As part of our looking back at CommUniCate 2019 series, we took our keynote speakers back their presentations from the CommUniCate event and asked them to share their take on things one year on. Had their advice changed? Where is the most significant difference? And, what will be the key to success moving forward?
Looking back at CommUniCate 2019:
At the time of CommUniCate last year, I was spending an increasing amount of time, talking to large enterprises about digital transformation and technology to support remote and agile working.
Interest was steadily growing in the potential of unified communication solutions such as Skype and Microsoft Teams as a tool to enable flexible working, and Crestron was developing solutions to bring those benefits into our office and meeting spaces.
At this point, the arrival of millennials into the workplace was driving the agenda and debate raged around whether people could be fully productive when working away from the office environment.
It was already clear that secure, scalable and easy to use video collaboration solutions would play a significant role in successful digital transformation, and I was already working alongside multiple organisations with plans to transition to Microsoft Teams. Still, nobody expected the acceleration in adoption that was to come.
The view 12 months on:
When the lockdown was first announced in March 2020, I looked out of my home office window and wondered how we would weather the storm. In fact, on a personal level, the change to 100% home working has left me reflecting on all those Airmiles that I did, and were they even necessary. The lockdown has demonstrated to all of us the power of collaboration tools, and it seems we have all adapted well.
What becomes important now is what will the return to work look like? In full, never go back or half and half?
A noticeable difference now, 12 months on from CommUniCate19, is the rapid acceleration in adoption of Microsoft Teams, and the spread of organisations now using it. Implementation plans have also reduced from 18 months to 3 years, down to a matter of months.
Additional considerations have emerged for the technology we use to interact with UC platforms. As well as equality of experience for remote and in-room users, we want low and zero-touch options, remote system management at scale, and a better understanding of where employees are and how they are using the spaces available to them.
With the introduction of new solutions, such as the Mercury Mini and new Creston MX series, combined with the expanding capabilities of UC platforms like Teams and Zoom, we can mould the technology available to address these issues and navigate a safe, productive return to work.
Advice for 2021:
We talk now about a phased return to the office. We have the opportunity to use technology to help us navigate each of these stages. From the initial need to rapidly enable the use of UC, to adapting office spaces for social distancing, through to the monitoring and analytics that will inform long-term real estate planning.
I don’t believe that things will ever return to how they were before. The pandemic has taught us all to reflect on lifestyle, travel and communication. As we shape what our return to the office looks like we must take what we have learned and carry it through to the long-term.
Looking back at CommUniCate19:
When I presented at CommUniCate19, we had just launched an office utilisation solution manufactured by GoBright in the Netherlands. The subscription-based software and hardware offer businesses a way to centralise desk-booking, room booking and visitor management.
At the time, there were a growing number of businesses exploring new agile ways of working, but I would never have predicted how relevant this would become in just a few short months.
Since the start of the pandemic, home-working has become a necessity, early in the pandemic occupancy levels in offices reduced to near-zero. By September 2020, when lockdown restrictions had eased, offices were still less than 20% full. Since then, we have seen regional followed by national lockdowns, which have reduced this percentage again.
Throughout this period, many businesses have taken steps to provide methods for employees to return to the office if they needed to. Government guidance has seen them deploy hand sanitiser, temperature sensors and Perspex screens to reduce the risk of infection in the office. Social-distancing rules have seen organisations restrict occupancy. This has led to a spike in demand for GoBright.
The GoBright software allows the booking of desks with flexibility to increase or decrease maximum occupancy. Users can check-into their desks, so their employer can start to understand patterns in-office attendance. Optional hardware or mapping tools can help indicate desk status (occupied, available or desk-cleaning required).
Looking forward, the news of promising vaccines is extremely welcome and has started facilities and HR teams thinking about the future. Many organisations feel that home working is sustainable and offers specific benefit to their employees and the business.
A recent study of 125,000 respondents in 83 countries* suggests that over 80% of people feel that they can work from home productively. Many of these people have discovered additional benefits in doing so, such as more time spent with their family or the ability to exercise more.
In other words, the COVID pandemic has acted as an accelerator to agile working. The return to work is expected to allow or encourage more flexible working. Phrases such as 2:2:1 are being used to describe employees’ movements throughout the week after the pandemic; two days in the office, two days working from home and another flexible day.
Utilisation technologies will be instrumental in facilitating planning and adaption of office environments based on usage.
Businesses will need to design attractive, comfortable, safe and highly collaborative office environments to encourage employees to travel to the office regularly. Deploying the right utilisation tools will also ensure organisations can measure the success of innovations designed to do this.
Advice for 2021:
My advice for businesses deciding how to tackle the safe return to the office is as follows:
1) Understand your employees’ perspective on home working. It may be a mistake to assume that everyone wants to return to the office as soon as possible or that everyone wants to work from home every day.
2) Compare the cost and simplicity of software-based desk-booking with the process of manual desk-booking. You may be surprised how much time and stress is involved in manually booking desks for your employees.
3) Think about how you could modernise your workplace to encourage employees to come to the office once the Pandemic has subsided. Perhaps height-adjustable desks and comfortable meeting facilities or even an office gym could attract them to come in.
4) Offer technologies to allow those in the office to communicate effectively with those working remotely. Great-quality video tools can ensure a productive meeting experience. Sub-standard solutions could reduce confidence in using the technology.
5) This might not be the last disaster that forces us to work from home. Retain your ability to allow staff to work from home and come into the office safely in the right numbers or at the right pace.
At the time of the event, we were already seeing significant shifts in workspace design, but the pandemic has brought the future forward with a bump. As positive as the hoped-for ‘return to normal’ from Spring next year will be, thanks to the vaccine breakthroughs, many of these changes will stick.
Twelve months ago, I talked about the importance of starting design from the user experience, and the creation of performance specifications, built on AVIXA standards, rather than focusing on technical product specifications for our spaces. This still holds true. I think the unifying theme of all of these threads is a fundamental shift in focus onto UX (user experience): an awareness of how essential it is to understand what users’ needs actually are and to be able to express these in the form of measurable and certifiable performance outcomes.
Delivering my presentation today, I would shift the emphasis onto the importance of a ‘pre-technology’ approach. That’s to say that we should forget technology when going through the processes of capturing and developing user needs. We are too nerdy in AV! There’s too much temptation to be captivated by the latest widget we see at ISE (remember when we used to attend trade shows?!) and to seek opportunities to use it on the next suitable project.
The UX (user experience) approach assumes that the technology needed exists, the hardest part being to really come up with what the user need is, using a rigorous approach.
Advice for 2021:
Looking to 2021, my top 5 considerations for those looking to adapt their workspaces are:
One of the most important things we should learn from the experience of 2020 is not taking things for granted. Beyond the specifics of what we’ve had to deal with, the importance of being nimble, adaptable and empathetic – should be powerful drivers in future strategies and workplace design.
Next up...What’s next for the office and workplace communication?