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Technology Investment is the Only Way to Make Hybrid Work Work

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As workers return to the office, it has become clear that the era of hybrid work is upon us. Some of the biggest companies in the world, such as Google, Apple, and Microsoft, are investing in offices across the country while simultaneously only requiring part-time office attendance (if they require it at all). With this hybrid work era comes a new list of needs for workplaces. Workers need access to their workspaces no matter the time of day or week, desks need to be booked before the worker even gets to the office, and all of this needs to be easy enough not to be distracting.

As occupier expectations change, the commercial real estate industry is still considering the best way to transform office space to prepare for changing working habits. “Only about ten percent of workplace managers said they thought that they were prepared for a hybrid workforce,” said Mick Heys, VP of Future of WorkSpace & Imaging at IDC. He recently conducted a series of interviews with leading flexible workspace operators and occupiers on this topic for their latest Infobrief. Unsurprisingly, Heys also found that around 30 percent of workers are unhappy with their current hybrid working experience. 

Businesses are beginning to realize the limitations of a fully remote workforce, so they’re investing in ways to bring people back face-to-face, even if it’s only part-time, to encourage collaboration and increase productivity. That has led companies to rethink their entire real estate strategies and the office experiences they want to provide for their employees. “About half of the companies we talked to were looking into a hub and spoke office model to make it easier for employees to come to the office from time to time,” Heys said. 

In his research, Heys saw a common path hybrid workplaces take when becoming fully flexible. First, hybrid offices are most often “self-led,” users typically have to lead themselves through the maze of apps needed to access and use their workplace. Then most office managers and landlords tend to invest in safety. They want to limit liability and make the places as secure as possible. While this is a good thought, it can often come at the expense of usability, which is usually the point where significant investment in technology and digital infrastructure starts.

New software and hardware are often brought in to connect the user with the building better. 

Technology investments help make offices better places for hybrid work so long as it’s the right technology. The right technology investment can provide the foundation to create a seamless portfolio and in-building experiences. Once user experience starts to become the focus, the tech actually starts to become invisible to the user, much to the relief of office workers who probably didn’t want to deal with it in the first place. The goal is to eventually have the ability to tailor the workplace to deliver flexible, purpose-driven spaces for various tasks and workstyles. “The best-in-class operators that we talked to all had an understanding of how they wanted the office to be used so they could optimize for it,” Heys said. 

James Shannon, Chief Product and Technology officer at essensys, the intelligent digital backbone for commercial real estate, thinks there are a number of considerations regarding technology and digital enablement strategies. “Security and ease of use need to be balanced,” he said, “both of those can work together as long as you start with the right digital backbone.” One of the reasons for the unpreparedness of many offices for hybrid work is the deceptively complicated nature of operational management across not just one workspace but an entire portfolio of workspaces. “The speed at which things need to happen in hybrid and flexible office environments is so much faster than in a traditional office,” said Shannon.

Most offices already have technology in place for things like onboarding new users and granting Wi-Fi access, but these technologies usually require multiple manual processes. These manual processes can inhibit modern ways of working where different employees need to access or reserve new spaces every day. In order to streamline the process, these systems need to be connected and talk to each other in an automated way. From the user’s perspective, this might not look like anything, but it makes a big difference regarding how easy the space is to use and manage. “Most building owners and operators don’t think to start with the technology you can’t see when investing in digital enablement,” Shannon said. “They want to start with the app that they can show to the customer. That might be the easiest part, but it’s one of the least scalable.” Shannon explained that achieving true scale requires connecting spaces, buildings, and portfolios. This digital backbone simplifies operational complexity by making the multiple networks across a hybrid working portfolio easier to manage and monitor. 

Scale is everything when it comes to modern commercial real estate. Owners and operators must be ready to react to changing market needs on any given day. Plus, for most companies, it is not just about having flexibility but also ensuring seamless in-building experiences and even impacting change to achieve sustainability goals across an entire office portfolio. The dream for many occupiers is to give their employees the ability to securely and easily access digital services in real-time so they can work from any of their offices. Office strategies like the hub and spoke model only really work if every part of the wheel rolls as one, and achieving this requires a solid foundation for digital enablement.

What has been clear for a while is that most companies probably will not go back to a traditional office environment. What has been learned by Heys and others is that office owners and managers are still looking at how best to make this switch. What is still to be determined is how offices will manage the change. Offices worldwide need to be equipped with the right technology to provide options for how workers consume the spaces they occupy. But new technology by itself is only part of the solution. When the tech is built and connected correctly, the complexity and friction will dissolve, paving the way for exceptional, future-ready workspaces and seamless in-building experiences.

Access the full IDC Infobrief Defining the Building Blocks for Best-in-Class Workspaces here.

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