems will face bigger challenges than those who use technology to hybridize their human capital and organizational processes.
The coming 12-18 months will be one of blended and rotated work forces, where the Jobs-era corridor and watercooler moments will be newly regulated, but the challenges of permanent isolation remain a force to be reckoned with.
Technology, whether consciously or subconsciously, will be a powerful player in all of this. It will push the needle in the development of new cultures and behaviours in our workforce, virtually bring us together, manage our workflows and enable more hygienic offices.
As voice and gestures fuel contactless smart offices, as well as more natural virtual collaboration and remote work, our devices will become more than just gateways for voice or video. Rather, they will function as the glue that enable flexible distributed teams, business continuity and the connections that fuel culture across every organization.