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A Reason to Return: Office Amenities Help Bring Employees Back

A Reason to Return: Office Amenities Help Bring Employees Back

Workplace amenities used to be associated with tech start-ups – meals, game rooms, and bring-your-dog-to-work were some of the popular perks that kept tech workers in the office. Why go home when everything you want is there? Today’s newer office buildings are taking a page from the tech world, offering an array of amenities like gyms, concierge services, and lounges.

It’s all part of tenants’ commitment to hybrid offices, a staffing retain-and-return game plan for many companies. Survey after survey shows the same results: Employees do not want to go back to full-time in-office operations. And employers are discovering that the hybrid workstyle has benefits that they don’t want to give up, including greater productivity, lower real estate costs, and happy employees.

Employees are willing to trade space for the hybrid workstyle. More than half of law firm employees recently surveyed said they would trade assigned seating/offices for greater flexibility. That’s good news for employers, who can reduce their office footprint when they don’t have to find space for all their staff each and every day.

The amenities offered by first-class office buildings aren’t free, of course, and a prudent practice manager or facilities manager will try to balance that extra cost by reducing the amount of space in a new lease. The same law firm survey showed the average square feet per attorney has decreased from 760 s.f. to 625 s.f., and other industry sectors are making similar reductions.

But reducing personnel space can only go so far. For many professional practices, paper documents take up an outsize proportion of the office footprint. High density storage systems help reduce the space needed for document storage. Digitization goes even further.

Just one filing cabinet takes up 9 square feet, at an average real estate cost of $540 per year (and that’s before factoring in the higher price of amenity-rich buildings). Document conversion eliminates the need for that space, and the cost associated with it.

Digitization lets you have your cake (or gym or lounge) and eat it too. When employers can offer appealing amenities to encourage staff to return to the office, without increasing their real estate costs, it’s a win for everyone.

 

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Document Imaging Tames Office-Work Chaos

Document Imaging Tames Office-Work Chaos

“When would you like to come in to work?” In the pre-pandemic Before-Times, no one ever expected to hear that from their boss. Now in the new normal of hybrid offices, employees are getting exactly that question from HR managers, supervisors, and team leaders.

“What makes hybrid work kind of interesting is that it’s the only kind of work we don’t know how to do,” says Ethan Bernstein, associate professor of management at Harvard Business School. We’ve known for more than a century how to schedule in-office work, and we’ve quickly mastered WFH. But hybrid work has no rules. Everyone wants it, but it feels very chaotic to manage.

Part of the chaos can be resolved with scheduling. Too many choices can be overwhelming, as every parent knows. If staff have 100% flexibility – in-office or WFH – the office has to be ready for anything. It could be 100% full or 100% empty on any given day. A mandated schedule with some built-in flexibility is better than limitless choices.

A flexible but structured schedule lets real estate and facilities management departments predict space utilization. Right-sizing the office space saves real estate costs, and time-of-day utilization schedules save utility usage and costs.

Additionally, a flexible-but-mandated schedule gives employees a way to structure their time for a healthy work/life balance. Managers have begun polling staffers to ask when they’d like to come in to the office, building their schedules on the results. This would have seemed impossible a few years ago.

Document imaging tames another part of the hybrid-office chaos. If a staff member takes a document home for a few days, that document is no longer available to other team members. Sure, they can make copies (additional cost), or they can send photos of the documents to their co-workers (security risk). Or they can try to re-work the schedule so they’re all in the office at the same time, just to have access to the same document (frustrating and time-consuming, at best).

A database of imaged documents takes the documents’ physical location out of the scheduling equation. It gives access to WFH and in-office employees alike, at any time of day. It also keeps the information on the documents secure. With people coming and going on irregular schedules, it’s all too easy for documents to be lost or to fall into the hands of those who should not have access.

Chaos can be the birthplace of breakthrough creativity. The hybrid workplace itself is an example, growing from the upheaval of the pandemic. However, in the words of Karen Martin, “Chaos is the enemy of any organization that strives to be outstanding.” A work schedule that starts with employees’ preferences, and a digital document database that allows staffers access without regard to location or time of day, will keep chaos at bay.

