[Blog] Can technology bring stability to the disrupted workplace?

Jun 17th, 2021Source : Martijn Douven, Commercial Director Asia & Europe, Smarten Spaces
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"Can technology bring stability to the disrupted workplace?”

Disruptions of economies, industries and places have been happening for the last decade(s). The word “disruption” is commonly associated with unpredictability, chaos, uncertainty, just to name a few ground shaking nouns. However all these disruptions do bring a peace of mind and stability to one’s life as well. My mobile phone makes sure my mother overseas is always just one click away, I never have to worry about getting home with a taxi app at my fingertips and even if I forgot my wallet I can still pay for my groceries. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many industries, countries, and the entire world, but it is undoubtedly the source of the largest disruption to the office workplace in history.

2020 the rebirth of office as we know it

Let’s dive a little deeper into the last 12 months, in early 2020 the first big office disruption took off, and the whole office world went to (almost) 100% working from home. Companies were (and still are) struggling to get their employees’ homes office ready. Fixing internet connectivity, ergonomic home office setups as well as the required technology enhancements.

Three months into the work from home era, companies experienced a peak in productivity yet employees felt an “always on” pressure. Meeting after meeting was planned; to address the unpredictable situation, show to your boss/colleagues you are actually working and grasp onto every webinar one could possibly find. Companies & people managers experienced the difficulties to keep employees (especially new hires) engaged and keep the company culture alive remotely.

The next disruption came at the end of 2020 when the world gradually went back to office. First the inertia to go back to the office; “Is it safe to go back?”, “I cannot fit my formal trousers anymore”, and “who is going to take care of the kids?”. But besides that the workplace had to change drastically; social distancing, “split-teams”, rostering of your work week, contact tracing, opening and shut downs of offices whenever a COVID case appeared in the vicinity, just to name a few.

Swiftly after this the first “cultural workplace issues” were discovered. Riding on the low employee engagement during the lockdown, employees were more comfortable at home. The few employees who were coming to the office were constantly in Zoom-meetings. Or all alone in the office as they didn’t know who all from their team was coming to work that day. The focus and meeting rooms were overflowing yet the open office was almost empty. Many employees were demoralized after two or three visits and quickly shifting back to the familiar “home office”.

What is next?

Now we are leaving the inertia behind us, people are wanting to come back to their office in the vibrant CBD area and resume our social lives there. Guess what? A new COVID variant appears, pushing countries back into lock downs and stricter measures. It seems that this going back and forth is here to stay for a while. My prediction? At least another 6-12 months, since the vaccines do not seem to be the silver bullet either.

How do we ensure we keep our employees engaged during all this back and forward? How do we make sure that when employees come back to the office, they are in an engaging environment with exactly the right colleagues to collaborate with? In short, how do we bring a certain degree of stability to the ongoing disruption of the workplace?

Digitalize to stabilize

The short answer? Digitalization. How? Digitize your workspaces but also optimize your physical spaces. Digitize your employee experience, enable seamless collaboration offline & online. Provide your employees with one end-to-end platform to tie all the above (and more) together.

Digital physical spaces

The interface with your employee is changing, drastically, but it is not as simple as a physical to digital shift. Traditionally, as an employer, you had to cater for a pleasant office environment. However your office is now “competing” with the employees home, possibly a co-working space, that nice coffee bar around the corner. We need to (1) make the workplace safe so that employees feel comfortable to come back. (2) Make coming to the workplace a productive and pleasant experience so employees see the value in coming to the office. (3) Ensure consistent engagement regardless of your employees physical location.

Dive into the office digitalization, learn what your employee likes most about your office but back it up with data. Too many times we hire (expensive) consultants, who advise on the latest trends, millions of dollars are spent on office renovations and spaces end up underutilized. Technology can give unbiased advice of the most exciting spaces in the office, which then can help to optimize and enhance the rest of your office space.

Elevate company culture

Having your employees working “elsewhere” 2 days a week, how do we replicate the office experience, this culture, outside the office? Culture is one of the most important intangible assets of a company, if not the most. Pandemic or not, companies need to ensure its employees, new hires, and contractors are completely drenched in the company culture.

The key is to provide a single always-on interface, or platform if you like. It can provide relevant content for your employees, enables (informal) engagement in group settings and takes your employees’ feedback. A platform which helps the employee plan their day, request location based services and gives visibility of what is going on in the office, even when not being physically there. It is a seamless extension of your office environment which helps to lure employees back into the office more frequently. The platform helps you to promote your culture 24/7, 365, regardless of your employees’ location. Retain your talent, turn them into promoters and attract high quality new employees.

The dollars & cents

A fantastic story, digital spaces, always-on company culture, attracting & retaining the right talent in the midst of a pandemic. Given the global recession we are in, there is immense pressure on business and margins. Is it an investment worthwhile to make and should one not worry about other matters in this day and age? But an investment like this can be paid back within a matter of months. A desk in Singapore or Hong Kong costs roughly USD 20,000 annually. The platform can help you to make a fact-based analysis of your space usage. With employees working from elsewhere 40% of the time, one can easily save up to 20% of the office footprint, if not more. You do not need a masters in econometrics to calculate that this will pay for your digital platform, office renovation and possibly some ergonomics chairs for your employee’s home office. Lower costs, higher utilization and more engaged employee base. Besides that, landlords are getting more and more flexible to relook into ongoing leasing contracts amidst the fears of a global “CBD-exodus”.

Final “stabilizing” thoughts

A digital workplace with a hybrid workforce is something which was on the cards for a long time. Early adopters were experimenting and gradually moving into some form of the digital hybrid workplace using point solutions and digitizing small pieces of the employee experience bit by bit. However the bulk of office users were very comfortable letting things be the way they were. The pandemic accelerated the need, and more important the urgency, for a digital hybrid workplace. Not only for employee experience and bringing “peace” in the disrupted office environment but also for more “sticky” reasons such as safety and cost pressures. If you have not yet embarked on your digital hybrid office journey and are still believing everything will go “back to normal once this is all over'', it is time to think again. On one of your WFH days, take a stroll through the park or when you are in the office, take a walk in the relatively empty CBD area. Enjoy the fresh air (through your mask), embrace the change and bring stability to your disrupted workplace.

Written by: Martijn Douven, Commercial Director Asia & Europe, Smarten Spaces

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Martijn Douven is leading the commercial operations in Asia for Smarten Spaces at their headquarters in Singapore. He is a seasoned commercial leader delivering and sustaining business growth for 10+ years across three continents within various MNC’s, start-up’s & SME’s. Martijn holds a bachelor degree in business administration and a master’s degree from the Erasmus School of Economics in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Next to his job at Smarten Spaces he is an independent director on the board of advisory of internationally renowned hospitality interior design firm White Jacket Pte Ltd.