In an era where more future pandemics are expected, will safe distancing and hot-desking form the core pillar of tomorrow’s workplace?
The office has broken its physical boundaries: in a 2020 Gartner snap poll 91% of attending HR leaders (all in Asia-Pacific region) had implemented ‘work- from-home’ arrangements since the pandemic began.
Today, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional office needs to be reinvented. Remote-working has become an accepted option for many people and organizations, prompting them to re-examine their office-first work model. Some companies have even made the shift towards permanent remote-working.
However, it is unlikely that the majority of employees will not return to the office at all after the pandemic. Rather, we can be sure that people will challenge the traditional office experience, from physical layout and surroundings to the content of work, interactions, and movement of people.
Offices will still be in demand, but they will need to transform from being a mere location for work to being an employee-centric environment providing superior collaboration experiences that are flexible and personalized.
But how can digital transformation help us reimagine the office as we emerge from the pandemic?
Rethinking the workplace
Responding to the drivers of change requires a vision for the future that uses technology to predict needs even before they are recognized, and then finding ways to meet them.
Thus, the future office will not just contain one, but dozens of solutions that all need to be aligned and integrated.
Firstly, the office will have to become an active resource, a place that helps users to achieve their goals, be they to foster collaboration, encourage innovation, or inspire co-creation.
The office must transform into something uniquely capable of enabling highly personalized experiences and boosting collaboration, innovation and productivity.
Going to the office should also be an irresistible, but highly efficient and sustainable experience to justify the need to commute. For employers (aka tenants), the office will be a space designed to activate branding, encourage innovation and co-creation, and help company culture come to life while providing flexibility to scale as business develops.
In this vein, the office space needs to be transformed into a personalized experience, where it could learn from employees’ behavior patterns and provide specific solutions and experiences that are unique to them.
This will enable a sense of flow to guide employees to focus on what matters. The office of the future is focused on promoting community and opening possibilities for inspiration and ideation. Seamless interactions with colleagues is of the essence when everyone is working flexibly.
For example, when employees turn up at the office, they can highlight whether they are available to be approached, or if they are focusing on work and therefore not available. If they choose to be available, the office identifies a location (which building, floor, and desk the employee is using), so that colleagues can find them, making it easier for employees to collaborate and have meaningful interactions within the office.
Everyone has a part in the co-creation
Other operational solutions include automatic and contactless entry and exit systems, air quality displays, and water faucets that help employees stay healthy by signaling with a light the right amount of time they should spend on washing their hands, and information about when the area was last used or sanitized.
People-flow solutions could be incorporated to maintain physical distancing requirements and to avoid crowding. These are examples of ways the future office can help support end users’ health and increase confidence in the office environment.
For building owners and operators, technology can help to ensure their awareness of how office space is used, allowing them to think ahead and continuously evolve the space to benefit the users, maximize usage, and ensure sufficient capacity.
To ensure that the future office turns into reality, we must consider both how to incorporate these new technologies into new constructions, and how existing real estate assets can be retrofitted to take advantage of the latest solutions.
Businesses, developers, architects, and engineers need to rethink and act now to bring about meaningful change and make going to the office an irresistible, but highly efficient and sustainable experience.