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Workspace technology: 4 steps CEOs should take to drive the new normal

Jan 12, 2022

During a time of great change and uncertainty, it’s safe to say business leaders have been responding to a mountain of disruptive and chaotic events that largely fall outside of the company’s control. To lead effectively in the new normal, CEOs inevitably have needed to adapt their businesses, workplaces, processes, and solutions.

This approach is really a four-step process that starts with the foundational belief that COVID-19 was both a change agent and an accelerant to the market’s existing trends. Meaning, it would radically upend certain existing trends and, conversely, provide the oxygen to the fire growing other existing trends.

These steps are not unique to a particular company or industry or this pandemic. This is a process that can be used by any CEO experiencing a change in market dynamics both large and small. In its essence, the process boils down to four questions:

  1. What trends in your market have been upended and conversely what trends have been accelerated?
  2. How can you address those advancing trends with no additional effort?
  3. What quick efforts could be completed and implemented to immediately provide increased value to your organisation?
  4. What can you do uniquely to leapfrog your competition?

The first step is identifying the most prominent trends that are accelerating and understanding the impact that they have on your company. Together, these two bucketed categories serve as the foundation for the rest of the process so expect to spend the most time here.

When looking at accelerated trends, the issues and needs that were fast-tracked due to the pandemic, start by addressing the question: “What problems are you trying to solve right now?” This involves looking at what solutions best fit into the future workplace, a place that offers flexibility, safety, and an improved experience for all employees and visitors.

Did you know that there are easily accessible tools available that allow employees to reserve a desk, focus room or collaboration space prior to coming into the office, online tools that support pre-arrival registration (with Covid compliance workflows), touchless arrival check-in and tools that monitor indoor air quality (IAQ) for indoor health and wellness? These are going to become increasingly important for all companies.

The pandemic also has us all thinking more about frequent, high-touch areas such as door handles, elevator buttons and light switches which is anticipated to drive an uptick in mobile and touchless technology usage in office buildings. Then, of course, there is a need to meet and enforce the evolving social distancing and capacity requirements and consider how companies could manage the number of people using a space compared to the total number of seats available more efficiently. Companies are expected to move away from time-consuming, resource-intensive, and manual processes which are prone to human error, to automated and business rule-driven systems.

For upended trends, run through the same process; only this time ask yourself, “What no longer matters?” These are the trends that were important previously but have been completely reversed or smothered by changes brought on by the pandemic. This means determining which trends would no longer be relevant in a post-pandemic office.

Take high-density open concept floor plans for instance. Up until March 2020, offices packed with as many people that could possibly fit into rows of side-by-side assigned desks were the popular workplace design. Companies are undoubtedly now embracing the reverse, de-densification, as they roll out a hybrid work model where employees can work from home (WFH) and come into the office for parts of the week. With the big WFH experiment proving to be wildly successful in terms of productivity. Since WFH and hybrid-work has become a norm, one could make a quick assumption that your company might today only need 50% of its previously required office space, when the truth might be closer to 70%. This is due to social distancing and people now requiring more office space per Capita than before the pandemic. Reimagining your office design is therefore a product of the hybrid work trend, which will have an impact on your strategy on workplace design, activity-based workspaces, and space provisioning, to support a happy, healthy and productive workforce. It will be important to have the right tools in place in support of your workplace strategy and your people. Examples of these are tools that support cloud workspace booking, desk booking, room booking, with central data insights, to help you understand your unique return to office trend and needs on an ongoing basis.

Two other workplace trends that ended in the past year were the daily office commute and on-premises disconnected systems that didn’t sufficiently support remote work. Many have seen this as eye-opening and at times exciting as alternative solutions were sought to help re-emerge into the new normal.

Smart building technology

As you move onto step two, take your prioritised list of accelerated needs, and match them up to your existing functionalities, services, or products. Limit this to things that your people, products or services do today. Stay laser-focused on the reality and value of right now.

During this step, as companies emerge from the negative effects of the pandemic, some may consider reducing their IT budgets. However, with the rise of remote and hybrid work, this is not the time to cut back on certain technology investments. In fact, organisations that experimented with new digital technologies during the crisis, and those that invested more capital expenditures in digital technology than their peers did, report outsize revenue growth than other companies (according to a recent McKinsey Global Survey).

It is important to be educated on how to leverage workplace technology solutions in different ways to meet new priorities. For example, the use of workplace occupancy sensors can create floor planning scenarios that enable companies to reconfigure their offices based on actual space utilisation, and guarantee employees who needed to come into the office had an available place to work.

Step 3. Implement quick updates that can provide increased value fast.

Step three is where you focus on yielding quick, high-value wins. This part of the process is not about thinking big picture or undergoing dramatic major pivots that will take longer to implement. Compare your list of accelerated needs to your current functionalities and ask yourselves, “With a small amount of effort, what new value could we gain?”

This could mean offering congestion alerts to inform key personnel when capacity has been reached. This allows them to not only ensure they’re meeting new capacity requirements but can also inform employees who may be in transit or planning to go to the office that they should continue working from home. Or using workplace occupancy sensors to provide real-time sensor data to inform employees which workspaces have been vacated and need to be sanitised before another team member uses the space.

Step 4. Consider what the larger, longer-term solution needs to be

Finally, review the ideas of what is possible. The notion of what adaptions need to be made affects a long-lasting impression on your employees and overall business. Ask yourself repeatedly, “If this is true, then what? What else has to be true?” This process enabled you to crystalise around a view of the future and provide foundational truths of what the new normal would look like.

With those foundational beliefs in hand, leverage those employees that are on the front lines with customers to determine how the foundation of what you do uniquely applies to this new normal.

Delve into how your business can expand upon what you do uniquely, to provide outsized benefits to your employees and leapfrog your competition. These foundational beliefs of what is true in your market along with what you do uniquely now underpin how to look at areas of investment.

With a heavy focus on process, balanced out with prioritizing a positive employee experience and customer benefits, this four-step process can help CEOs identify blind spots and opportunities, without getting bogged down in a protracted overhaul of their own unique fundamental business model.

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