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Reimagining the physical office and its connectivity needs

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Like many others, I am ready to return to the office. Or at least, to have the option of returning to the office as we all move to the new hybrid working model that will see employees shifting between their homes and the office.

It’s interesting to consider what the physical office will look like under this model – for it surely needs to change. The way that we live, work and communicate, our priorities and expectations – they have all been irreversibly altered by the pandemic. South African businesses already predict that in three years’ time a third of their staff (33%) will still be working from home, so how can we expect our offices to remain the same and still meet our needs?

Designing an office that will work for our new reality and the near future will challenge organisations to rethink everything from their network infrastructure to physical architecture. To help inspire and guide your planning, here are the top trends I’ve seen over the past few months.

Expect smaller – but better utilized – offices

With office spaces sitting empty for most of 2020, remote working, which was used by just 4% of staff in South Africa three years ago, is seen as a long-term strategic change, many organisations have recognized the opportunity to significantly downsize and save on real estate costs. I believe this will be a great thing for employees. Because at the same time, organisations are also transforming the way space is used, bringing it into better alignment with the way people will work post-pandemic.

Instead of rows of desks and cubicles, walls are being torn down to create open, short-term collaboration spaces and meeting areas. While working from home has proven its value, employees will be craving places to meet and work face-to-face after over a year of being apart – and organisations must be ready to meet this demand.

It’s not just about socializing either. Organisations need to acknowledge that some employees, particularly younger ones and working parents, may still need to use the office as a focused work environment or because it facilitates more effective learning.

To this end, many organisations are also creating several single occupancy, soundproofed ‘pods’, which offer employees a private place to work, make phone calls or join remote colleagues on a video conference. All employees need to do is remember to book the space first – which brings me to the next trend.

Say goodbye to assigned spaces

Future generations will no longer see the corner office as the pinnacle of success. With employee movement more fluid, the corner office (or desk) will belong to whoever books it first – and only for a certain amount of time. The Willis Towers Watson Flexible Work and Rewards Survey also found that 85% of employers will pay remote workers the same as in-office employees this year, regardless of their location.

The most efficient way for organisations to enable this will be via a digital solution, like an app – which will allow employees to see what space is available, reserve it for a set time and share its location with other meeting participants.

With space limited, this booking system is critical. Without it, organisations risk losing valuable time and affecting productivity as employees search fruitlessly for a place to work. The goal should be a system which allows employees to book a desk or meeting room before they even book a train ticket.

Once in the office, location data and Bluetooth functionality can also be integrated to guide employees and guests around the site unattended, further boosting efficiency and productivity.

Of course, implementing this technology is all very well but organisations must also remember that any new tool requires training. Taking time to properly onboard employees will ensure things operate as intended – and that data is accurate. Issues like ‘ghost bookings’ – where an employee books a space but doesn’t show up – seem small, but at scale, can easily undermine the effectiveness of a system and add friction to the new hybrid workplace.

Buildings will become hyperaware

As they look to digitally transform their businesses, organisations are introducing increasing numbers of IoT devices and sensors, which will provide vast amounts of data on building temperature, humidity, energy and resource consumption, air and fluid flow, occupancy, and more.

All this data has massive implications for operational costs and efficiency, as well as the employee experience. What time do the lights need to turn on? Are we overcooling rooms or heating them while windows are left open? Are employees using the collaboration spaces or do we need more work pods? Are we cleaning spaces that no one is going into? Organisations will soon have all the answers to help them better use their space and facilities, minimize waste and reduce costs.

In time, we will also see organisations leveraging this data to enable automated buildings that are fully cognizant of, and responsive to, the occupants and their environment.

The network of the future

As we explore these trends, it’s clear that this reimagined office will require a far more wireless infrastructure to support the full range of devices, users and platforms.

Beyond this, it will also require a network that is AI-powered and predictive. This is the only way to ensure network performance, operational efficiency and that the unprecedented amounts of data are being used to deliver business value.

It’s also the only answer to the significant security risks inherent to any distributed network – where the sheer number of IoT and unmanaged user devices means that IT teams simply do not have the time or visibility required to manage risks manually. The increased emphasis on collaboration and socialization will see more clients and guests visit the office as well, creating different levels of access that must be managed. An automated solution will both simplify visitor access and implement security policies that tightly manage what visitors can do and see while on the network.

This network also needs to be scalable, with the ability to respond as workplaces change due to evolving needs and behaviours, new technology, budgets, or because the data shows that they should.

In fact, enterprise networks are so mission critical that I believe these infrastructure investments aren’t about enabling hybrid workplaces at all. Instead, they are about creating agile, future-proofed organisations. But all investments require funding. The final part of Aruba’s hybrid workplace guide will explore how organisations can strategically maximize their budgets and build a network that enables the future of work – whatever it looks like.

By Mandy Duncan, Aruba Country Manager for South Africa

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Since 2009, WhichVoIP.co.za has helped thousands of South African business to make better buying decisions for phone systems, VoIP and Fibre and Wireless internet connectivity. In this time, we’ve facilitated the connection of 50,000+ users through our network of 500+ telecoms providers.

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