The workplace used to be defined by physical location. Even when employees were working elsewhere, whether from home or on the road, they were “out of the office.”  

But today’s organizations are shifting their strategy to a more flexible, hybrid environment powered by technology. Embracing a growth mindset where you are open to new technologies offers myriad benefits, including increased productivity, collaboration, and a better work-life balance.  

This transition to the flexible workplace was the subject of a recent panel at IFMA’s Facility Fusion featuring Accruent President Olumide Soroye, Michael Przytula, Managing Director – Intelligent & Digital Workplaces of Accenture, and CEO John Wang of IAdea Corporation. The discussion centered around the golden age of opportunity we find ourselves in, where we have a chance to impact the lives of employees and the performance of organizations in unprecedented ways.

The Intentional, Technology-Based Workplace

While the pandemic-induced workplace mostly meant that workers were in their homes, the current workplace is evolving into an ecosystem of multiple options for workers. These options can be office, home, or offsite locations such as co-working spaces, smaller suburban, company-owned, or leased spaces (the hub and spoke concept), or even community hubs like coffee shops and libraries.

In this framework, what does it mean to offer better, tech-enabled workplace experiences?  

Business outcomes will vary by organization, but by focusing on outcomes and keeping the following principles in mind, you can avoid reactively bolting technologies onto existing processes. Instead, you can concentrate on delivering intentional, meaningful, and measurable business results.  

Key #1: Define a purpose for going to the office.

One of the phrases repeatedly mentioned at the conference was that when it comes to your employees, you need to “earn their commute.” Some members of your workforce will crave time in the corporate location (think of the employee with young children at home in a small apartment ― the quiet office with a picture window view of the city can be quite appealing), but many will need a strong purpose before volunteering to commute. Whether it is because they will be more productive, have opportunities for in-person collaboration, or something else, you need to offer the types of experiences that will support the reasons why your employees are traveling to the office.

Key #2: Design in agility.

We may be in uncertain times, but the economic cycle is not defunct. Low unemployment has created an astonishing war for talent, with organizations aware that 39% of U.S. adults would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. And we all may have to move to remote work again at some point in the future. But there will come a time when employers have more leverage in requiring employees to work in the company facility. Organizations, therefore, need to design in agility to keep pace with our changing economic cycle.

A portfolio of technologies can empower safe and productive work, both from the employer and employee sides. In-home video conferencing systems, cybersecurity toolkits, ergonomic assessment software, and noise-canceling headphones are tools and technologies that can help make people more effective and improve health and well-being when working remotely.  

The company office can promote agility with technologies like:

  • Video conferencing that facilitates hybrid collaboration
  • Sensors for monitoring occupancy, resource utilization, property conditions, and more
  • Desk and room booking software that allows people to find and reserve workspace easily
  • Digital whiteboards and other unified communication tools

Key #3: Stay human-focused.

Workplace technology can enable higher productivity and more collaboration. Still, it is important to remember that the primary purpose of technology is to further better workplace experiences that benefit people. In the past few years, we have seen a shift in organizations toward becoming more focused on employee wellness and the human experience ― which is a positive change. It is not enough to do well by the company; we also need to do well by the employee.

Key #4 Create a level playing field.

In the end, it’s not just about having technology for the hybrid workplace ― it’s about having the right technologies to promote collaboration equity and inclusiveness.  

Consider a video conferencing scenario where five people are in a conference room with a large video screen and five others are remotely calling into that meeting. We all know the dangers of the remote employee not fully participating in conversations in the room, whether it’s because they can’t join in side discussions or they have been reduced to small thumbnails while someone is showing a large PowerPoint presentation. Creating virtual spaces with additional monitors and cameras in physical meeting rooms expands the use of video conferencing to equitably include all participants by giving a physical presence to virtual attendees via a monitor.  

In addition, employee experience apps can help organizations make sure that meeting feedback is captured adequately. It can answer questions like whether screens are big enough or if the camera technology is appropriate so that the employer can gather and act on that data.

In the IT world, the team scrutinizes data to improve operational excellence because details such as how much power a server fan is drawing inform operations efficiency. Organizations need to now look at the office and the workplace in a similar light. Gathering telemetry data lets us know that screens are on, phone lines are connected, speakers are working, cameras are connected, etc. ― and help us understand when and how often these technologies are being used.

This goes back to the earlier point about earning your employee’s commute. The days of walking into a conference room and accepting minor technical glitches are gone. Data showing how tech is being used can identify potential problems and ultimately improve the in-office experience.

It is also crucial to make that data available to the people using the space. One of the panelists related a story of a company moving into a new building, only to learn from IoT sensors that the HVAC was failing during the afternoons. They were able to show the data to the landlord to get the issue fixed, but equally important, they shared that information with employees to demonstrate their commitment to health and well-being and to inspire employee confidence.

Key #7: Gather the data you need for better decision-making on office space.

Given that real estate is typically their second-biggest expense, organizations are closely looking at how to gain office space efficiencies. Companies hesitate to cut space because it’s often easier to divest space than gain it back.  

But today’s companies are turning to data to help them gain confidence in their space determinations. They’re investing in technology such as space utilization and analysis software to make informed, data-driven decisions. The upfront costs in the immediate term are far outweighed by the long-term payoff of making sound decisions, based on data, that an organization can reduce their real estate footprint and lower costs that would be paid far into the future.

Prioritizing the Next Steps

Leaders regularly share with us the need to better capture space utilization data, redesign workplaces, create smart offices, deliver enhanced workplace employee experience, and ensure employee well-being. They understand they will need to build out their tech stacks to address these needs and organization goals but also want to simplify the process.

Figuring out where to begin is often their number one challenge. Here at Accruent, we recommend starting with examining where a company is in the workplace technology journey. If the greatest need is to re-evaluate the real estate footprint, then understanding your space utilization would be a top priority. If physically accommodating flexible workspaces is most important, hoteling and desk booking could be a good first step. Some who are further along in their hybrid journey may want to focus on gathering operating and maintenance expenses or lease agreement data to understand where there is opportunity to extend or terminate.

To find out more about the technologies powering flexible work, check out our on-demand webinar The Resilient Workplace: The Tech Businesses Need for Long-Term Success.