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Collaboration for
a remote workforce

  • A long time ago—last year—many forward-thinking companies were intent on providing their workers all the comforts of home while at the office: upgraded food service, flexible work hours, recreation areas, open-access snack bars, dry cleaning and laundry service among them. The idea was to help people live their lives more efficiently so they could focus on their work and their colleagues.

    Today, the question has been flipped. How does a business provide all the comforts of the office while its people are working at home?

    The objections to offices are well known. They can be noisy, crowded, expensive, inconvenient and hostile to work/life balance. But the benefits are also undeniable; offices are social spaces, and the collaboration and creative interactions they foster is precious.

    As companies begin thinking about a post-pandemic world, it’s vital that they ask themselves what their ideal workforce should look like and how they can create and support their best environment, whether that’s in an office or not.

  • Getting together while staying apart

    At some point, it will be safe to reconvene in person. But the offices we return to will need to look and function markedly different from the ones we left.

    Remember that remote work is part of a long-term trend. As work became more digitized and higher bandwidth became more common over the last few decades, more and more people were granted the privilege of working from home, if only on a Monday or Friday.

    In pandemic days, of course, “remote work” has become better known as “work.” And in another office/home flip, sporadic trips to the office (versus working onsite full time) will be the norm, rather than exception. 

  • The office will be different.

    For that to happen, a few things will have to change. First of all, a post-pandemic workplace will need to support smooth transitions between remote work and in-person work. An IT environment that forces a choice between an “office” persona and an “away” persona adds needless friction and inefficiency. Even before the pandemic, some companies made all meetings online; people sitting at their office desks logged into video conference software, so remote workers and onsite workers were on equal footing.

    Office design will need to evolve, too. If the office becomes a space for meetings and collaboration, it could be set up something like a hotel. The space would be rigorously cleaned and maintained. Workers or invited visitors check in (possibly with a health screening) and are sent to a reserved flexible work area with their socially distanced colleagues. Hosts and community managers act as concierges to ensure that people have the services they need to get their jobs done. And the days of teams hovering outside meeting rooms waiting for earlier meetings to break up will need to be consigned to the past.

    The meeting spaces themselves will have to be different. Touch screens will need to make way in favor of voice control. Meeting rooms will need multiple screens in order to share content while seeing people in remote locations. Physical whiteboards could be replaced with networked laptops and tablets. Notoriously complex conferencing hardware will need to be reengineered with simplicity of management and operation more important than ever. Artificial intelligence engines could take transcripts of meetings and extract action items.

    If someone wants to come into the office because they simply enjoy coming into the office, the hotel model can accommodate that. An office design should be flexible enough to allow for distanced and safe workspaces with privacy available as needed.

    Don’t forget creature comforts, either. The days of espresso machines, custom-cooked gourmet food and free-grazing snack bars may be over (if they ever existed), but workers should be able to place food and refreshment orders electronically and get food delivered in a convenient manner.


  • Better than new

    There is, it should be noted, a significant amount of technology involved in this degree of building management: conferencing software like BlueJeans, wayfinding, sophisticated phone solutions so people can be found wherever they are, reservation services, comfort, space allocation, air-quality assessment, access control, problem flagging and IT troubleshooting. Of course, the usual office gear needs to be available, too, including strong Wi-Fi, connected whiteboards, large monitors for presentations and possibly 5G Ultra Wideband microcells.

    Another choice is to take the rebuilding opportunity to investigate new technologies that might help in-office collaboration. Microphones in meeting rooms can capture discussions, for instance, and use artificial intelligence to create transcriptions or even capture action items.

    As you transition to a rethought office, you may not need as much space as you have now. Many businesses were already scaling down their real estate exposure pre-COVID, but the hybrid working model may mean you’ll need even less than you thought. With intelligent technology that allows customized work spaces to fit daily changing needs, you will have the opportunity over time to rightsize your office portfolio. The money you save can be invested into your workers and the technology that supports them wherever they’re working.


  • Conclusion

    Accommodation is key to collaboration. If there’s anything the pandemic is teaching businesses, it’s what they can do with technology to enable teams to do their jobs in ways that serve them—and the business—better. For some people and teams, remote work is the perfect long-term solution. Others need to collaborate in person. Where office work was once the rule and working at home was the exception, heading to an office may become the event.

    It's not an either/or choice. Most enterprises will want to pursue a hybrid model that allows work to happen seamlessly, with the same tools, wherever it best serves employers and workers.

    Technology—both your collaboration suite and a high-speed network to tie it all together—will be critical to ensuring continuity across your new work environment. Forward-thinking businesses will deploy the technological and cultural tools to allow any working model—remote, in-office or hybrid—to thrive.

  • Always be willing to disrupt your workforce's routine operations to find opportunity and new ways of working.

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