Work, reinvented: technology will drive the evolution of the office

In a blog post in early May, Google CEO Sundar Pichai shared the company’s vision for the future of his workplace – more than a year after the covid-19 pandemic forced offices around the world to almost close overnight and employees suddenly switched to working remotely with Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and a host of other virtual collaboration tools.

“The future of work is flexibility,” he said, adding that Google “was reimagining a hybrid workplace to help us collaborate effectively in many work environments.” This includes testing versatile workspaces and developing advanced video technology that “creates greater fairness between employees in the office and those who join virtually,” he explained.

Google is far from alone in its efforts to keep up with an unprecedented evolution of post-pandemic offices. Citigroup recently announced that a majority of workers would be designated as hybrids, working at least three days a week in the office. Ford said 30,000 of its North American office workers would be allowed to work under a flexible hybrid model. Almost every organization, in every industry, is trying to figure out how to navigate and respond to employees’ changing expectations and feelings about how and where they work.

For example, EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey revealed that nine in ten employees want continuous work flexibility, while more than half of employees globally would consider leaving their jobs if post-pandemic flexibility is not provided.

In addition, employees’ expectations for flexible work do not necessarily match those of their managers. According to a recent report led by global market research firm Ipsos and premium audio brand E-MAIL, 53% of decision makers believe the majority of employees will spend more time at their physical workplace over the next year, rather than remotely, while only 26% of employees think the same.

Employees are also demanding more and better technologies to promote increasingly flexible ways of working and more sophisticated options for on-site and off-site collaboration. The Ipsos / EPOS study, for example, found that 89% of all end users currently experience difficulty when hosting virtual meetings or workshops. The study found that around 63% of end users worldwide regularly experience problems during business conversations due to poor sound quality. The most common problems are background noise (32%), line interference (26%), and repeat information requests (23%).

The shift to remote work has highlighted a need for resilience, agility and flexibility not only in the operation of companies, but also in that of their employees. The current upheaval of an entirely remote environment towards hybrid possibilities is an equally disruptive time that requires technological innovation to equalize the work environment for everyone, those who work from home or another remote location, as well as those who are physically in the office.

“The onset of the covid-19 pandemic was like a time machine that suddenly propelled us decades into the future,” said Paul Silverglate, vice president and US technology leader at Deloitte, talking about how networks, services and devices have come together to effectively support the transition to work and home school. “The technology behind these new behaviors has been really tested and, for the most part, has withstood increased connectivity demands. In addition to adapting, we have reached the limits of what our current technology can offer. “

Investing in innovative technologies is crucial for the employee experience

As organizations emerge from the pandemic, more than two-thirds (68%) of CEOs plan a major investment in data and technology, while 61% plan to undertake a new transformational initiative, according to EY 2021 CEO Imperative Survey. The question is, how can companies invest in innovative technologies to improve the employee experience in a hybrid workplace? After all, it is becoming clear that the traditional conference room with table, chairs and speaker will no longer suffice as people return to a new hybrid workplace.

Companies like EY have made big investments, including a conference room that offers an immersive meeting experience with full-size touchscreens and built-in cameras and speakers. Increasingly, 360-degree cameras, microphones and speakers are likely to be incorporated into gathering places and the number of screens has increased, turning the conference room into a ‘zoom room’, according to Meena Krenek, interior design director at Perkins + Will, an architectural firm that is redesigning offices, including its own, for new ways of working.

Google is also creating a new meeting room called Campfire, where in-person participants sit in a circle interspersed with large screens showing the faces of people connecting by video conference, so virtual participants are on the same footing as those physically present.

These measures reflect the consensus of Bars / EPIC study, who found that workers and managers continue to see the benefits of holding meetings virtually. Some 79% of end users recognize the benefits of video for virtual meetings, a 7% increase from 2020. In addition to the savings in time and money compared to face-to-face meetings, 21% of decision makers say may video meetings help them. feel closer to their team and 17% think it builds trust in working relationships.

Whatever the future of the workplace, it must be aligned with the culture of the company as well as its efforts to recruit and retain the best talent.

Many financial companies, for example, considered in-person collaboration too important to be lost, and therefore asked people to come to the office as soon as the economic reopening began. In Silicon Valley, on the other hand, some companies are abandoning their headquarters and becoming totally isolated organizations.

The majority of companies, however, take a hybrid approach: The future of work for Accenture in 2021 A study of 9,000 workers worldwide found that a large majority of employees (83%) say a hybrid model would be optimal for a productive and healthy workforce.

“Employee expectations are changing and we will need to define productivity more broadly, including collaboration, learning and well-being to drive the career advancement of every worker,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella , in a press release. recent report. “All of this needs to be done with flexibility as to when, where and how people work. “

Learn more about EPOS audio solutions for virtual collaboration here. And listen to the EPOS podcast here.

This content was produced by EPOS. It was not written by the editorial staff of the MIT Technology Review.

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