The pandemic put paid to the idea that the workplace was a building that everyone in the organisation travelled to five days a week. The adoption of cloud, collaboration tools and cost-effective devices for every employee meant people could productively work from home – first because they had to, and then because they wanted to.
A recent Gartner® report ‘How Digital Workplace Leaders Can Optimize Workplace Experience’1 noted that in 2022 “employees prefer spending more time working from home than in 2020 (36% currently, up from 33%)”. The hybrid working model – some days working in the office, some at home or elsewhere – has firmly taken root.
The benefits are manifold. The employee avoids having to commute every day and may be able to live further from main centres where housing is more affordable. They can also boost their health by using the time they previously spent commuting on better balancing life and work.
Meanwhile the employer can promote the hybrid working model as an extra benefit to attract and retain talent, while at the same time reducing the company’s commercial footprint and minimising costs.
- Anthony Pardoe, Spark Product Architect
While a huge focus has been on providing tools to enable seamless working from home, now the attention is shifting to the office. When employees are expected to come into the office two or three days a week, what can be done to make it an attractive experience, so that the building earns the commute?
This is the question we are constantly asking, not only on behalf of our customers, but for ourselves at Spark as we prepare to move to new headquarters in Auckland in early 2025. We want our new home to be purpose-built for hybrid working, as well as future-facing to attract the best and brightest talent.
As Gartner, Inc. notes in its ‘Future of Work Trends: A Gartner Trend Insight Report'2, “the single greatest factor that will drive organisational success through the decade will be the ability to pair continuing technological advances with talent strategies. Every significant business initiative will have a digital underpinning.”
And what is more significant than an employee’s environment – online and in person? To help inform the design of our new workplace, we visited flagship offices for Cisco in New York and Microsoft in Seattle, in addition to delving into expert research from Gartner, Inc. and other highly regarded thought leaders in this space.
A good example of how we have applied this thinking is by bringing together cross-functional teams to help design our new Spark headquarters. We have set up pilot groups to discover what technology is best, for example would people work better with multiple monitors or a single large, curved monitor? When creating these groups, we are mindful to get people from across the business – and not get stuck in the nuances of personal choice, because it’s what works for the largest number of people that matters.
Here are our top five technology advances to enhance the hybrid working experience.
Use sensors and other IoT (Internet of Things) devices to get an understanding of how spaces are being used, by monitoring environment factors such as temperature, lighting, noise, and air quality. By collecting and analysing this data you can apply what is working to unused spaces to boost their appeal.
This data can also be used to create a more sustainable office, for example by automatically lowering blinds if the temperature starts to rise, thereby reducing the heat load and minimising the need to ramp up the air conditioning. Optimising the office environment can significantly lower energy use while also making it healthier by tracking metrics on data like air quality, ventilation and virus detection.
Commercial space is at a premium, so it’s important to smart in how its utilised. Especially when, to maximise investment, there are more people in the organisation than allocated office desks. To give employees choice and control, consider creating booking systems so they can book spaces ahead of going into the office, and know that when they arrive, there will be a desk for them. These systems will allow employees to book a desk next to a colleague to collaborate, or a quiet room for a sensitive call.
For some businesses, booking systems could even generate revenue by enabling external groups to rent desks in a space dedicated for casual bookings. This ‘bureau’ arrangement would provide all the benefits, such as secure Wi-Fi, desk monitors, meeting rooms and kitchen areas, that are available to those in the organisation.
A global workforce survey (1569 participants) by Dimensional Research found that 98% of office-based meetings will include at least one virtual attendee. To make those participants feel part of the action, install intelligent cameras with microphones that are fully integrated with video conference software, so the person speaking in the room can be clearly seen and heard.
The evolution in hybrid meetings continues apace with advances in virtual and augmented reality, so try to allow for future enhancements. In the meantime, use those sensors to tackle a common bugbear – ghost meetings. This is when a room is booked but no one shows up. For example, if the sensor detects that no one is in the room ten minutes after the meeting was supposed to begin, the booking is automatically deleted from the system, making it available for others to use.
Look for collaboration platforms that are user driven and flexible, so they can support different ways of working. Aim to create a consistent experience for your people, so it doesn’t matter whether they – or their colleagues - are in the office, on the road, or working from home.
An example is in meeting rooms. When there is a mix of in-room and virtual participants, often the in-room people are not able to see, much less participate in, the online chat taking place. Find ways for everyone to see the chat unfold in real time.
Use a cloud-based, intelligence driven platform for unified endpoints and application management to support seamless, secure access anywhere, anytime. Make sure it is capable of supporting – and securing - the growing landscape of connected devices for unified deployment, management, and support.
Test, evaluate, and apply what works for the general workforce, and be prepared to pivot as business needs change, and technology trends evolve.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that there is no cookie-cutter solution. While technology can enable and enhance the hybrid experience, ultimately it is down to the organisation, the team, and the individual to decide what works best for them.
In the Gartner, Inc. report referenced above, “Forty percent of digital workers reported that face time of any kind would be their top motivator. In particular, 20% having face time with colleagues, 10% having face time with managers and 10% having face time with senior leaders.” Leaving it to teams to decide the best days for them to get together in the office can be one of the simplest, and most effective, ways of turning the office into a magnet, not a mandate.
If you are looking at how to make your digital and physical workspaces hum for your team, our hybrid working experts are here to help you get the best of both spaces.
Anthony Pardoe is a Product Architect in Spark’s Collaboration team. Anthony has over 20 years’ experience in Unified Communications working with a wide range of Corporate, Enterprise and Government customers.
Duncan Finlayson is a Property Portfolio Specialist. As part of the Spark Property team, Duncan has over 10 years’ experience delivering fit for purpose working environments for Spark people.
1Gartner, How Digital Workplace Leaders Can Optimize Workplace Experience, Sohail Majumdar, Tori Paulman, 23 August 2023.
2Gartner, Future of Work Trends: A Gartner Trend Insight Report, Matt Cain, Chris Howard, 21 February 2023.
GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.