The rise of the smart office in hybrid work

A person working on a laptop.
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Now that the return to the office and shift to truly hybrid work is a reality for organizations, employers are rethinking the role and purpose of the workplace. While homes are now acting as the new office, for hybrid work to actually be hybrid, the physical workplace is starting to take shape as a critical hub for rich collaboration in an environment that’s safe and fosters innovation and productivity. And all of this hybrid collaboration, access, and connectivity across teams, spaces, and digital resources is powered by the Internet.

About the author

Ian Waters is Senior Director of EMEA marketing at ThousandEyes.

As such, every employees’ job is shaped by the Internet, whether they’re in the office or at home. But with some employees working in the office and others remote, seamless collaboration is especially essential, as is the ability to stay synced through shared resources. SaaS apps and other cloud-hosted services play a critical role to power these interactions, but the cloud extends far beyond just productivity: everything about the new workplace increasingly relies on the Internet and 3rd party services to deliver on its promise. As these spaces adapt to meet return-to-office expectations from employees - not only in terms of working effectively but also in areas such as health and safety - collaboration and building management systems are also transforming, granting the hybrid workplace new powers - and for network and workplace operations teams, new responsibilities.

The smart office is cloud-first

We’re already seeing an increase in Internet-connected solutions to support population density sensing, touchless functionality, and other attributes of hybrid work that help ensure employees return to a workplace that is and feels safe for all. From centrally managed building access and security to cameras that detect dishes piling up in the sink, smart office solutions transform how we think about the workplace of tomorrow - in both the big and the small.

A key area of interest and one of the essential first steps of building a smart office for hybrid work is that of business management systems (BMS). As the central control hub for building functionality and environmental solutions, these systems can control everything from access control and elevators to lighting the degree of tint in connected glass panels - and increasingly, these systems are migrating to the cloud to enable remote and automated management.

Previously based in a control room or in servers in facilities offices, BMS solutions haven’t seen much innovation until today’s move to cloud. The migration of BMS technology to the cloud and the associated benefits of other cloud-hosted services and applications are quickly beginning to be realized. And, as with anything and everything that becomes connected to the global network that is the Internet, these streams of data can prove valuable in unexpected ways. One such example is the modernization underway with CCTV, where previously separate systems are converging onto one infrastructure and being adapted to monitor office density and use.

Hybrid work is one long digital supply chain

So with all smart building controls now moving to the cloud, the ‘brain’ of a smart building is no longer in the building itself but elsewhere. This means that as buildings become increasingly intelligent, connection to control in the cloud becomes more and more crucial to make everything work. As always, increased connectivity and capabilities can come with increased complexities - and knowing how to navigate those complexities effectively is the key to success.

For enterprises to reap the benefits of this new way of working, it’s essential to provide stable access. If connectivity to intelligence for a smart building isn’t right, the fundamentals of workplace management start to fail. We have already seen instances where network level outages have led to failure in systems like access control, meaning employees were unable to access offices. And we need look no further to see the potentially detrimental effects of such failures than last year’s outages, the impacts of which highlight today’s level of Internet dependency.

So, although the office infrastructure and systems that IT control are still fundamental to access and performance, ensuring end-to-end availability means managing the entire digital supply chain, all the way from providers to the end customer or worker. The need for reliable connectivity is no longer local - IT teams require global, always-on visibility in order not to be flying blind, with clear visibility of network availability both in networks they own and ones they don’t.

In hybrid work, Internet health becomes a critical success factor that ensures always-on connectivity in the smart office, as well as the connective tissue that determines the quality of the digital experience delivered to workers - no matter if they’re in the office, at home, or on the road. Employees in any location are now reliant on critical SaaS applications, for example, which can be difficult for organizations to manage due to their growing complexity and distributed nature. And with any oversights of critical blind spots almost certainly resulting in negative impacts on business operations as well as the employee experience, organizations must take note.

For IT teams, the smart office in the hybrid work era will therefore require a different approach - one that allows them end-to-end visibility and the ability to remotely provision users, devices, conference rooms - at scale and at speed - and to troubleshoot issues no matter where they occur along the digital supply chain.

Keeping pace with Internet visibility

The office still serves a critical role in realizing the power of the hybrid work model. In fact, Cisco’s Hybrid Work Index found that devices connecting to office-based Wi-Fi networks increased 61% in comparison to six months prior, highlighting the growth of onsite work. It remains as a central hub for workers to collaborate, socialize and connect with their workplace culture, and with many businesses now looking to optimize their offices by investing in physical and technological transformations, IT teams must keep pace.

They can only do this with the visibility, insights and action afforded by Internet and network visibility to ensure everything runs smoothly, and traditional monitoring techniques simply do not suffice for the growing number of potential blind spots in the hybrid world of today. The new methods they must take move beyond traditional monitoring and instead provide a shared contextual view of operations. It is this view which will allow IT teams to work together to deliver exceptional employee experiences, whether remote or onsite; to optimize cost and performance; and help businesses plan for the future and increasingly Internet connected smart office. So, in today’s world, it’s critical that these developments run seamlessly in order for businesses to enhance the smart office with employee safety, wellbeing, collaboration, and productivity - all of which are key to the worker experience.

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Ian Waters

Ian Waters is Senior Director of EMEA marketing at ThousandEyes, the Internet intelligence company recently acquired by Cisco.