Pandemic paralysis is a phenomenon that is becoming all too real in many aspects of our daily lives. The uncertainty of moving forward in a post-vaccine world forces us to consider what we have learned through our experiences over the past months. In my profession, this uncertainty lands in the simple question, “When and how do we get back to the office?”
Microsoft’s latest report on the trends that will shape the work world suggests that “We’re on the brink of a disruption as great as last year’s sudden shift to remote work: the move to hybrid work – a blended model where some employees return to the workplace and others continue to work from home.”
According to the research – 31,092 people surveyed in January of 2021 – more than 70% of workers surveyed want flexible options to continue, and as a result, 66% of leaders are considering redesigning their spaces to accommodate hybrid work. On top of this, a recent article published by SHRM predicts a “Turnover ‘Tsunami’…once the pandemic ends.” It sites exhaustion, burnout, disconnected leaders as well as new opportunities to work remotely or relocate to a more desirable area as the reasons.
Hybrid work is here to stay. Talent attraction and retention will at least partially depend on how well organizations do with implementing hybrid strategies, including thoughtful design of our places of work. But, how does that happen? How do we move forward into uncharted waters with no map, no compass, no blazed trail?
Decision Paralysis Sets In
Prior to the shutdown, my remote collaboration typically meant “conference call.” Even when using Teams or Zoom, I rarely turned my camera on with customers and almost never with co-workers. At this point, we’re living in a different world where video collaboration is normal. Seeing people’s families, dogs, messy houses, unmade faces and athleisure are all completely acceptable. This alone is going to change the necessity of travel (even locally), where we source our talent and dramatically alter how office space needs to support our employees, customers and partners.
We are learning that not all video collaboration calls are created equal. Using myself as an example, I can often be found on my morning walk while listening in on project calls. However, I typically clean and rearrange my home office to make sure the lighting and background setting is most appropriate for important client meetings. Likewise, the office needs to provide settings that enhance the experience of remote collaboration and our different levels of formality and participation.
Organizational conversations should start by addressing the question:
When collaborating virtually, how much time do you spend in the following categories?
Informal/low activity: These include meetings where you are mostly listening: training, online learning, broadcasts or seminars. They could be taken from anywhere and don’t require an enclosed space. They may need to signal “do not disturb” so perhaps a quiet, shielded spot in the open plan. An ergonomic lounge chair with a laptop table and screens could suffice for this kind of activity.
Informal/active: These are meetings where you are participating most of the time: informal customer meetings, colleague collaboration sessions, team meetings or informal presentations. Based on the need to contribute during these meetings, the most appropriate setting would be a booth, pod, huddle or focus room, or even a workstation with high panel walls. Technology support is also important for this kind of activity. Dual monitors, cameras, speaker/microphone units and lighting will all enhance the experience and make it easier to connect and collaborate.
Formal/active: These are meetings where you are presenting or leading: sales or investor pitches, formal customer meetings, formal presentations or hybrid teaching. This is the place to invest to create the most professional setting and experience. For example, creating broadcast studios for interactive collaboration and presentations in an environment to convey sophistication. This would be an immersive experience for remote participants that includes high-resolution cameras, studio lighting, an interactive whiteboard and custom views of both the presenter and content. One of the many benefits of this space is the ability to see people and content at the same time.
The Office Is Here To Stay, But Its Role Will Be Different
As you start to break down these activities, the shifts required in your physical workspace will begin to unfold.
Pre-pandemic, most collaboration/meetings were happening in enclosed spaces, while heads down or individual work was happening out in the open. With hybrid work being the next big disruption, the need to dedicate enclosed spaces to focus and collaborate virtually is emerging. That does not necessarily mean the return to private offices. Instead, it means further democratizing our spaces to provide areas or zones that are activity-based (focus, collaboration, socialization and learning) and shared.
We need smart, intuitive technology that helps us connect consistently and quickly: ergonomic solutions that support our physical health. We need furniture and technology to be flexible and fluid so that people can change their environments on-demand to help accomplish ever-changing work modes, methodologies, pedagogies and processes.