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How technology has shaped work and will shape work

by wrich

The smart office in 2022 will be defined by irregular use so information flow is key for improved employee experiences

By: Eliane Lugassy, CEO and Co-founder of Witco – ​​www.witco.io – smart building app for improved collaboration and communication in shared spaces.  

Eliane Lugassy, CEO and Co-founder of Witco

The Covid-19 pandemic – and the recovery from it – has highlighted a number of trends that persist beyond circumstance. Looking forward, businesses should now be focusing on the threads that tie together the pre, per and post-pandemic world, and that say something more fundamental about work and psychology.  

Above all, the pandemic has revived focus on the truisms of staff wellbeing and communication. Many of us have moved from full-time office work to remote work and now to hybrid work, and will have noted the enduring challenges to staff happiness. Business leaders need to take a holistic vision of employee wellbeing.

Space management will be one arm of this. Employees – on the whole – see the benefits of going into the office at least sometimes: loneliness and stalled career progression are some of the main concerns workers have about being cut off from colleagues. Many are starting to report physical and mental health worries that business leaders will have to address, too. But to reopen the office to all, teams must be able to guarantee the safety and support of those willing to come in.  

There will be a need for better communication between employees, business leaders, HR and building managers in order to stay on top of sanitation and capacity. Next year, expect even wider use of sensor-based IoT technologies. Technology tools can, for example, continually register when someone enters or leaves a room, allowing HRs and office managers to track attendance, space usage and optimise the use of resources accordingly, as well as alerting the relevant people when something needs cleaning. Expect also wider use of online reporting for staff to raise and resolve issues without the lag of email and in-person meetings with HR. Neither technology is new but the application reflects the primacy of safe employee experiences in 2022. 

As the smart office of 2022 will be defined by irregular use. The challenge now will be to track and support a team that moves in different directions at different times. HQs need to become more serviced-oriented and collaborative. We will even start to see larger offices starting to open the doors to their own coworking spaces and invite, for example, partners and customers to work from their building. In France, we have seen this trend of ‘corpoworking’ spaces rise. This marks a clear turning point that the company of tomorrow is an open and flexible one.

The starting point for a more service-oriented and collaborative HQ is a clear rota system, open lines of electronic communication and setting up rooms to facilitate mixed in-person/remote meetings. The foundations of synchronicity can be built around the technology we already know. But beyond this, business leaders must orchestrate a new way to grapple with staff satisfaction, finding ways to gather insights and deliver tangible results to staff who may or may not be immediately present. 

Hybrid working will be the status quo in 2022, but how we use remote and on premises technology will define how effective and efficient this work will be. Slack, Zoom and hot desk booking have helped businesses streamline their operations, but are only superficial solutions to a world of work that has fundamentally changed.    

The technology here has been slow to adapt. Staff still use on average 16 applications to get around the office. Among other things, these are for communicating with other staff, reporting incidents, unlocking doors, storing bikes, and so on. For hybrid work to become the smooth, sensible solution of the future, its processes need to be ironed out and new tools are required to bridge the transitions from home to the office and back.

Thanks to the development of AI and predictive technologies, it won’t be long until employees will have the necessary information, in real-time, to make the right decisions at the right time, without checking or referring to a superior. These technologies will allow everyone to organise and synchronise the company’s activity. The knowledge and power will become democratised in the company and move away from a traditional hierarchical structure. 

Business leaders will be able to link all the technologies used in an office space to better understand how people flow during the day and what their needs are. In the past, many companies have focused on gathering data related to productivity rather than data on employee wellbeing, service satisfaction, or space usage. This feedback will be key to adapting the workplace, in real-time, to employees’ needs. 

Inevitably, there are some things we cannot predict. How we respond to these will be partly determined by circumstance, luck and talent. But there is still much we can learn from the consistencies of the last few years. To predict and respond effectively to the challenges of the new year, companies must stay open to change in general while focusing on the enduring centrality of the employee experience.

The step away from blanket rulemaking can only be a good thing. But businesses should reflect on why the tech solutions we have now worked. It is, above all, how well we are able to respond to staff needs, to deliver a positive experience of work, that ensures long term success.

Distance and disharmony now present new challenges, but it will be how we use technology to better understand our staff that defines how well we respond.

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