The Connected Workplace: Merging Virtual and Physical Offices
Technology allows companies to conduct business without boundaries. Even smaller organizations can have employees in all corners of the world — something that wasn’t possible just 15 years ago.
However, the ability to be dispersed means that today’s companies are also at greater risk of disengaged employees. In a truly connected workplace, there are few distinctions between remote employees and employees located under the same roof. If this sounds like a workplace utopia, I’m here to tell you it does exist—and emerging technologies are bringing us closer to this reality every day.
What Is A Connected Workplace?
A connected workplace is one where every employee has access to the technology they need to be productive, no matter where they work. They can easily find their colleagues and communicate with them. They can reserve meeting rooms at a moment’s notice or join meetings virtually if they are working remotely. If their laptop or conference room speaker isn’t working, they can quickly find someone to fix the problem. When a visitor comes to see them, they are notified right away.
In a connected workplace, employees and workplace managers are linked to each other and to physical and virtual spaces through a single technology platform. They can easily interact with each other throughout the day and access the resources they need at their fingertips.
Technology That Enables A Connected Workplace
A connected workplace is powered by technology—but not just any technology. To enable employees to stay connected to the people, spaces and services they need to do their best work, your organization needs, at a minimum:
- A high-speed, wireless network
- A cloud-based, integrated workplace management software that allows workplace leaders to manage space, assets, maintenance and more
- A user-friendly mobile app that allows employees to find people, reserve rooms, request service, receive visitors and more
- Laptops for every employee with secure access to the software, data and files they need to be productive
- Video conferencing software
- Conference room technology, including monitors, speakers and video cameras
These technologies bridge the gap between virtual and physical workplaces, ensuring all employees can connect with each other and collaborate efficiently.
Other technology will further enhance the experience for employees, whether they are working on-site, remotely or moving between the virtual and physical environment.
That technology includes:
- Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which capture real-time data on occupancy, space utilization and more
- Digital room scheduling panels, which make it easy for employees to see which rooms are available and reserve them as they’re walking by
- A visitor management system, which allows you to easily check-in guests
- Wayfinding kiosks, which make it easy for employees and visitors to navigate your office
The goal is to create a frictionless experience for employees and visitors at every touchpoint.
Benefits Of A Connected Workplace
A connected workplace improves collaboration, productivity and the employee experience. If your employees spend an average of 15 minutes a day searching for their colleagues or finding a quiet place to meet, regaining that time can yield significant benefits to your bottom line.
It also helps you make a great impression on anyone who visits your organization, including clients and job candidates. And in an environment where attracting top talent has become increasingly difficult, every advantage helps.
A connected workplace also improves space utilization by delivering real-time insights into how every area of your real estate is being used. You can use these insights to make adjustments to your office design and resource allocation, ensuring you’re making the most cost-effective decisions. For instance, if you discover that more than half the office has been working from home on Fridays, you can consolidate employees from several floors onto one to reduce utility costs. You can also adjust your cafeteria menu and cleaning schedule accordingly.
The Future Of Connected Workplaces
Imagine if starting your workday was as easy as putting on a pair of glasses. Your keyboard and all your notes from the day before appear right in front of you, along with your calendar showing your day’s meetings. When you join your first meeting with colleagues from several different locations, you can see each other in high definition and interact with collaborative documents stored on the cloud.
In the future, augmented reality workspaces powered by smart glasses could be the new reality.
Some analysts predict that within the next decade, the quality of meetings in a virtual office environment will be as good as meeting in person.
While the right technology is crucial for a connected workplace, it isn’t the only element to consider. As HOK’s WorkPlace senior principal and director Kay Sargent said, the more high-tech our workplaces become, the more we crave “high touch” experiences.
We still want casual lunchtime conversations with our coworkers and congratulatory high-fives. We want to work in an environment that is comfortable, visually appealing and inspiring, with elements that remind us of nature.
As important as it is to create connected experiences with the right technology, don’t forget about the emotional connections your workforce needs to feel fulfilled.
In a recent article, PwC explored the three components of a fulfilling employee experience:
- Relationships - personal connections with colleagues and open communication among team members
- Impact - recognition of how an employee’s individual contributions fit into the company’s shared mission
- Growth - the opportunity to pursue new initiatives with confidence that mistakes are met with support and not criticism
As technology makes it easier to keep employees connected to their colleagues around the world, it’s even more critical that they feel united by a common purpose.
No matter where they are, they need a clear understanding of your company’s mission, vision and values and how their work contributes to the ultimate goal.