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Adapting to the Future Office: What Will Work, What Won’t


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When given permission, some people will return to the office fast, oftentimes because they’re looking forward to collaborating and engaging with coworkers. But companies must adapt their shared meeting spaces, like conference rooms, to enable employees to do so safely post-COVID.
That’s the upshot two collaboration experts, Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, and Dave Michels, analyst with TalkingPointz, shared earlier this week during a half-day virtual summit on “Building forward with Zoom” hosted by our sister event brand, Enterprise Connect Virtual, in the session, “Adapting for the Office of the Future.”
For context, think of how you walk into a doctor’s office today. Chances are you need to fill out a health questionnaire or scan a QR code when checking-in, procedures implemented for safety, Kerravala said. “Imagine that being brought into the office building—it may seem like a little bit of a hassle, but frankly it's necessary to make sure people stay safe,” he said.
To that point, Kerravala added that he thinks future meeting rooms will be loaded with a lot of new technology and artificial intelligence enabled to count the number of participants and ensure that employees are adhering to policies around room capacity, and such. “I think companies are going to have a hard time with that,” he said. Once we start going back to work, we’re going to want to meet with people, and we might see employees pushing limits. “It’s going to be technology that allows us to return to work safely, but it’s also technology that’s going to make sure that we adhere to the policies that companies put in place,” Kerravala said.
Two big changes are going to occur in the workplace: how we use the office in general, and how we protect people at the office, Michels said. Expect to see more collaborative multipurpose shared spaces and the ability to change room sizes, he said. This will require a rethink on equipment for group interaction, since not everyone will return to the office. Take the whiteboard, for example, he said. “We need to figure out how to make it usable to the people that didn’t make it back.”
In-room whiteboards tend to be impractical, “designed for one person to monopolize the conversation,” Michels said. But with newer digital technologies available for use online or via touchscreen device, lots of people can be present at the board, and participants can save snapshots throughout the conversation for distribution or to be repurposes at a later date, he added.
A lot more automation and technology are foreseeable around the office in general, Michels said. This includes room occupancy sensors, as Kerravala noted, as well as sensors for monitoring air quality and, as part of signage strategy, smart panel displays for meeting rooms, for example, he said. From these smart panels, in-office employees should be able to book meeting rooms, access calendars, and find events, while site visitors should be able to get help navigating the space with maps available on digital signage, he added.
Kerravala, too, said he sees the value in digital signage, noting that he had expected to see more usage within the enterprise by now. “It’s a way for companies to communicate important messages and guidelines to employees as they come back to the office,” he said.
To summarize, Michels warned of a “grass is greener” situation. “I think people are going to be thinking a lot about, ‘I could have done this remotely,’” he said. Bearing this idea in mind, workplace strategists will have to go the extra effort in making the office a desired destination.