Evolution, not revolution
It’s fair to say that the change in working practices brought on by Covid were sudden, dramatic and for many a steep learning curve, but what of the post-Covid world? Can we expect a continuation of the current way we work?
The consensus from both end users and decision makers is no, not entirely. But that does not mean we will return to the old ways of working. Futuresource recently published the Home Working Report, a piece of end user research examining the working habits of end users who had worked from home at some point during the pandemic. One of the key findings of this report was that the proportion of end users who expected to work from home full time after the pandemic passes (16 per cent) was roughly the same as the proportion who worked from home full time before the pandemic (18 per cent).
Crucially, however, the proportion of respondents who “never” work from home dropped from 17 per cent before Covid-19 to an expected nine per cent post-pandemic. This therefore means that hybrid working (splitting the working week between the office and home) is expected to become the norm for most respondents; a shift from 43 per cent pre-Covid to 56 per cent post-Covid.
The longer term picture is therefore one of evolution, not revolution. There are clearly perceived benefits to working from home (no commute, fewer distractions, more family/personal time, etc) and to working in the office (better for collaboration, team cohesion, etc). Hybrid working allows for the best of both worlds while minimising the compromises that have to be made.
Coping with Covid: is technology the answer?
Even with vaccines being rolled out globally, there is a very real prospect that it will still be a long time until society returns to ‘normal’ and so business has to adapt to a situation where we will live alongside the virus. While video conferencing and remote working is obviously a key element of this, a safe return to the office, at least in some capacity, is high on a lot of companies’ agendas.
Social distancing is a key tool in combating the spread of the virus, but how possible is this within existing offices? People move around, go to meeting rooms together, pass in the corridor and interact in myriad different ways. The consequence of the virus infecting a group of employees simultaneously could be significant and directly impact the smooth running of any business.
Many of the leading companies addressing office and meeting room technology are currently looking at solutions to combat this. AI and the idea of smart buildings are at the core of most products, with solutions ranging from cameras able to determine the number of people in a meeting (and thus informing users if the room is exceeding capacity) to full facial recognition and employee tracking. While understanding where employees go in an office and, crucially, who they interact with has the obvious benefit of allowing a small scale ‘track and trace’ operation to allow the containment of virus outbreaks, there are significant ethical issues surrounding this.
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People are accepting of a surveillance culture to a certain extent – indeed, living in an online world is based on the trade off of some personal privacy with the benefits given by online companies – but there are concerns that such tracking products used in the office could go too far for many people. Although well intentioned, at least initially, such products are inherently invasive and working under what some would call ‘Orwellian’ conditions could prove to be a major hindrance to talent retention.
Despite this, use of AI within meeting rooms to aid in the monitoring of usage will increase over the coming years, but ultimately the market will decide what level of monitoring will be acceptable.
The extent to which advanced technologies such as AI will play in the safe return to the office is yet to be seen, but what is certain is that the wider adoption of collaboration technologies has changed the way in which traditionally office-based employees work. Be it working from home or in the office, collaboration tools are now centre stage like they have never been before. This is paving the way for a much more flexible working culture in the future, something that is going to become increasingly important as the generational change within the global workforce picks up pace and the expectations of millennials and generation Z employees become more important.
The full version of this article is available in Installation‘s Pro AV Technology Outlook, which is free to download now.