The workplace of the future is going to be a hybrid workplace. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, nearly all businesses have had to rapidly virtualise their way of working to survive, from e-commerce to tele-medicine and remote learning.
Staff have worked from home, shifts have been split, meetings and conferences have gone online. It’s a dramatic change that overruled many business policies overnight.
This abrupt digital transformation is something that should be embraced rather than reversed.
While it has brought some challenges around maintaining company existing process and supporting home workers, the adoption of remote working on a massive scale has been a significant success.
It has demonstrated how employees can operate with the same, even greater, efficiency and productivity while also achieving a better work-life balance.
The future workplace
As we emerge from the pandemic, we can expect to see a mix of remote workers and office-based workers, as well as people taking alternate days in the office.
Who does what will depend on a range of factors, such as someone’s individual role and whether they physically need to be on-premise.
People may also split their working day between a city office and a home office, avoiding the time-waste of rush hours and being able to manage family responsibilities more effectively.
With schools shut down in some countries, many workers have had to figure out how to work productively from home around school-aged children.
We start to see more families with children attending flexible and remote learning while parents working from home at the same time. The impact on family is profound.
Managers should work to facilitate this rather than try to force people back to the 9-5 commuter grind. According to International Workplace Group, 85% of businesses believe greater location flexibility has led to an increase in productivity.
In a Gensler study, 67% of workers reported feeling more empowered working from home.
Indeed research found that 80% of employees expressed that they would likely stay longer with an employer that provided flexible working arrangements.
It’s no wonder that 74% of CFOs interviewed by Gartner intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently.
Social distancing in the workplace
Transitioning workers back to physical offices will be hampered by stringent new hygiene and social distancing requirements.
Department of health in many countries have published COVID-19 reopening guidelines, focusing on people, space, sanitation and record keeping.
Physical distancing guideline will significantly reduce number of people who can be in the office and meeting rooms. Sanitation with vigorous procedures will cost time and money.
In many cases, low-touch technology is required in group meeting spaces and personal collaboration devices.
These low-touch meeting spaces will require no physical interaction, with user recognition, voice- based services and smart integration capabilities that allow employees to connect wirelessly to meetings.
Going forward we can also expect to see less wasted space, such as overbooked but underused meeting rooms.
Meeting rooms equipped with AI powered conferencing systems can detect if the room is being used, how many people are in the room, are they using any facilities in the room such as conferencing devices, presentation displays, whiteboard, etc.
By fully understanding resource utilizations, businesses may choose to invest in flexible, collaborative, multi-dimensional workspaces that extend beyond the office walls.
There’s an obvious benefit to cutting overheads by shutting or downscaling office space. Gartner research reveals that 13% of CFOs have already made cost reductions in real estate.
So rather than large, city centre offices, businesses will increasingly use smaller “satellite” offices over more dispersed locations, that are also a more convenient commute for many employees.
Co-working spaces will become more prevalent, where remote and flexible workers can fulfil the craving of being alongside other people without the ties to a specific desk or location.
These spaces were already projected to increase more than 40% worldwide prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, a rate likely to accelerate as businesses seek cost-effective ways to operate that also deliver the choice and flexibility that employees seek.
Supporting remote workers
It’s vital that people working remotely and dialling in to meetings don’t get overlooked or have “economy” class experience.
Meetings and collaboration need to be inclusive and productive regardless where you are, especially as teams become more virtual in nature.
Hybrid workers need collaboration and communication to be effective no matter when or where they’re performing their tasks. But noise and disruption are productivity killers, impacting the flow and ability to focus.
Technology is the key enabler. Especially video conferencing bars will play a major role in the development of collaboration spaces in remote and home offices.
They are so easy to install and come with built-in native software experiences (such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams), AI and machine learning (ML) to enable automatic speaker tracking, split screens, wireless sharing and noise-cancellation.
These create contextual meeting experiences for participants in and out of the office.
Around the APAC region we are already seeing people upgrade their devices from “daily use phone earphones” to “professional headsets” along with professional camera and desktop speakers.
A survey at the University of Otago found that 71% of employees in New Zealand prefer to have the camera on during video conferencing meetings.
Enterprise-grade home offices
It’s not enough to provide a laptop and expect your employees to work productively.
Enterprise-grade technology must be brought into the home. During the pandemic, kitchen tables, ironing boards and even garden furniture were used to create at-home workspaces.
But as remote working is embraced in the long-term, we will see a move to more professional home working spaces.
The new hybrid way of working will be the silver lining to come out of the pandemic. 2020 has shown that many employees don’t need to travel to the office every day, at the same time, working the same hours.
As Jim Floyd, Senior Mobility Manager at Verizon phrased it: “The days of managers saying you need butts on seats to ensure people are working has gone.
We’re going to have to set new work behaviours, carry our own desk with us and shift to new patterns focused on outcomes – doing tasks by a deadline but at any time we choose.
Ultimately hybrid working is a change that offers both employees and employers flexibility and choice, where collaboration and communication drive productivity, and where businesses thrive through motivated and engaged teams.
We have the opportunity to challenge the status quo, to re-think and see work as a state of mind, enabled by technology, not a place you go to perform a task.
Bill Zeng is Chief Technology Officer and Director of Sales Engineering of Asia Pacific for Poly. In this role, he is responsible for leading Poly’s technology vision in the region, as well as for crafting product and solution strategy for the region.
Zeng joined Poly in early 2019, bringing over two decades of experience in the telecom and information technology industry as a technology leader and innovator. He has led technical sales and operation teams across the Asia Pacific region, having been based in Sydney, Beijing, and Singapore for several years. His ability to foresee the industry transitions and marry disruptive technologies to business needs has enabled him to be a trusted advisor to customers and partners. He is highly respected by industry peers for his depth of knowledge in both voice and video technologies (MGCP, H323, SIP, H264 etc.), some of which he helped develop as an active contributor in various standardisation bodies.