3 pieces of technology to help build the office of tomorrow.
If you’re keeping an eye on the news you’ll notice many major organisations such as HSBC, PWC, and Salesforce are giving their employees the permanent option for hybrid working, or even working from home full-time.
COVID-19 has opened all of our eyes to the possibility of a more remote working environment, yet recent stats show that the number of office building completions in London has reached its highest level in the last 18 years, with other big cities following suit.
Clearly many people believe the age of the office is far from dead. Perhaps what we’re witnessing is merely a change in what employees want from an office, rather than a rejection of the idea altogether. So what are these office benefits that keep us coming back, despite busy commutes and the time and expense that come with them? And what technology can we use to help offices cater to our post-pandemic needs?
One of the first noticeable aspects of working from home during the pandemic was the difficulty in building and maintaining relationships — something we wouldn’t have thought twice about in an office. Suddenly conversations were all scheduled, at the expense of casual chats around the kettle. Meetings got added to an already full diary because you couldn’t poke your head over someone’s screen with a quick question. Unfortunately, those face-to-face interactions are extremely difficult to replicate over an online meeting.
Where I see our future office environment thriving is through online scheduling tools and good old-fashioned organisation. Online tools such as HotDesk+ and DeskFlex can help teams in organisations of all sizes organise specific days and times for everybody to be in the office. We may not need 100% in person attendance anymore, but we can make sure that when we actually are in the office, that time is well spent. That way we don’t spend an hour navigating through traffic just to find that all the people we wanted to talk to chose the lie in that day. Technology can help bring us together when it counts, so those important conversations about work — and just as important, those conversations not about work — can happen.
Productivity and creativity
Many of us found working from home to be a blessing for one very important reason: we no longer had to fight for the all-too-coveted meeting room. Meeting rooms in offices are often like trying to find water in a desert. God forbid your call runs over a couple of minutes and you fall victim to the infamous ‘pacing by the door followed by a polite tap’ interrupting your conversation. You apologise, relocate to your desk to finish the meeting, only to realise the person on the other end can’t hear you due to the general hustle and bustle of your office.
There are many studies that prove background noise can significantly impact your creativity and productivity — with continuous distractions preventing you from ever reaching your optimal flow state. The technology I would recommend for our office of tomorrow is our very own IRIS Clarity. If your company is unable to give you more meeting rooms for in-office chats, our voice isolation software allows you to have high-quality conversations even in a loud environment. The AI catches and removes distracting noises before they make it to the other side, and because it’s multi-directional, noises from the other end get removed before they make it to you, too. This means everyone benefits from a clear, intelligible call, enhancing both productivity and creativity.
One of the main obstacles the office of the future will face isn’t the individual’s hybrid timetable, but the team’s. Anyone who’s been the lone person working remotely in an intense in-person meeting will understand. When the whole team is remote, the situation is simple: everything goes through your online meeting tool. But when just one or two people are out of the meeting room, they tend to get left out of the conversation, lose out on notes and diagrams being scribbled on the whiteboard, and miss visual cues you’d only catch close-up.
Now, this problem has multiple solutions. The first is a cultural shift sometimes called ‘One Zoom, All Zoom,’ where if any one member of a meeting is working remotely, everybody should too to ensure equal inclusion. The pro is that nobody gets left out of the conversation. The con is you don’t reap the benefits of that in-person environment. Whether that trade-off is worthwhile is up to you.
Alternatively, two apps can help include those not in the room in whiteboard brainstorming sessions: Rocketbook Beacons and Evernote. Rocketbook Beacons’ Snapcast feature allows somebody in the meeting to send an updated picture of the board every 5 seconds, giving those at home a basically live view of the conversation. Meanwhile, Evernote can help digitise the words on a board, saving valuable time you would have spent writing them up afterwards. Finally, new advances in webcams (such as Canon’s “Activate My Line of Sight”) actually focus on people within larger meetings, reading whiteboards and zooming in on details, with multiple views from the same camera.
Change drives innovation, so it’s no surprise that so many new useful pieces of technology were born during the pandemic. The key to building an office that people actually want to come to, even with the dreaded commute, is utilising this technology to emphasise an office’s strengths (scheduling tools) and minimising its drawbacks (voice isolation). We’re entering a new age where it’s much easier for people to work from anywhere — if you want to benefit from the strengths both an office and a home environment can bring, it’s time to evolve.