By: Eliane Lugassy, co-founder and CEO of Witco
Despite the acceleration of hybrid working, the office is here to stay. Businesses will always need a shared space to share ideas and build relationships.
Technology will remain critical to this end: not just to enable remote working, but to do the reverse: bringing people together into attractive environments that enrich professional identities and facilitate personal development.
Here, history can be our guide. Technology has always defined how we work. The watercooler invented in 1906 shaped modern concepts of shared experience, the ‘watercooler moment’ becoming as impactful as formal meetings or boardrooms.
History also shows technology can be a restrictive as well as a liberating factor, depending on how it is implemented.
In 1926, commercial enigma machines were used in offices to encrypt sensitive information, underscoring hierarchical structures and closed managerial circles.
In the 1950s Dictaphones hasted the decline of office typists, and the diversity that came with them, as machines began to displace personal assistants.
The faxes and photocopiers of the 1980s and 1990s expedited communications, but they also increased office overheads and informed internships, inadvertently delivering lessons in problem solving.
Advances in SMS messaging (1992), Webmail (1994) and Google (1998) accelerated information acquisition and sharing, driving efficiency, but they also encouraged restricted thinking, plagiarism and poor interpersonal skills.
As we enter the smart building era of hybrid working, machines are once again helping to shape how we work. If this technology is to enable the flexible and colligate workspaces enjoyed by today’s employee, this technology must be responsive in real time, to the needs of HR managers and diverse workforces.
The pandemic has pushed businesses to find flexible environments to evolve around employee demands: 96% of all employees favour a hybrid model that facilitates relationship building and collaboration at work.
New builds are increasingly developed with hybrid work and mixed-use in mind. Integrated technology giving managers easier communication with customers, visitors and new staff and more efficient management tools will help create more ergonomic and enjoyable work places.
Information sharing must be the defining technological characteristic we switch to smart offices that can handle irregular use. At Witco we witnessed the spike in demand for a single point of access that allows employees and HR/workplace managers to respond to a complex web of needs, ensuring safety and efficiency at every level.
Physical buildings connected by a single user-friendly online interface will enable the rise of smart cities, arranged to operate in perfect harmony. In time, the smart office of tomorrow will come to resemble a traffic intersection of driverless cars, all perfectly synchronised by technology to operate independently, together.
If we are to realise this vision, improvements are needed. On average, employees use sixteen apps to navigate the digital workplace, to organise office rotas, security, parking availability and more.
We must simplify the digital touchpoint by creating a single, unified smart hub capable of managing everything from reporting a broken office lightbulb to integrating new employees into existing workflows. HR managers must make sure the comforts and convenience of home and office working are interchangeable to enable hybrid workers to collaborate in a shared workspace and to create working environments that are responsible to their needs. This can present itself with the same app to organise a meeting, light a conference room and order refreshments. We must do away with a myriad of legacy technologies that come with work and accommodate many needs on one platform.
The global market in smart cites that was worth $49bn in 2019, is expected to grow to $127bn by 2027, with the smart office a key component. Technology helps us redefine the working world. We now have an opportunity rethink what work can be.