You won’t be surprised to know that one of the biggest challenges in putting together the program for our inaugural WorkSpace Connect event was the need to create one program meant to serve three very different types of strategic enterprise professional, namely leaders from IT, HR, and Facilities/Real Estate departments. Fortunately, we humans are good at pattern recognition, and it turns out that there are several key touch points where I believe our different types of attendees will recognize common types of challenges, even if the specifics vary widely among the disciplines.
One area where I think IT leaders can help their counterparts deal with changing realities is in their approach to investment cycles. In the world of collaboration technology, investment cycles are shortening dramatically. In the past, people had two ways to collaborate: Be in the same room together, or talk on the telephone. And the technology of the telephone—with big, mainframe-like switches at the heart of the system—necessitated long-term investments. An enterprise telephone switch or PBX was meant (and priced) to last 10 years, minimum—20 years if your telecom teams were resourceful.
Today, of course, collaboration technology means a plethora of devices, applications, and services, providing voice, video, messaging, screen sharing, and a host of other capabilities. Many services are delivered over the cloud on a recurring-cost basis instead of hitting the capital budget, and—most vexing for many enterprise communications leaders—sometimes the purchases don’t even go through the enterprise organization; customers bring in whatever app or service they like to use.
It’s a different sort of challenge when you’re trying to create, not a virtual, but a physical environment in which your employees will collaborate. Physical spaces are obviously different from cyberspace. But what’s similar—a touch point for Facilities/Real Estate decision-makers and designers—is that the rapid pace of change that’s been enabled by technology is spilling over into every aspect of life, including the way people like to work within their physical environment.
This is a point that’s made by one of our WorkSpace Connect speakers, Swapna Sathyan of CannonDesign, on that firm’s blog. “We must pivot our thinking about workplace to recognize it as a product that should be constantly iterated upon, similar to the apps on our smartphones,” she writes in a recent post. “The idea that a workplace is ‘signed, sealed and delivered’ after its renovation or construction leaves no room for unanticipated employee needs or course correction of design solutions.”
Swapna notes that CannonDesign recently completed a project that stressed modular, easily reconfigurable space. “This ensures iteration over time and helps the building achieve longer ROI for the client.” In other words, this is not just a nice-to-have; it impacts the bottom line.
Which gets us to another touch point. In the past, IT in general and communications systems in particular were widely viewed as not particularly user-friendly: Buying decisions were made and the results were imposed on employees in a top-down manner. That parallels the way that office designs in the past were simply dictated with no readily apparent concern for how (or whether) they actually worked for employees.
In recent years, IT decision-makers have been forced to try and get a deeper understanding of what technology really works best for their unique set of end users. At the same time, trends in the underlying technology have made this flexibility easier to achieve, even if it can be a maddeningly complex challenge to get your arms around.
Workspaces may never see exactly this dynamic—though you could argue that the remote-work/work-from-home trend is a kind of “BYO” trend for the workspace, in that it gives the employee leverage to reject the top-down solution that the enterprise has decided to impose.