A Look at the Future of Work

Alphabet and Google are placing their chips on at least some working in person come this September, as Twitter and Facebook are waging working remotely will be permeant. Where would you put your bet? I have some thoughts.

Research from SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) shows at least 27% of organizations plan to bring all employees back to the worksite when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, and 34% of organizations are unsure when they will bring all employees back. Only 18% do not ever plan to have all employees return.

In all reality, the greatest likelihood is there is going to be some form of hybrid model, where workers are expected to be in the office at least some of the time and work remotely at other points in time. With talk of in-person work returning as soon as this fall, let’s take a closer look at what this means, how businesses will need to adjust, and what those spaces are going to look like in the future.

How Will Businesses Adjust?

Prepare for a hybrid world—at least in the near term. Rachael McCann, senior director, health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, said the SHRM findings are in line with her organization’s research, which found that 59% of employees indicate a preference for a hybrid or remote structure. Meanwhile, Sundar Pichai and Google’s back-to-office plan for September is predicated on employees working at least three days a week on site and the rest remotely.

Here are some strategies for returning to the office:

Focus on your corporate culture first: One of the challenges will be creating a new, cohesive employee experience that is both productive and accepting of employee concerns. Addressing this starts with strategic moves in culture.

Have a posture of open communication: Ensure employees can voice concerns about the transition back to the office.

Limit the number of people who interact together: Ensure if one person in your organization needs to quarantine, your entire team doesn’t need to do the same. Keep meetings small, at least in the beginning. Also, consider limiting the length of time people interact with each other.

Leverage technology: The IoT (Internet of Things), AI (artificial intelligence), digital twin, and more, will drive industries in a post-COVID era. Technology will be critical to gain a competitive edge, enable better decisionmaking, and become more resilient. Automation can help limit the number of people that congregate in a particular location.

How Are Spaces Going to Look?

Perhaps one of the biggest changes we will see in the months—and years ahead—is the way spaces are going to be imagined. The design and construction industry has been talking for years about how offices, schools, libraries, and other interiors and exterior spaces are going to be built to be more collaborative working environments. The COVID-19 pandemic actually—forced the hand of the industry, so to speak—to take a hard, quick pivot.

We recognize the importance of considering how we design the workplace to support organizational priorities. Simply, we need to rethink what an office encompasses. For the past year, design companies have been envisioning what this “office of the future” might actually look like.

KAI Enterprises, for example, suggests design will continue to focus on limited touchpoints and new designs for meeting room spaces, kitchens, breakrooms, and even the pathways to a meeting room location. Everything is on the table. We could see a rise of private or semi-private offices—a stark contrast from the open spaces that have been on the uptick in the past decade.

Technology is also inevitable here as well, with the opportunity to make the buildings healthier. Healthy buildings can improve mood, reduce illness, and improve productivity.

BigRentz suggest a building is considered healthy depending on how it measures up against industry standards in nine distinct categories including: ventilation, moisture, lighting and views, dust and pests, thermal health, water quality, air quality, safety and security, and noise. One of the keyways to make a building healthier is through the ventilation system, which can reduce airborne pathogens by up to 80%.

Certainly, changes to buildings and design could take some time to implement fully, but when we do return to the office it is going to appear different than it did two years ago. We are not only creating safer and healthier work spaces, but this opens up an even bigger opportunity to be more creative in designing work spaces that are sustainable.

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