How hybrid work will change the post-pandemic office

Hybrid work isn’t just a mishmash of WFH and going into the office. The goal is to make sure any environment ‘works’ for any employee — wherever it may be on any given day. But managing enterprise IT in a hybrid work model will present some new challenges.

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hybrid work

Whiplash alert! Fresh off finally getting WFH to run somewhat smoothly over the past 11 months, enterprise IT must now snap its attention toward the new trend in town: hybrid work.

Vaccine rollouts are giving employers hope that their staff can eventually return to the office. But in a PwC survey conducted in November and December of 2020, more than half (55 per cent) of U.S. workers said they still want to do WFH at least three days per week, even “once pandemic concerns recede.” Faced with this complicated situation, companies are embracing the concept of ‘hybrid work.’

Here’s how Nemertes Research VP Irwin Lazar characterizes hybrid work in TechTarget: “Now, the expectation is the workforce will consist of fulltime office work, fulltime remote work, and those who split their time between home and office. This means IT leaders must rethink the physical office.”

It requires a rethink of enterprise IT as well.

Space exploration

Hybrid work isn’t just a mishmash of WFH and going into the office. According to realty giant CB Richard Ellis, employers are considering other hybrid work options such as:

  • flexible office space leasing agreements
  • co-working spaces like WeWork, rented on a monthly subscription basis
  • off-site meeting or work space rented on-demand for staff

As CBRE notes, Dropbox is adopting a combination of all these measures in an effort to become what it calls a “virtual first” company rather than an office-based one.

Hybrid work could have a huge impact on office realty. PwC data indicate 87 per cent of U.S. employers expect to make changes to their real estate strategy over the next 12 months, specifically to deal with pandemic-related workforce shifts.

The implications for enterprise IT could also be profound.

IT implications

hybrid work

Managing enterprise IT in a hybrid work model will have many challenges. According to the McKinsey report Reimagining the Office and Work Life After COVID-19, “to maintain productivity, collaboration and learning, and to preserve the corporate culture, the boundaries between being physically in the office and out of the office must collapse.”

The goal is to make sure any environment ‘works’ for any employee. Each employee’s work environment — wherever it may be on any given day — should be as productive, secure, connected, collaborative, resilient and comfortable for them as the office. Employee experience (EX) is paramount; corporate applications and tools should be as accessible, user-friendly and reliable for staff on a remote basis as they are in the office.

We’ve previously discussed how UC&C and UCaaS providers are adapting their offerings to the pandemic’s WFH trend. As the hybrid work model gains traction, there’s a more recent shift to technology that fully integrates the meeting experience for both WFH and in-office attendees.

Some of this is happening via so-called ‘meetings-as-a-service’ platforms. The hardware and apps in these platforms are fully integrated to provide a boardroom-quality meeting experience for every participant, whether they’re in the office conference room, their own home or some other remote location. This means remote and in-office attendees can jointly access features such as:

  • AI to count the number of people in the office meeting room for physical distancing guidelines
  • automatic meeting recording, transcription, translation and captioning in real time
  • user-friendly webcams with high-quality microphones, noise cancellation, autofocus, low-light capability, full HD picture quality and digital zoom
  • voice-activated controls for touchless management of in-office meeting technology
  • virtual whiteboard sharing
  • virtual reception technology (allows receptionist, whether in the office or remote, to virtually greet guests arriving at the physical office for meetings)

Many enterprise IT teams are also considering technology for:

  • recruiting, hiring and onboarding new employees virtually
  • measuring and evaluating the performance of remote workers
  • monitoring and supporting the mental health and well-being of remote workers
  • fostering team culture between remote workers and in-office staff
  • enhancing WFH cybersecurity tools and policies, and integrating them better with office-based infosec
  • adapting IT network solutions and architecture for a hybrid workforce (such as edge computing, network automation, cloud, etc.)

Office technology

Enterprise IT has focused mostly on WFH connectivity and security up to this point in the pandemic. To adopt the new hybrid work model, however, IT is now turning its attention toward technologies to ensure health and safety inside the office. IDC described a fascinating array of such tools during a webinar last fall, including:

  • thermal imaging for temperature checks
  • ventilation upgrades and controls
  • fixed and wearable proximity sensors to ensure physical distancing
  • touchless fixtures for doors, lights, soap dispensers, washroom taps and elevators
  • smartphone apps for health and well-being feedback (IDC’s survey suggests 25% of employers plan to invest in this)
  • apps and wearables for contact tracing (20% plan to invest in this)
  • sanitation robotics for cleaning the workspace (18% plan to invest in this)

As you can see, the hybrid work model isn’t just about IT for the office and IT for WFH; it’s for both, plus every potential work environment in between. Inevitably, enterprise technology will also become more involved in monitoring and upholding COVID health and safety standards inside the traditional physical office environment.

IT teams quickly made WFH possible at the start of COVID-19. Now they’re using technology to reshape the entire work experience for a post-pandemic future.

Images: ExperienceInteriors/iStock; xavierarnau/iStock

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