The modern workplace has changed dramatically but there is no reason to expect that it will return to its previous state
As workers make clear that they do not miss the old way of doing things, enterprises have an opportunity to redesign a workplace around what works best rather than what worked once. The time for a radical rearchitecting of the office is now.
Past Priorities vs. Fresh Focus
In decades past, the office was designed as a place for employees to sit down for deep work at their desks. Remote work was often reserved for special situations, and enterprises understandably operated under the assumption that the workplace was simply where work was done. After all, that is how thinks had always been arranged. This need not be the case anymore however, as workers have discovered they have a desk at home that functions just fine. In fact, as the novelty of remote work fades and productivity stabilizes, workers have voiced en masse that what they miss most about the office is definitively not their carefully cultivated cubicles. No, what employees miss most, perhaps predictably, is each other. Study after study has made clear that while the “work” aspect of remote work has generally held steady, the “remote” element has severely strained valuable collaboration with coworkers.
According to a recent study conducted by Databricks, while employees may feel happy and productive, “there is an accumulating impact from the lack of in-person interactions, leaving them feeling more drained and less creative in their work.” A Twingate study echoed this sentiment, finding that, “a dramatic increase in email communications or Zoom meetings isn’t a comparable replacement for interacting with people in real life and can be one of the aspects that make telecommuting the hardest to manage for some people.” This perceived isolation has an impact on morale, leading to downstream effects on revenue, per research from Forbes and Salesforce. That study indicated “companies that valued the work experience of their employees saw up to 1.8x the growth as companies that did not.”
Given such evidence, an office that remains physically and philosophically arranged around deskbound deep work misses the mark and fails to capitalize on the greatest source of value the office actually brings. The most effective workplaces of the future will be reconfigured as spaces where collaboration and connection come first, where employees can be transient while still having the resources they need to effectively work and communicate together in-person.
The Right Tools for the Job
Deciding to embark on an office rearchitecting is one thing but executing it is an entirely different task. So, what might a rearchitected workplace actually look like, both technologically and physically? A recent Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey uncovered that “more than 90% of executives who say their organizations make employee experience a high priority report that their teams have the tools and technology to do their work efficiently.” Communications tools, remote work tools, and collaboration tools were seen as critical for getting work done efficiently. Workplace automation technology is also vital to long-term success, especially when it seamlessly syncs to software like Zoom or Microsoft Teams that organizations have become increasingly reliant on, while also
providing important data analytics around room space and usage for decision-makers.
The FishTech Group serves as a relevant illustration of this concept, as they found that by focusing on the end-user experience of their employees and standardizing on a single cloud-supported technology platform, they could deliver employees an equal collaboration experience, regardless of whether they were remote or on-site.
The popularity of automation and collaboration tools supports the notion that portability, flexibility, ease-of-use, integrated support for an entire ecosystem of UC software, support for the cloud, data driven tools, and security are all key tenets of technology in a rearchitected workplace. Embracing these traits will help companies create a digital-first workplace that can withstand future complications, while supporting a new culture and paradigm for workers.
From a physical architecture standpoint, employees will have little tolerance for an office environment that hinders their ability to easily collaborate, given that physical collaboration is the new focus of the office in the first place. Casual water cooler conversations, impromptu meetings or 1x1s, and easy access for quick questions are all important to maintaining a strong workplace culture and sense of closeness, so enterprises will need to design spaces that facilitate such interaction. They will also want to equip those spaces with the technology solutions highlighted above so that the technological and physical architecture of the office works synergistically.
What these spaces look like in practice will vary. In their New York office, WORKac shrunk the size of individual spaces to increase the size of collective spaces, “creating a range of typologies of collaborative places for meetings of different sizes and durations.” Other offices have explored the relationship between architecture and furniture, integrating “hybrid-objects” throughout the office. Other companies have rebuilt around “beating hearts” at the core of their space, like Pinterest, which organized its headquarters around a see-through central staircase that visually and physically connects employees across four floors.
Each of these examples of technological and physical infrastructure represent a commitment to reconfiguring the office around what employees (and the data) say works best. Enterprises will ignore these signs at their own peril.
The path forward for enterprises is difficult, but at least it is clear. Looking back at what work once was ignores the potential of what work can be. A recent study from Salesforce shows that 61% of the workforce misses going into the office. To get that number to 100%, enterprises should give them a place that offers them the ability to connect and collaborate in person, with the agility to easily come and go with little technical friction or troubleshooting required.
About the Author
Andrew Gross is Director of UC Enterprise at Crestron Electronics. Crestron is the world’s leading innovator and manufacturer of advanced control and automation systems for the office, campus, and home, reinventing the way people live and work. With integrated solutions to monitor, manage, and control audio, video, and lighting, shades, and climate, Crestron streamlines technology to improve the quality of life for people in corporate boardrooms, conference rooms, classrooms, hotel rooms, auditoriums, and in their homes.
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