As workforces around the world begin making their way back to the office in the wake of the global pandemic, we are starting to get a clearer picture of what the “new normal” looks like. It can be summed up in one word: flexible.
Employees have grown accustomed to little perks like the ability to do their jobs from anywhere and not having to commute, and as a result, are expressing a strong desire for remote work to continue in some fashion. Employers have discovered over the past year – contrary to prior expectations – that business productivity has increased with a primarily remote workforce rather than decreased, and they wish to prolong those benefits by offering more flexible work models. And as expensive office space sits empty or underutilized, companies are examining how to best configure (or reconfigure) their spaces to adapt to today’s environment:
- 72% of knowledge workers prefer a mix of remote and office work, with 13% wanting to work from home full-time, according to a Slack survey of nearly 3,000 U.S. knowledge workers.
- 94% of employers said company productivity was the same (67%) or higher (27%) than it was before the pandemic, according to a survey from consulting firm Mercer.
- 66% of business leaders say their company is considering redesigning office space to better accommodate hybrid work, according to Edelman Data x Intelligence's Work Trend Index survey.
The flexible workplace is nothing new, but clearly it has taken on larger importance and weight over the past year. Enterprises have a greater need to support an increasingly hybrid workforce without sacrificing user experience in the office, on the road or when working from home. To ensure a soft landing for employees while making the most of expensive business real estate, many businesses are turning to technology-based approaches to connect a distributed workforce and support a safer office.
Supporting the Flexible Work Experience
At this point, we are all familiar with technology that allows for remote work, such as video conferencing platforms like Zoom and instant communication tools like Slack. But this next stage of work calls for a holistic approach, one that is ideally situated to help workplaces adjust to the hybrid model. Three vital approaches will support this new system of work, bringing the flexible workplace to life and addressing the unique challenges of today.
Creating On-Demand Workspaces with Robust Options
The exact form work will take will be different depending on many factors, including your industry, location, company size, etc., but for illustrative purposes, let us consider what it might look like through the lens of a typical employee use case.
Hiromi is adjusting to the new normal, returning to the office three days per week and working from home the other two. They work in both Zoom and Microsoft Teams, and have colleagues both in their own location and in other cities.
To make the optimal use of company real estate, Hiromi’s company has implemented office hoteling. In this increasingly popular setup, rather than the traditional office layout with assigned desks and designated meeting areas, these new workplaces feature bookable workspaces that employees can reserve based on their hybrid schedules. Along with conventional desk areas, hoteling also frequently offers a mix of environments, including open spaces, cubicles, designated areas for presentations, a co-working café, conference rooms, stand-up spaces and meeting rooms. Hoteling allows the company to cut down on unused or under-utilized space, since areas are reserved only when needed.
The key to a successful operation lies in the technology that enables employees to easily find and reserve space while also allowing the business to seamlessly offer clean spaces with low overhead. Hiromi uses a mobile app to book a workspace, which gives them confidence they have an area for the next day that will be clean and ready to go. They receive an email or other notification confirming the reservation, and when they arrive, they check-in via a kiosk, desk or mobile app.
Accruent’s EMS Space Management solution is an example of workplace reservation tech that can help facilitate office hoteling. It has many features that enable this process to work smoothly, including:
- Views that allow the employee to see what rooms are reservable and when they’re available
- Details about amenities in each space (such as a dual monitor or window)
- The ability to locate and choose spaces via a map of the facility
- Pop-up notifications as part of the return-to-work initiative that announce terms and conditions for each space
- Memo areas for adding notes, contact particulars and other information
- Questionnaires for illness screening, where certain answers can trigger notifications to specific people in the organization
- Back-end tools for the business to adjust capacity, such as blocking out every other space to maintain social distancing requirements
This type of technology allows for ad hoc bookings as well, so users can quickly check the status of and reserve bookable spaces. They can look them up via mobile or web apps and use QR codes (yes, they’re back!) to create a no-touch experience. Or, they can do so via integrated hardware such digital desk signage or built-in badge scanning for no-touch check-ins. As an added benefit, these devices can also inform the office’s cleaning policy, helping the business make sure that spaces are cleaned and sanitized after use.
Fostering Collaboration and Seamlessly Connecting Remote Teams
Collaboration also plays a vital role in the hybrid workforce. Its benefits were well documented before the pandemic – so much so that Intuit research in 2019 showed that 80% of all work is collaborative – and work from home over the past year has only reinforced the belief that collaboration is key to successful work. For example, Buffer’s annual State of Remote Work survey asks workers about their biggest struggles with remote work, and while 13% said “difficulties with collaboration and communication” pre-pandemic, that number jumped to 20.5% post-pandemic.
Holistic technology systems can make it easy for the hybrid environment to connect, no matter where the employees are. Scheduling software facilitates multiple aspects of hybrid meetings:
- Remote and in-person attendance. For example, with EMS allows users can book video conferencing (VC) systems through the app, getting immediate access to available rooms and the ability to enable Teams or Zoom meetings with the flick of a switch. All team members can join either live or via VC.
- Social distancing. The business can limit and control the number of attendees by setting room capacity requirements or disabling certain set-up types, which can be done globally (e.g., change all room capacity to 50%) and modified as guidelines evolve.
- Services options. Meeting organizers can use one pane of glass to book catering, reserve AV equipment, request additional cleaning or even govern visitor management for guests outside the organization.
- Streamlined in-room experience. Through added hardware such as the Microsoft Surface Hub Room, self-service conferencing is automated on the back end so that authorized users can walk in the room and press a button to enable one-touch video conferencing.
Utilizing Data-Driven Space Management
Managing work and meeting space in the immediate wake of return to work is a business priority, but it’s also important to consider long-term perspectives. With real estate typically the second-highest expense for organizations – e.g., it costs an estimated more than $17,000 per employee annually for Manhattan office space – businesses are asking if with a hybrid approach whether they can reduce or repurpose their real estate footprint.
“We think that in the next three to five to seven years there will be a reduction of square footage and companies being really thoughtful about what they’re doing in their space.” – Nena Martin, Director of Workplace, Gensler Architects
Confidently determining what space is needed, how space can be optimized, which spaces are actually used, and where an organization can increase or reduce capacity depends largely upon the data that’s available. Space management technology gives on-demand access to this type of data, enabling companies to provide fact-based answers that inform their decisions.
For instance, EMS has more than 120 built-in reports giving insight into:
- Utilization of space
- Attestation and check-in
- Booking history
- And many more
The Future Is Flexible
We here at Accruent believe this hybrid workforce is our new normal. We anticipate an increase in hybrid work environments – and the need for technology to make this happen successfully is crucial. To learn more about how EMS can support the hybrid environment while delivering a delightful workforce experience, please access our webinar “The Future is Flexible: Supporting Your Hybrid Workforce.”