min read

How to create a workplace worth returning to

In this piece, I’m going to discuss how the working environment has changed today and what you can do about it.

In this piece, I’m going to discuss how the working environment has changed today, how businesses can adapt to changes, how businesses can plan for potential changes, and ultimately, how to create a workplace worth returning to. 

What's Changed in Today's Work Environment? 

There's obviously the return to work element of this, which we've all experienced. 

The most common solution we see deployed is the hybrid work environment. Staff can work from home when, or if needed, and come to the office for specific reasons. Depending on people’s working style, this might be for collaborative projects or productivity work where they can focus.

This doesn’t mean it’s exclusively those reasons, it’s more about embracing the activity-based work strategies that tailor to the multiple needs of each individual rather than a single need of many individuals. 

For example, I do all my productivity work in the office, I find home distracting. If I have a proposal to write, I'll come to the office. I do all my collaborative work at home because I’ve often got meetings with people from timezones all over the globe. 

Everyone has different work styles and preferences when it comes to completing different tasks. If we zoom out from those individual employee preferences, styles, and needs and take a look at the collective, this is what we would call your workplace culture. This has become increasingly important for workplace design and solutions in recent times.

In the past, workplace solutions were built by IT and Facilities, HR had a small say, if any at all. This is changing, and it needs to. If all the appropriate stakeholders are involved in scoping a solution, the more coverage that final product will have in meeting user needs.

Next it’s about breaking down siloed technology and focusing on workplace experience. This is what should be at the core of the solution and is one of the biggest challenges for any organization right now. 

When you're spending everyday in and around the workplace (or away from it now), this puts you in a position to define your workplace culture, what requirements people need to perform, and what roadblocks people are coming up against. This is something we value highly when scoping user experience for any solution. Once the solution is scoped, the integration platform connects the dots to make it happen. Whether that be through a simple interface or automation.

How You Can Apply Just-In-Case Solutions, Just in Time. 

Let's break that down. So just-in-case might be planning for an emergency situation, adapting to something just in case it happens. 

One example would be anything related to security, the worst case being an active shooter, something you never want to happen. Can your system trigger alerts? Can it lock doors automatically? How do we respond quickly in the future, just in time, but also have just in case features? 

I think the short answer-- and it's a biased answer-- is with a platform. Managing a COVID-19 environment is the need of today. Our response to COVID-19 wasn't inventing anything new. It was leveraging our platform and our integrations for a different scenario. But what’s the next challenge?

Before COVID-19, we were using location tracking for hot desk management and people finding. That was the original requirement for us to integrate with location services. 

Then, those same integrations are being leveraged for storing that information long term for contact tracing and monitoring occupancy levels across the workplace. Adapting with a platform is about the configuration of the integrations and changing that to suit your needs. Something an app just can’t do.

If there's a potential feature needed just-in-case. Then it’s about asking the question, where do we get that data from? If it’s already available to us through existing integrations, easy. If not, we simply introduce a new integration. Then we build out the workflows that enable that feature to function.

How to Create a Workplace Worth Returning To.

I think the most common question we get is, “How do we encourage employees to return to the office?” And that doesn't mean increasing the number of people having to return to the office, but wanting to. 

The first step to this is looking at what works well at home and what doesn't. 

We have a client that surveyed all their employees, and there was almost a 50/50 split on their preference of returning back to work. The question was, would you prefer to return one day a week in the office and four days at home or four days at home and one day in the office? This means the solution needs to work for both preferences, otherwise it could have a negative impact on half your staff.

So what works at home? Maybe it's controlling your environment, comfort, or flexibility. Maybe it’s easier to get the kids from school, etc.

And what about the office? Maybe collaboration, focus, productivity, or even the social element. If we think about the environment for a second, you might pass someone in the hallway, stop for a conversation which sparks an idea for a project. At home, you’re not going to pass anyone in the hallway on your way to the kitchen, at least not anyone you work with. This might not be the same for everyone, but it helps to paint the picture. 

Maybe it’s the facilities that attract people, I’ve got a great coffee place across the road that a lot of people enjoy here. Then it’s just about linking that hospitality experience and plugging it into the system. For example, you’ve got an in person meeting with colleagues and external clients, a catering management workflow is tied into the room booking workflow. You can order coffee for everyone straight from the workplace app and have it turn up for the meeting. It’s a small incentive, but every bit counts. 

This is where the landlords could play a pivotal role by connecting everything in the building together. They have the opportunity to link all of their tenants together-- so that could be the cafes, the gyms, the restaurants, anything else in their community-- to their tenancy and allow cross-pollination between these things. 

So how do we have retail become a part of the workplace? How do we turn our lockers into a drop-off point for beers on a Friday? All these things that you just don't have at home, these are incentives. Incentivizing your workplace is a great first step. You can see how our partners are developing products that provide those incentives at workplacewallet.com or head to the Marketplace page of PlaceOS.

What Role Does an Open Platform and Ecosystem Have in Regards to Return to Workplace? 

If you're looking for any solution, the key selection criteria should be, is it open? Is there an open and standard way of integration? The reason being, closed systems are rigid, they’re slower to adapt, and your needs move fast. You need something that is open and able to adapt.

This can be a real challenge, especially in the building industry. Sometimes vendors list the fact they have APIs, but there’s red tape that gets in the way, NDAs just to get access to an API for example. That's always a red flag, in my opinion. 

So, as part of your selection criteria, don't just look at the features. Look at how well something integrates with everything else. Otherwise you’ll end up creating more siloes, overinvesting on purchases, and ultimately end up with poor user experience which in turn, has a negative impact on returning to the workplace. 

I’ll finish off with one example. If you're comparing sensors, of which there are plenty, and you prefer one over the other but the point of difference is that only one of them has APIs that you can integrate with. Then I would choose that. This is because it keeps your options open for you in the future; just-in-case you need that data to trigger an action or perform some function. Always go open.

And, of course, PlaceOS is open source in many ways. We have APIs for everything. You can go straight to docs.placeos.com to see how everything works.

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