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5 Key Ways Workplaces Must Change to Meet the Moment As we prepare to enter a third calendar year of COVID-19 restrictions in one form or another, hybrid work is proving to be a durable trend in enterprise office settings.

By Andrew Gross Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As we prepare to enter a third calendar year of COVID-19 restrictions in one form or another, hybrid work is proving to be a durable trend in enterprise office settings. But while the ongoing pandemic has contributed to organizational decisions to keep employees home, either full- or part-time, research shows that a slight majority of U.S office workers would actually prefer sticking with a hybrid model long-term. A recent State of the Workforce poll from Gallup indicated that over half (54 percent) favor a hybrid work model, with the balance preferring either full-time work in the office (37 percent) or a full-time remote situation (11 percent). The same poll found that three in 10 employees working remotely would be "extremely likely" to seek another job if their company eliminated a remote work option. With the workplace in such flux, how can enterprise leaders re-architect their corporate spaces and IT structures to adapt to the changing landscape of office work while also leveraging technology to ensure employees enjoy a safe, seamless hybrid experience?

1. Reduce friction for transient workers

It will become essential that company leaders prioritize readying their conference spaces to facilitate meeting equity between dispersed workers. Effectively supporting the optimal meeting experience can start by standardizing on a single workplace automation technology source, as opposed to a grab bag of different accessories and devices from a range of solution providers. The benefits of adopting whole-room solutions from a single provider for any meeting space include consistent ease-of-use, scalability, and flexibility for future needs.

Related: Say Hello to Your Solution to Indoor Digital Pollution

A recent report published by the International Data Corporation (IDC) indicated that companies' efforts to achieve "experience parity" between on- and off-site employees have encountered limited success so far, with about half of companies surveyed citing "some lingering access or user experience issues." Ensuring that employees are able to consistently complete daily tasks regardless of their location will help ease the transition back to the office for those who have grown accustomed to using their personal devices for remote work.

Another way for the office to reduce meeting friction (and overall employee frustration) is to take steps to improve the efficiency of "hot-desk" set up time. This might include equipping hot desks with products that sync automatically so users can simply log-in and get started. If workers are going to be coming and going, enterprises are best served when they streamline their startup process once employees get situated at home or in the office.

2. Offset uncertainty with data collection

Much ado has been made about the shrinking real estate footprint of large companies as they transition employees to a remote or hybrid work model. But while the demand for commercial real estate may be decreasing overall, the demand for versatile, smart buildings may actually be on the rise. JPMorgan Chase, for example, is currently building a towering new Manhattan headquarters with a flexible, "universal design"—able to be configured based on the needs of the company at any given time.

Going forward, companies will prioritize buildings with built-in tools that allow them to gather as much user and usage data as possible. This can include metadata like the number and timing of meetings, but also real-time telemetry measuring how many people are on a floor or in a room. These figures will inform future decisions, such as whether the company needs a large conference room space or whether smaller breakout rooms might be more efficient. Sensors will show if there are enough desks; if building amenities, workspaces, and neighborhoods are outfitted appropriately; and if those elements are being used and appreciated.

3. Prioritize health and safety in the office

While some pandemic trends may fade as COVID-19 infection rates continue to drop, the expectation of a hygienic office environment—complete with HEPA air filtration, touchless devices, automatic sanitizer dispensers, and limitations on room capacity—is here to stay.

Related: People And Purpose Will Drive Workplace Culture In the Coming Year

Tools such as interactive and reactive digital signage protect workers by communicating safety and sanitation protocols—and offering guidance on how to navigate the office—while managing the need for face-to-face meetings and simultaneous activities and goings-on in a particular part of the building. These signs also have the added benefit of being an engaging, aesthetically pleasing technical innovation to share with employees as they return to the workplace.

4. Support IT professionals with enhanced cybersecurity

With the rapid rise in hybrid and remote work, an organization's IT team is now tasked with managing a much larger ecosystem of devices—including off-site smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktops—and cloud-based collaboration platforms, all of which are handling potentially sensitive company assets. For this reason, regularly assessing each level of the company's network for vulnerable points and investing in robust security infrastructure are more crucial than ever.

But with some members of the IT team also now hybrid-working, emphasis must be placed on systems that allow them to automate tasks, as well as troubleshoot on- and off-site technical issues from afar. Even those IT folks in the office simply cannot visit every room under their purview, as the roster of rooms they are expected to oversee is increasing exponentially. Cloud solutions that enable teams to administer and monitor company devices and rooms remotely will prove invaluable in preventing burnout as hybrid work models continue to proliferate.

5. Encourage a culture of connection

Rather than focusing on just bringing bodies back to cubicles, company decision-makers need to effectively communicate the role and value that in-person time offers employees. Hybrid work must be seamless and easy to navigate between, and in-person communication must be purposeful. Offices must be reconfigured and redesigned as not just a space with desks, computers, and meeting rooms, but a truly collaborative and dynamic place to meet and work together, from wherever employees are. Casual water cooler conversations, impromptu meetings or one-on-one conversations, and easy access for quick questions are all important to maintaining a strong workplace culture and sense of closeness.

Technology will be the number one supportive tool in successfully reconfiguring the office to enable long-term hybrid work. But ultimately, the workplace of the future will need to be more than just a space for employees to come, do their work, and leave. It will have to be re-configured to become a space where collaboration and connection come first, and employees can be transient while still having the resources they need to effectively work and communicate together in-person.

Andrew Gross

Director, Video Collaboration and IoT Cloud

Andrew Gross leads Crestron's video collaborations and IoT cloud business with a team of advisors to enable the future of work at companies around the globe.

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