When we launched our WorkSpace Connect brand last year, we focused heavily on the office — its layout, ways to make it more inviting and useful for employee collaboration, and how to deploy technologies such as video conferencing, particularly in those smaller spaces known as huddle rooms. Then COVID-19 came along, and offices became, basically, irrelevant.
But WorkSpace Connect was never meant to be about the office — nor, for that matter, is it about the home worker in our current world. The focus has always been on bringing together three corporate disciplines — IT, HR, and facilities/real estate — for ideas on how to work more closely in order to foster employee collaboration in an era of several converging trends:
- Theories about the workplace have changed how offices look and function
- Advances in collaboration technology, especially video, have increased the range of workplace options
- Better understanding of employee experience requirements informs the other two elements
Pre-pandemic, when you combined all of this, you got open offices and a greater ability to enable remote work. Mid-pandemic, you have essentially no offices and all remote work.
But regardless of the manifestations, the underlying dynamic remains: How do HR, IT, and facilities/real estate organizations work together to optimize the employee experience and provide the foundations of collaboration, regardless of where that collaboration is taking place, physically? And how do these three teams work together to plan for an uncertain future?
In his insightful WorkSpace Connect post
from earlier this week, HR expert Jon Ingham helps bring us back to this core challenge. In the context of the post-pandemic return to office, Ingham contends that HR must take the lead: “While all three disciplines have equally important roles in delivering activities in the connected workspace, there has to be a first among equals in terms of accountability, and this principal position has to be taken by HR,” he writes. “This is the discipline that needs to ensure the connected workspace plays the most appropriate and important role in delivering the required organizational outcomes.”
HR has not traditionally taken this lead role, which has been more a de facto position than something sanctioned by an org chart. Pre-pandemic, facilities/real estate generally assumed the leadership role: Its budget for new construction or renovation dwarfed that of IT, and the “wow factor” generated by portfolio-ready glamour shots of new offices often overwhelmed the practicalities of day-to-day employee experience. While many cutting-edge office designs produced great employee experience, in at least some instances, the primacy of facilities/real estate resulted in design that worked against the needs of technology, and office layouts that worked against the purported goal of promoting collaboration.
When the pandemic hit, IT immediately became the center of gravity, as enterprises scrambled to deploy video and other collaboration technologies to suddenly-home-based workers. Facilities/real estate became not just nearly irrelevant, but a target for cost reduction, as enterprises announced plans to shed the cost burden of offices that weren’t being used and might never be used again to the same extent.
So now as companies move into strategic planning for a truly post-pandemic world that we hope to see in 2021, it makes sense for HR to have the leadership position that Ingham advocates. After all, what this is all about is what’s best for employees and what makes them most effective. The job of IT and facilities/real estate is to implement the solution in as cost-effective a manner as possible.
From our WorkSpace Connect team’s perspective, this space is very different from what we expected it to look like when we launched, but the subject is more vital than ever. We’re excited to be covering the intersection of IT, HR, and facilities/real estate, and are delighted to have you along on this journey.