Today's COVID-tech workplace reimagined for the future

By Kurt Solarte*
Tuesday, 30 March, 2021

Today's COVID-tech workplace reimagined for the future

To many, it would appear as if the future of work has arrived on the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, as it propelled working from home and digital work experiences years into the future. The disruption to workplace access has dispelled myths about productivity and collaboration being in a physical office and highlighted how quickly changes can come into effect when needed.

The opportunity and challenge now is to rethink the workplace and its use by the workforce. At the onset of the pandemic, businesses big and small rushed to enable the tools and infrastructure needed to continue in a work-from-home world.

While many sectors had considered implementing these tools for years, many businesses had to ensure the core technical ‘plumbing’ was connected in a matter of weeks. For some, this included everything from physical laptops and devices, through to the more common licensing and configuring of unified communication and collaboration (UCC) solutions and virtual private networks (VPNs). Most of these systems went in under emergency approvals and basic policies that reflected the urgency of the situation.

In addition to the approved and provided solutions, employees rushed in to free and paid software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions to connect and work with their colleagues and clients. As the lockdowns continued, businesses began initiating more robust policies for the new world. This included a significant amount of technical security work, and new and modern policy work. All of these things, from new laptops and home office set-ups, to new UCC solutions and the overnight popularity of video calls, resulted in an incredibly mobile and productive workforce.

As health departments start deeming workplaces safe again, what can be done with this workforce and workplaces? There has been a reset of the workforce experience, and while some will begin a ‘return to office’ protocol, others will shift from ‘return to office’ to ‘reimagining work’. Companies that are reimagining work are establishing a new hybrid approach to working that supports people today and into the future.

This hybrid approach includes rethinking the purpose of the office, investments in physical and digital infrastructure, and more integrated employee engagement. As companies begin making the right investments, data and information about what employees want and need is critical.

Companies interested in hybrid working have begun surveying employees about a range of topics, including real estate footprint, business travel and mobility, learning and culture, workforce planning and analytics, remote work enhancement and tech, and flexibility and wellbeing.

Preliminary survey findings revealed that while employees miss the social interaction with co-workers and access to certain infrastructure that is unavailable at home, there are many things employees don’t want back, including long commutes, distractions and overcrowding.

Companies are also leveraging workforce and workplace analytics to identify patterns. The early uses of this data have allowed companies to see which people are collaborating, how often, and on what work. Pairing that workforce data from systems like customer relationship management (CRM) and human resources technology (HRT) will enable companies to plan for real estate changes and share this data with employees for staffing and planning.

This quantitative and qualitative data is forecast to reveal some early movements in resilient new workplaces to support flexible work culture.

The first of these movements is a focus on integration. Given the need for multiple UCC platforms to accomplish many tasks, the integration of these systems will lead to easier management for IT and a better, more productive experience for employees. An example of this is the integrated workshop experience achieved by integrating Zoom with Mural. However, integration does not have to be digital; it can also be physical.

Changing physical collaboration spaces to integrate them with digital tooling is critical as office capacity is still limited, but also for the future of a hybrid work experience. This has manifested itself in uses of multi-camera and multi-microphone rooms using large interactive and mobile touch screen computers like Surface Pros, ensuring employees can connect with multiple locations of small groups of people and anyone working from home.

These technology integrations also enable the integration of physical and digital whiteboards that allow workshops to be carried out in a physically distanced room setting, without participants breaking physical distancing guidelines.

*Kurt Solarte is a Partner at EY specialising in Digital and Emerging Technologies. A web developer and designer by trade, Solarte specialises in design-led technology projects and brings over 20 years of experience delivering digital and enterprise technology projects in government, retail/eCommerce, travel and transportation markets. He is also a guest lecturer at universities in Australia; and has regularly published on topics of agile/lean development, design thinking, and interactive computing.

Image credit: ©viappy/Dollar Photo Club

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