As more vaccines are rolling out and people are beginning to return to work, the question looms—What will the new post-pandemic office look like? It seems that the distinction between working and working from home will be blurred as remote working has become more acceptable and allows workers the flexibility to work from anywhere and at any time. Both employees and employers alike are recognizing the benefits of a hybrid model. The results of a recent PwC survey indicate that fifty-five percent of employees prefer to be in the office three days a week compared to the pre-pandemic norm of five. Additionally, over sixty percent of surveyed executives expect to be spending more on virtual collaboration tools and manager training, with half planning to invest more on aspects that would provide support to hybrid working models, such as hoteling apps and communal space in the office.
Additionally, workers are now acutely aware of the safety aspects of working in an environment with people who may be sick. This will also require attention as workers return to the office. Providing employees with the confidence to feel protected while in the office will be key to attracting and maintaining a productive workforce. So, taking all of this into account, what are some of the changes companies will need to make to accommodate new working and safety trends?
Touchless and Contactless
Even with a vaccine, the unease of touching surfaces will linger. Touchless technology will not only provide employees and visitors with peace of mind, but will also boost health benefits and likely decrease sick time because there will be less communal surfaces to touch and spread disease. Companies like RXR Realty are already testing touchless entry turnstiles that automatically call elevators to take workers to their desired floor with no need to touch up/down buttons or a floor number. Advances in digital signage include apps used to interact via a smart phone and interactive displays that react when you merely hover your hand over the screen and swipe or tap in the air, requiring no physical contact. Virtual front desk receptionists also reduce contact and provide visitors or employees with information or instructions allowing for contactless interaction. Sign in apps can be also be used to register ahead of time for customers, employees or visitors.
Balance of Remote and On-Site Collaboration
With employees both on and off campus in a hybrid scenario, the need for online videoconferencing will remain in demand. Companies will need to provide this resource along with the necessary equipment to provide quality audio and video during meetings. Conference rooms will likely no longer be packed full of people, but rather will have more of an even distribution of on-site and remote participants who will require the tools needed to join online meetings at home, at their desk and in conference rooms. Scheduling apps, PTZ cameras along with BYOD will provide assistance in ensuring that all meeting participants—no matter where they may be—will have an effective and efficient method of collaborating with colleagues.
Artificial Intelligence and the smart building will come more into play now than ever before in order to help companies save money, boost productivity and to maintain safe and comfortable working environments. In the hybrid workforce, where less people are on campus on any given day, companies can use sensors to track movement and usage and adjust building operations such as HVAC and lighting as needed. Using AI, HVAC can be used to control the amount of fresh air intake and to prevent contamination from one area to another if someone is deemed ill. Movement can be monitored so lights can turn off or on according to usage of a space.
Utilizing less space, this method can offer employees a level of safety by reducing the amount of people in an office space by 50% or more. Companies can allow half of employees to enter the office on certain days of the week and the other half to enter on alternate days while being cleaned in between. Employees can either be assigned to different desks or employees can share desks with their alternate cohorts.
With both employers and employees realizing the benefits of hybrid and remote work, the future office may look very different. Planning for future office spaces or redesigning current ones will need to take this new perspective into account. And that pesky morning and evening commute that once required hours of time each day may just be a thing of the past.