A wholesale change to working practices, and the nature of how and where we work, is set to be one of the big lasting legacies of the pandemic. We only need to look at some of London’s business districts to see these changes happening in real time – last year saw a 60% drop in office space take up in central London, and leasing activity in Canary Wharf for the first 9 months of 2020 was at 40% of the 10-year average.
With working from home becoming the norm, it’s no shock that companies are revaluating the value they’re getting out of their offices, especially in light of prominent figures such as AWS’ CEO Andy Jassy predicting we’ll see the rise of ‘hot offices’, where employees will mostly work remotely, only coming into the office when they need to work on specific projects.
As the office evolves it’s clear employers will have to adapt their spaces in line with new, post-pandemic wellbeing and workplace trends, and create an office centred around “super experiences” that makes it a destination in itself and worth leaving the house for. So, in what ways will working practices change, and how do we see the physical workspace evolving? And by the same token, what changes and demands should installers and integrators be readying themselves for, both in the meeting room solutions they advise and provide for?
Ultimately, the pandemic has re-focussed the discussion on how employees can best work, and how teams are spending their time. It has also given employers the opportunity to ensure they’re in a better position to help people find a good work life balance.
Yet even after coronavirus, it’s clear we won’t be working from home forever. The UK government says work from home orders may stay in place until April 2021 and with this in mind a flexible, and hybrid, way of working is set to stay. Employees feel that way too – a recent Simply Communicate survey found only 2% want to go back to the full week in the office.
With the digital tools available and the experience gained over the past 10 months, the idea of everyone being in the office everyday seems old fashioned and unnecessary. People don’t want to travel in to be sat at their desk for eight hours. They want to connect with colleagues, to learn, to be inspired and to share ideas with others.
Whilst getting your head down to work is important, social time and collaboration is equally valued, and central to general wellbeing. For many employees, their work is central to their sense of self, their meaning and purpose, and after a long period of being at home alone, they’ll be yearning for those in-person, face-to-face experiences. This should be placed at the forefront of modern office culture and design.
Offices will become destinations unto themselves – for collaboration, innovation and strengthening team relationships – and less about desk-based or task-based work. The space should also be vibrant and different.
These offices should offer a mixture of meeting rooms and open operational space, which will promote gathering for teamwork, collaboration and companywide networking events. At the same time, smaller collaborative working areas, enabled by video, will facilitate break away group work for those both physically present and working remotely. Banks of individual cubicles will disappear, and instead we’ll see occasional, dedicated concentration pods for when employees need to get their heads down between meetings. And how about relaxation pods should employees want a quick break and recharge?
Beyond work, offices also need to become social destinations in themselves. A recent JLL study found that nearly half of employees hope their office will prioritise social spaces, such as coffee areas, lounges or outdoor terraces and gardens. Common areas play a central role in nurturing informal work relationships, which improve development opportunities and help career outlook – especially crucial for people early in their work life. These spaces allow employees to maintain the inspiration, energy and social connection that comes with belonging to a physical team and environment – something which many found a real challenge to maintain virtually during the pandemic.
Flexible schedules and shared spaces will also lead to a “rightsizing” of office space, where organisations will rethink their real estate, in what will undoubtedly save costs. Some are even predicting that we’ll see the creation of an office ‘ecosystem’, which will comprise of employees working from offices, houses, and third places such as cafes, co-working spaces, and libraries.
While all of the above will support flexibility, functionality and employee wellbeing, for it to all work it needs high-end peripherals and collaboration software to pull it together. This tech needs to help us and not take us away from people, helping our collective mental health in environments that could be potentially isolating.
This human centred approach to work collaboration requires non-intrusive, seamless video conferencing and productivity tools. Through each space in the office, from large town hall style areas, through to smaller huddle rooms, personal workspaces and even satellite offices in the suburbs, these video solutions and smart productivity technologies can help to bring together a team as one.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of high-quality video tools available that can fit the needs of the modern worker within each individual environment. From large 4K cameras with the ability to pan, tilt and zoom to focus on an individual speaking within a large room, to wide angled huddle room cameras for smaller groups, and webcams with integrated high-quality microphones and optics to make sure remote workers are seen and heard just as clearly as if they were physically in the office.
The hybrid office presents itself with an opportunity to make work better for employees, while creating a more committed and motivated workforce.
It also presents an opportunity to installers and integrators, who in some ways are the ‘key workers’ to helping enable this change in work culture. They are the ones whose knowledge and expertise of smart technologies such as video will be central to making the hybrid office work, and in the process have the potential to help make employees happier and more motivated to do their best work. They will ultimately act as the custodians for video, which will pivot from being the technology we used to survive during the pandemic to the one we use to thrive.