In normal times, corporate offices are packed with people and buzzing with energy and activity. This year, however, they’ve become veritable ghost towns.
Take a typical Silicon Valley tech company, for example. Hardware engineers can work from home on coding days. On other days, however, they need the office to access hardware, machinery, and other proprietary tools.
The million-dollar question: what’s the future of the office? As it turns out, COVID-19 is transforming office spaces, and technology plays a critical role.
The state of offices today
Most large offices remain closed as companies grapple with when to reopen. In New York City, for example, only 8% of office workers have returned to their offices, and it’s unclear when others will be back.
At the same time, only 26% of major employers expect to reopen their offices by the end of 2020. According to the New York Times, the majority of New York employers – 54% — believe they will return to the office by July 2021.
The same goes for major companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. Google, Facebook, and Uber have unofficially targeted July 2021 as their reopening date, with many in the process of implementing permanent remote work.
Many companies are still fully remote and in no rush to fully reopen because their office employees—from software development to marketing and finance teams—can do their jobs at home full-time.
A smaller percentage that has recently reopened or plans to reopen is doing so because some of their employees need or prefer the office.
These companies are deploying different strategies, but many of them are staggering schedules so workers are coming into the office on separate days to ensure safe social distancing. These flexible work arrangements allow employees to split their time working remotely and in the office.
Business leaders and employees support permanent flexible work schedules and the ability for employees to continue to work remotely at least part-time when the pandemic threat is over. In fact, 55% of executives plan to allow employees to work from home at least one day a week. Most employees – 83% — want to telecommute at least one day a week, according to a PwC June survey.
With flexible work arrangements and the pandemic in mind, companies are now reassessing their office strategies, from where they’re located to how they are designed and used. The upshot: traditional offices aren’t dead, but they’re evolving.
In the short term, businesses that are reopening their offices are adjusting the workspaces to ensure employee safety—from spreading out desks and installing plastic partitions to closing common areas like kitchens and placing hand sanitizer stations everywhere.
In the long term, businesses are redesigning offices to support specific goals: collaboration, productivity, culture, and the overall work experience, according to a recent article by McKinsey & Company.
That means replacing individual desks and private offices with more spaces for meetings and large gatherings. Employees can do their focused work at home, then come into the office to collaborate with their coworkers, according to Accenture.
How cloud technology plays a role
Technology is an important factor not only in the when-to-return-to-the-office debate, but also the future of office spaces. Many organizations aren’t rushing to return to their office buildings because technology—particularly cloud-based applications—has allowed employees to effectively work from home.
During the pandemic, cloud-based tools have been the biggest winners. A survey by CIO Dive found that 40% of businesses accelerated their cloud adoption plans because of the coronavirus.
The same survey found that 51% of the businesses surveyed plan to migrate even more applications to the cloud in preparation of a potential second wave of COVID-19.
To properly work from home, companies equipped their employees with cloud-based solutions, such as apps for:
- video conferencing
- team messaging
- online file storage
- office productivity
- project management
Cloud tools, combined with changing perceptions of the office, will facilitate hybrid workplaces in the future where employees alternate between working in the office and from home.
Unified communications prepare you for the office of tomorrow
While corporate offices won’t become obsolete, they won’t be the same again. COVID-19 sealed its fate. The right cloud-based technology, however, will allow organizations to seamlessly transition back to the office and enable employees to stay productive as they usher in a new era of work.
At the center of the office transformation is communication and collaboration technology. Unified communications like RingCentral combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform, giving teams one location for all of their collaborative needs.
As companies old and new restructure offices to accommodate hybrid environments, we’ll undoubtedly see cloud technology bridge the collaboration gap between distributed teams. Organizations with the right tools are most prepared to embrace the future of work.
Originally published Oct 06, 2020, updated Apr 19, 2021