Reimagining the physical office and its connectivity needs

Man in office on a phone call - connectivity and hybrid working
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Welcome to the third part of our four-part mini-series on the hybrid workplace, this series has aimed to help organizations implement strategies that will satisfy all departments and employees, now and in the future.

About the author

Simon Wilson is Chief Technology Officer at Aruba UK&I.

While many of us have enjoyed being more flexible with where we work, many are equally ready to return to the office in some way, shape or form. Or at least, to have the option of returning to the office as we all move to the new hybrid working model that will see employees shifting between the two.

What is interesting to consider going forward is what our physical offices will look like under the hybrid working model. Already the way we live, work and communicate have all been irreversibly altered by the pandemic. So how can we expect our offices to remain the same and still meet our needs?

Organizations, designing offices to accommodate this new reality will be forced to rethink everything from their network infrastructure to the facilities offered and the physical architecture. However, to help inspire and guide your planning, here are the top trends we’ve seen over the past few months.

Expect a better utilized – but smaller – office

With office spaces having sat empty for most of 2020, the opportunity to significantly downsize and save on real estate costs is huge. This will be a great thing for employees because, at the same time, employers are also transforming the way office space is used – better aligning it with the way people will work post-pandemic.

Forget the rows of desks and cubicles of years yonder, rather walls are being torn down to create open collaboration spaces and meeting areas. While remote working has proven valuable both to employers and employees, people are craving places to meet and collaborate face-to-face after over a year of being apart – and businesses must be ready to meet this demand.

Don’t be mistaken though, it’s not all just about socializing. Businesses will need to acknowledge that some employees, particularly those who are younger or are working parents, may still need to use the office as a focused work environment or because it facilitates more effective output.

To this end, new office spaces will comprise elements such as meeting rooms, huddle areas and single occupancy, soundproofed ‘pods’, which offer employees a private space to work, make phone calls or join remote colleagues on a video conference. All employees need to do is remember to book the space first – which brings me to the next trend.

Wave goodbye to assigned spaces

In the future, our descendants will no longer see the corner office as the pinnacle of success or desks surrounded by plants or covered in photos as someone's marked territory. Rather, employee movement will become more fluid – the corner office (or desk) will belong to whoever books it first, and only for an allotted amount of time.

The most efficient way for organizations to enable this will be via a digital solution, such as an app that allows employees to see what space is available, reserve it for a set time and share its location with other meeting participants.

Booking systems like this are not new but, with limited space, a booking system will be critical and without one organization risk losing hours of valuable productivity as employees patrol the office, hunting for a place to work. Worse still, employees waste time heading back to the office only to find nowhere to work and head off home anyway. The goal should be a system that allows employees to book a desk or meeting room before they even book a train ticket. Once in the office, location data and BlueTooth functionality can also be integrated to guide employees and guests around the site unattended, further boosting efficiency and productivity.

Of course, implementing this technology is all very well but organizations must also remember that any new tool requires training. Taking time to properly onboard employees will ensure things operate as intended – and that data is accurate. Issues like ‘ghost bookings’ – where an employee books a space but doesn’t show up – seem small, but at scale, can easily undermine the effectiveness of a system and add friction to the new hybrid workplace.

Buildings will become hyperaware

As businesses seek to digitally transform, expect to see the introduction of an increasing number of IoT devices and sensors.

These devices will provide vast amounts of data on building occupancy, temperature, humidity, energy and resource consumption, air and fluid flow, air quality, and more. This data has massive implications for operational costs and efficiency, as well as the employee experience. What time do the lights need to turn on? Are we overcooling rooms or heating them while windows are left open? Are employees using the collaboration spaces or do we need more work pods? Are we cleaning spaces that no one is going into?

Organizations will soon have all the answers to these questions, helping them better use their space and facilities, minimize waste and reduce costs. Likely in time, we’ll also see companies leveraging this data to enable automated buildings that are fully cognizant of, and responsive to, the occupants and their environment – making them more dynamic and sustainable to suit changing economic, environmental and social concerns.

The network of the future is now

As these trends emerge, it’s clear that the reimagined office will require a far more wireless infrastructure to support the full range of devices, users and platforms needed to keep it running.

It will also require a network that is AI-powered and predictive. This is the only way to ensure network performance, operational efficiency and that the unprecedented amounts of data are actually being used to deliver true business value.

Furthermore, it is the only answer to the significant security risks inherent to any distributed network – where the sheer number of IoT and unmanaged user devices means that IT teams simply do not have the time or visibility required to manage risks manually. The increased emphasis on collaboration and socialization will see more clients and guests visit the office as well, creating different levels of access that must all be managed. An automated solution can both simplify visitor access and implement security policies that tightly manage what visitors can do and see while on the network.

This network also needs to be scalable, with the ability to respond to workplace changes, the evolving needs and behaviors of staff, new technology, budgets, or because the data shows that they should.

In fact, enterprise networks are so mission-critical that infrastructure investments aren’t just about enabling hybrid workplaces but also about creating agile, resilient and future-proofed business.

But all investments require funding. With this in mind, the final part of this hybrid workplace guide will explore how organizations can strategically maximize their budgets and build a network that enables the future of work – whatever it looks like.

Simon Wilson is the CTO of HPE Aruba.