Returning to the office? How things have changed

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A recent study by organizational consultancy Korn Ferry found that 20% of respondents answered “nothing” when asked what they were most looking forward to when returning to the office.

While it may be tempting to dismiss this cohort as being cynical and jaded, there are a number of legitimate concerns that employers need to address when workers start to return to the office. We suggest that it is not all doom and gloom. Thanks to the rapid adoption of technology, the new world of hybrid working should be welcomed and embraced.

Still Social distancing

While the widespread vaccination program may arrest the spread of the virus, there will still be a need for workers to socially distance as it will still be some time before herd immunity is achieved. Dr Anthony Fauci cautions against not socially distancing any time soon.

So, while there is time for optimism for the future it is certain that some form of social distancing is going to be the norm going into 2022. Analysis firm CCS Insights predicts that in 2022 more than half of office-based employees will be working from home.

Cleanliness to the fore

For the significant numbers who will be making the trip into work there is also the issue of office cleanliness. While mask wearing and keeping socially distant are within the control of the individual, office sanitization is not. An arguably welcome side-effect of Covid 19 is that issues of hygiene have become more commonly discussed.

A recent research report by Forrester suggests that two-thirds of returning workers would like to see extended health precautions, including extra cleaning, in place before they return to work.

Staff well-being

Reflective of wider pre-Covid concerns about mental health, staff well-being has been pushed to the fore.

Health and safety measures will be stepped up as well as investment in technology such as thermometers and visitor management software to ensure that staff feel that any external threat is well mitigated against. While taking temperatures is important, a wider range of measures is required so that staff feel psychologically that they as safer as they would be in the safe cocoon of home.

Using visitor management software is key as it helps to institute a wide range of measures such as health questionnaires, track and trace, producing personalised QR codes to enable staff/visitor entry to the building as well barring at risk individuals from entering the premises. For extra peace of mind, such software will automatically alert the health and safety officer of any suspected cases so track and trace can be kicked into action.

Contactless technology

While voice assistants are mainstream in the consumer realm, they haven’t made a significant impact in the business world. This is all set to change as minimizing touch becomes a priority.

For example, Microsoft are already integrating their Cortana voice assistant technology into their Teams video conferencing technology so in the very near future it will be possible to walk into a meeting room and start a video meeting through voice alone. Safe and time-saving!

Other forms of contactless technology are also coming to the fore. It is now possible to use a QR code scanner or a RFID reader, connected to a desk sensor, to quickly check in and out to a touch down desk with the minimum of touch.

A self-sufficient mobile workforce

With all that socially distanced space to manage, employers will need to provide workers with the tools to maximize its usage and utility. Staff will increasingly be empowered

Increasingly, remote workers will need mobile devices to help them navigate this new world of work. Booking from a floorplan-based interface will enable them to quickly choose a desk in the office – while they are still at home – safe in the knowledge that it is going to be socially distanced and, in addition, sanitized before they arrive.

Meeting rooms and resources like AV can also be booked on a mobile app and if the meeting room or desk is not occupied within, say, 15 minutes of the booking start time it is auto-released to anyone who needs it. Ghost meetings and no shows become a thing of the past.

Technology for hybrid meetings

As the demand for hybrid meetings increases expect to see an increase in demand for studio-quality webcams and microphones. There will also be more sales of interactive whiteboards as companies try their best to make hybrid meetings as close to an in-person experience as possible.

Physical meeting rooms are going to be a lot more technically equipped than they may currently be. More rooms will come ready-equipped with Zoom, Teams and Skype panels.

Sensors and IoT

In order to coax workers to return to the office, employers are going to need to invest in technology which improves their productivity. With going to the office becoming more an event than a daily occurrence, any time that can be saved on, say, hunting for a desk is precious.

Sensor technology can help workers reduce the time and inconvenience of finding a desk or huddle space to mere seconds. They simply find an available space on an easy to use digital signage, walk up to up it, sit down and start working. The presence sensors take care of the rest.

Beacon technology can help them quickly find their colleagues for fast collaboration. Smart sensor technology can also be used to optimise temperature and lighting, say, once a meeting room is occupied. The beacons can even be used to route phone calls – useful when workers increasingly no longer have a desk or dedicated office phone extension.

Conclusion

The return to the office is going to be a culture shock to many people and as, we have seen, there may be some outliers who are dreading it.

Our take is that although workers are right to be hesitant, they will soon adapt to spending time in the office just as they quickly adapted to home working.

Technology will enable them to have a great digital experience and with the rapid pace of change in workplace technology they can enjoy a productive time in the office. Face to face collaboration is always preferable to a video call for ideation.

By the same token, a hybrid approach is also desirable as home working can also bring different benefits to mental health, work life balance and productivity. The return to the office needs to be intentional and purposeful – employers and employees alike should resist the temptation to return to the culture of presenteeism.

Check out a recent video from leading research firm, IDC, where they discuss how agile technology has driven collaboration and innovative problem-solving.