What’s the “new normal” future office?
The major tech companies are taking the lead on what is “safe” for the health of workers and for flattening the curve of the community at large. Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon plan for a remote workforce through the summer—and some through the end of the year. The insurance company Nationwide announced a permanent closure of five offices with having those workers become full-time remote, being able to lower costs for expensive office rent.
This is smart, future-planning in the immediate as the idea of “going to the office” has been needing an adjustment for the past 20 years.
A few digital collaboration tools….
Small, intimate pieces of connection and collaboration are more difficult to replicate digitally, but not impossible. Beyond video-conferencing there are opportunities for businesses to incorporate ways of working that will be fully expected by the digital native generations as in and entering the workforce.
To great success, the team I work on incorporated Mural for internal workshops the week prior to the shelter-at-home orders and have been using ever since for brainstorming sessions, presentations and additional workshops. We use Teams (usability isn’t as smooth as Slack and the emojis pain my soul with their ugliness), which tracks conversations, has built-in calling, whiteboarding, document sharing, and more. Additionally, the more engagement of the entire Product team through Confluence and Jira, then the less email I need to flag / remember.
Though with all of that, some corporate management folks will feel we need to get back to the office as soon as possible. This may be based on business needs that cannot be done as well remotely, geography, providing space and fast internet for folks who don’t have privacy or a great connection at their homes, or simply for getting back to a routine.
What needs to be answered so workers feel safe?
To go back to the office it’s important to ensure clear communications to all workers (employees and contractors) and these communications will need to be explicit. To be fair, management has a lot on its mind. Therefore, workers can help by asking the questions about what makes them nervous about coming back into an office so that the details can be thought through and protocols put into place.
Is this worth the costs?
Once protocols have been outlined, then companies need to investigate the added costs versus cutting square footage to save on rent.
Plus, many successful tech companies are working with global, distributed workers so they can hire the best talent and not just local talent. Another opportunity for cost-savings (though businesses should be aware of international cost implications as well as employment laws by state).
To make a safe work environment for office workers, it might be wiser to create floors with additional large collaboration areas for short-term interactions and special meetings versus trying to accommodate full on-site staffing. Face-to-face definitely has benefits yet rather than be a daily requirement (i.e., grind) if someone has to come in once or twice a week for focused sessions it has the potential to greatly increase productivity.
What do you predict?
Curious to know if you agree? What additional questions need to be asked for worker-safety? And which aspects do you see being implemented in 2020, which in 2021 or ‘22, or even later? And what pieces do you think are too burdensome for businesses?