The corporate world should pump the brakes on formats with uncertain effectiveness.
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Do you remember the open office layout? You probably do since it hasn’t gone anywhere. The layout emerged in the 1960s as a format that enhances employee collaboration, and its popularity led many companies to spend tremendous sums of money reconfiguring their office layouts.
Well, research suggests the open office floorplan actually produces less meaningful interactions.
When the pandemic came, tech giants led the way in closing their physical campuses, and much of the corporate world followed suit as employees across countless industries worked from home. At the time it didn’t matter if workers had a home office, a distraction-free environment or the necessary resources to do their jobs. Since everyone thought the arrangement was temporary, organizations encouraged employees to make do while remaining as efficient and productive as they were in the office — which wasn’t exactly an easy ask.
Related: Pros And Cons Of Open-Plan Offices
How employees really feel about remote work
This month marks the one-year anniversary of businesses going remote due to COVID-19, so it’s important to understand and empathize with how employees are feeling. According to a recent study from big data firm Databricks, connectedness levels dropped among employees compared to last year. Employees may feel happy and productive, but the lack of in-person interactions has had an accumulating impact, leaving them feeling more drained and less creative in their work.
To be as effective as possible, many people prefer to stay physically connected to their work and the work of their teams. In fact, a 2020 study from Salesforce reveals 61 percent of the workforce misses going into the office. When employees feel connected, there is an increase in engagement and productivity. The context, structure, tracking and visibility present in a physical communal workplace can also help imbue work with meaning beyond the paycheck.
What does the physical office need to succeed?
With the COVID-19 vaccine in distribution, enterprise leadership teams are eyeing the return to the physical office. However, there are critical changes to the workplace that have happened in the last year that impact this timeline. The new workplace will function best if it prioritizes collaboration. Communal, free-flowing workspaces will allow employees to be transient and hybrid, while still having the resources they need to effectively work and communicate together in-person.
Technology will be the most supportive tool in successfully bringing employees back to the office. To be clear, a hybrid workplace will be the de facto workplace of the future. Temperature scanners and distancing stickers are valuable for a safe workplace right now, but revamping the workplace will require a more permanent makeover. Physical offices deserve novel technology and infrastructure features that can truly support hybrid teams, facilitate collaboration and catalyze innovation.
Portability, flexibility, ease-of-use, integrated support for an entire ecosystem of software, support for the cloud, data-driven communication and collaboration tools and security are all key tenets in this newly rearchitected workplace. The physical workspace can leverage technology systems, such as room scheduling signage or in-room control devices, to communicate safety measures and reinforce protocols. Scheduling panels can show a room’s occupancy status and new cloud solutions enable CIOs and technology managers to remotely deploy, manage, monitor and measure room device and space usage through the cloud. These solutions can also make safety and sanitation measures more visible, assuaging concerns of accountability and ensuring proper policies are followed. Businesses will rely on a variety of solutions to keep their office space not just financially viable, but commercially vibrant.
Contrary to what you may have read, the office isn’t dead, in the same way rock music isn’t dead and New York isn’t dead. So rather than kill the office, let’s reimagine and redesign it. Let’s make it a place where collaboration and community is prioritized over just a place with a desk, a chair and a static eight-hour workday. Let’s create a digital-first, smarter workplace that can withstand future complications and crises, while supporting a new culture and paradigm for the way employees want to work.