As March 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of businesses going remote due to COVID-19, it is important to consider what offices should look like prior to repopulating them. While much has been written about how the physical workplace is dead, these obituaries for the office fail to realize that there is another path. Rather than killing the office or keeping it the same, enterprises should consider rearchitecting their physical workspaces around what will work best, now and in the future.
Predictably, remote work for all has proven detrimental for collaboration and ideation. The lack of connectedness resulting from extended remote work, as evidenced by a recent study from Databricks, has had downstream effects on efficiency, productivity, and profitability, per research from Forbes and Salesforce. Addressing these weaknesses by bringing everyone back is certainly a top-of-mind issue for enterprise decision-makers.
In a virtual conference session moderated by CNBC last fall, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., was quoted as saying, “I don’t know the future better than anyone else. I think going back to work is a good thing. I think there are negatives to working from home…We’ve seen productivity drop in certain jobs and alienation go up in certain things. So, we want to get back to work in a safe way.” Dimon summarized what many have been thinking: the office can’t be dead because it works and people like it. But what specifically about the office works, and what do employees like best? If you take their word for it, the answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, connectivity.
Getting back to work
Bringing everyone back to the old office will help alleviate some connectivity concerns, but that approach still takes true connection for granted because it treats it as a secondary byproduct of the physical workplace, rather than the core priority employees view it as. With the COVID-19 vaccine in distribution and workers therefore on their way back in, enterprises have an opportunity to reimagine their workplace around collaboration rather than isolated deskwork. This will require a nuanced approach requiring the support of wide-ranging technology products.
Businesses should be thinking about how to provide their employees a safe and technologically advanced environment so they can start doing “more with more,” wherever that may be. The hybrid workplace will be the de facto workplace of the future. That said, to ensure long-term success, companies must do more than send select employees back to the office while others continue to work remote. The right solution requires more tact. Physical offices deserve novel technology and infrastructure features that can truly support hybrid teams, facilitate collaboration, and be a catalyst for innovation. Portability, flexibility, ease-of-use, integrated support for an entire ecosystem of UC software, support for the cloud, data-driven communication and collaboration tools, and security are all critical components of the newly re-architected workplace
Safety obviously matters, too. Technology systems, such as room scheduling signage or in-room control devices can be leveraged to communicate safety measures and reinforce protocols, scheduling panels can show a room’s occupancy status, and new cloud solutions enable CIOs and technology managers to remotely deploy, manage, monitor, and measure room device and space usage via the cloud. These solutions can also make safety and sanitation measures more visible, assuaging concerns of accountability and ensuring proper policies are adhered to.
Contrary to what you may have read, the office is not “dead” — it simply deserves a reevaluation and reorientation after years of stagnation. There is absolutely still a need for physical offices to bring people together and support productivity – employers and employees alike have clearly and collectively articulated this. The goal for organizations should be to create a cohesive technological experience, from the office to home, that keeps disparate teams aligned while supporting company culture. Now that’s the type of workplace employees will want to return to.