A smarter office driven by data
As the COVID-19 vaccine begins to be rolled out worldwide, there’s a clear trend of employees eager to return to office. According to a survey by real estate firm JLL, despite all the ways the coronavirus pandemic has normalized working from home, three in four workers hope to return to an office at some point in the future, according to a recent survey of 2,033 office workers worldwide. However, it will be a new kind of office that employees would return to. The pandemic will have a lasting impact on company operations and office spaces. From autonomous cleaning devices to tighter cybersecurity measures technologies are influencing how the office could look during the reopening process and beyond.
Health & safety key concern
Data supports the view that employees want to return to a workplace that values their health and safety. According to a study that Envoy commissioned from Wakefield Research, 94% of people would like to spend at least one day a week in the office. However, 73% of employees currently fear going into the office and 75% would consider quitting if their employers downplayed COVID risks. This is unleashing new opportunities to create smart offices, embedded with sensors, collecting vital data about workplace utilization, employ health and safety and providing the foundation for a data-driven organization.
Most research point out that the future of workspaces will be a hybrid of WFH and working from offices. A mix of in-office and remote work options are likely to maximize employee and organizational performance. Employees want choice and freedom in where they work, but few want to work outside the office exclusively. There are clear downsides to this pandemic induced WFH period. Office workers feel disconnected from corporate culture, personal wellbeing has suffered, and employees feel that they’ve had fewer opportunities to learn, especially through informal mentoring.
The coffee-shop office
According to real-estate consulting firm, Cushman & Wakefield workplace of the future will be an ecosystem of multiple options for workers. The first option may continue to be the core office where most learning, mentoring, team connection and collaboration occurs. For many workers, their home may now be a viable second option for working on a regular basis. And workers may have the flexibility to choose third options like local community hubs (e.g., coffee shops, the local library, etc.), on-demand event spaces, co-working spaces, retail spaces and suburban “spoke” offices. These third places may appeal to employees for a variety of reasons—for example, a spoke office might be more conveniently located than the core office and it might offer a better social outlet than home. Companies may need to help manage these options for their employees, even offer several “office pod” options, and provide the ability to book spaces on any given day.
A robust technology platform a pre-condition
This hybrid workspace mode or the central office and pod work architecture will require a robust technology platform to connect employees, partners, customers and the myriad devices creating the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem. From measuring employee health parameters, productivity, efficiency, infrastructure utilization, enabling remote delivery of services, providing a collaboration and communication platform, technology will be the driving force in creating this new workspace.
The entire office infrastructure will be redesigned from the entry lobby to the cafeteria to ensure employee health and safety and in the process capture vital data. As a building’s first point of contact — and first line of defence — entrances and lobbies are poised for a revamp in policies and procedures when it comes to fighting the spread of COVID-19. The criteria for authorized occupants could include pandemic-specific considerations like employee schedules, health indicators, and contact tracing.
A handful of companies are exploring gesture detection technologies to help individuals command elevators without touching buttons. Doors using PIN entries for access can be replaced by low-touch or touchless entry. Low-touch or touchless entry using smartphones or “wave to unlock” solutions require less hassle than certain traditional methods, such as key-cards, which can also be easily duplicated. By using Wi-Fi, LTE, or Bluetooth, the latest mobile solutions can unlock doors while still in a bag or pocket.
Biometrics would be a more permanent fixture in the process of authorizing entry of employees or visitors. Given the richness of biometric data, including key health data, companies may explore anonymizing it for use cases such as planning for an upcoming flu season or triggering alerts when multiple employees come to work with elevated temperatures. However, there will be significant challenges in widely implementing this technology. User acceptance and public opinion are major obstacles, as many people view biometrics as an invasion of privacy and are reluctant to adopt the technology.
Redefining roles in a remote-first world
Overall, a reduced need for occupancy will allow some companies to downsize, decentralize, or redistribute space into smaller offices to create hubs closer to where people live. This will also reduce commute times for many employees. An entirely remote workforce seems unlikely for most companies, with an office providing intangible benefits such as social connection, collaboration, and innovation. Additionally, there are still a variety of roles that require being physically present in an office. Beyond COVID, it’s likely that employees may have more flexible schedules and work situations that do not require them to be in the office every day.