We talk a lot in this space about the employee experience. When it comes to creating workplaces that foster good employee experiences, we probably tend to think about the physical environment first: office design, amenities, access to different kinds of spaces to serve different purposes, that sort of thing. It’s the most obvious factor, the aspect of corporate culture that prospective employees see first.
But the technologies we give to employees wind up interacting with the spaces we build, and each of these two elements must be sensitive to the other.
In a recent post on our sister publication, No Jitter, my WorkSpace Connect program co-chair Beth Schultz offers a rundown on some new technology products aimed at improving the employee experience. Many of them focus specifically on providing features and functions that either augment the physical aspects of modern workspaces, or mitigate some of the drawbacks that those spaces pose.
Beth references a product from Yamaha Unified Communications that aims to solve one of the biggest annoyances of open offices: background noise. I’ve been on calls, sitting at my desk, in which the people on the line have asked if I was in an airport, or have “responded” to what someone in my office was saying, to illustrate to me how intrusive the background conversations were. Technology like Yamaha’s may not help on my end; those voices are still in my ear here in our open office. But at least it attempts to solve the problem for those I talk to, while saving me the annoyance of constantly going on and off mute just so I can carry on a conversation, or hoping I can find a phone room that’s free even when my call may not be highly sensitive or private.
The point about the phone room really illustrates the problem with open offices in this case: Often, it’s not that I’m worried that other people will hear me; it’s that I (and those I’m calling) will be hearing the others in my office. But if the space plan consists of open office plus phone rooms, you can never build enough phone rooms to accommodate not just calls that must be private, but also less-private calls that still require a level of quiet.
Another product Beth writes about is similar to Yamaha’s and comes from Deltapath in a partnership with Dolby. This product is implemented on a mobile app to extend the benefits of background noise reduction to remote workers who may be calling in from a busy place like an airport… not to mention the fact that many workers now use their cell phones as their primary business communications devices everywhere, including at the office.
Beth also writes about a product aimed at distributed teams— Collaboration Squared’s Video Window, a system that’s purpose-built with special features meant to make it easier for distributed teams to connect and check in with each other throughout the day, encouraging the kind of ad hoc meetings and catch-ups that team members naturally fall into when they work in the same office. Enterprises always have to weigh the costs and benefits of investments, so this product might not be something you’d roll out on a large scale. Likely it makes most sense for teams that fit a very specific profile: high-value work; distributed among just a few locations rather than scattered individually or in very small groups in many locations. Still, it’s the sort of targeted investment that demonstrates a commitment to making distributed work a success, as opposed to simply passively enabling it.
Technology vendors have yet to produce a viable “cone of silence” for workers in open offices, nor is teleportation yet feasible. But technologies like the ones Beth writes about can at least make a meaningful difference in improving the employee experience.