Photo © Sergey Nivens / AdobeStock

The Just-Right Redesign: Hybrid Office Adaptations

The Just-Right Redesign: Hybrid Office Adaptations

Yes, the hybrid office is here to stay, and with it comes an opportunity to do a beneficial redesign of the workplace. The soulless twentieth century “cube farms” were dehumanizing, but so were the noisy, crowded open-plan offices that replaced the cubicles. Now designers have a chance to create the perfect balance between too claustrophobic and too unstructured. With some thoughtful innovations, the hybrid office can be the happy medium, like Baby Bear’s oatmeal.

Successful hybrid offices counteract the oversharing open office by providing defined work areas for individual heads-down tasks, and for collaborative team projects. But defined, enclosed areas don’t have to make a space feel crowded. Architectural glass walls and partitions retain an open feel while mitigating the noise interference of open office plans. Additionally, they maintain separation to reduce the potential for infections.

Lockers, too, provide attractive space-defining structures that complement other design choices. Like work spaces, lockers can be reserved for use when teams are in the office, and released for others to use later. Touchless locking mechanisms enhance health protocols, too.

A hybrid redesign is about more than the physical space, of course. Emotional welfare is a significant component of the new workplace. People crave sociability, and working in an office is fundamentally a social activity. When staffers are not in the office, they become anxious about their place in the social order. Providing support for the WFH component of a hybrid office demonstrates management’s trust in employees who aren’t routinely present.

And that support is often in the form of technology. Businesses are providing electronic devices – computers, wifi, cell phones – to employees for their WFH days. Just as important are the digital data resources. Paper-intensive work is now being converted to digital formats. Document conversion, or imaging, gives staff access to information no matter where they are physically located. An additional benefit: With fewer documents to store, storage space can be converted to work spaces, without expanding the office footprint.

The Great Resignation of 2021 has spurred much soul-searching at the C-level. The conclusion of many managers: Make the office a place where people want to spend time, make WFH a valued part of the hybrid workplace, and show support by providing productivity tools. A redesign to achieve these goals is a win for workers and financial stakeholders alike.

Photo © Dariusz Jarzabek / AdobeStock

The Technology that Turned Some Offices into a Pre-Pandemic Museum

The Technology that Turned Some Offices into a Pre-Pandemic Museum

As some non-essential workers begin to return to the workplace after a year of working from home, they are discovering a museum-like scene: offices frozen in time. As reported in this Washington Post story, some offices look a bit like Pompeii after the Vesuvius eruption. Dusty post-it notes and coffee cups sit on desks where they were left a year ago. Break-room refrigerators hold months-old food. Calendars still show March 2020 appointments.

And yet, through the weeks and then the months that piled up into a year or more of office absence, we somehow continued with the work we were doing when we were all sent home. How is it possible that businesses kept functioning productively, remotely, while their offices became dioramas of The Early-2020 Workplace?

Information technology is the answer, of course. When a business has converted from paper-based operations to digital format, work from home (WFH) isn’t just possible, it’s practical. A remotely-accessible database of imaged documents keeps the wheels of business moving.

Employees have discovered the benefits of WFH and they’re unwilling to give them up. The scheduling flexibility of WFH has improved staffers’ work-life balance even as their productivity has increased. Nevertheless, in-person collaboration and culture are sorely missed, and valuable professional relationships are suffering. The hybrid office is predicted to become the dominant workstyle as we move toward a post-pandemic world.

McKinsey researcher Dr. Susan Lund, quoted in Fast Company, states that the return to work will emphasize the kind of social interaction that supports collaborative work. Face-to-face team projects will happen in business offices. Individual tasks or extended heads-down work will be done at home.

With 68% of CEOs planning to downsize office space, design and FM professionals have an opportunity to reshape offices into updated team-supportive offices. IT, too, is part of the design picture; with IT imaging a business’s paper documents to a digital data source, less filing space is needed, making room for more teamwork in less total area.

Tomorrow’s hybrid-office-space design will emphasize togetherness, encouraging what the Harvard Business Review terms “unstructured collaboration:” those water-cooler moments that lead to fruitful connections and breakthroughs. The new offices will probably look rather different than the work spaces we walked away from a year ago. Will anyone preserve a piece of the museum-quality time capsule of the old offices? If you are returning to work in old Pompeii, we’d like to hear from you.

 

Photo © stokkete / AdobeStock

Return to Work: It’s All About Options

Return to Work: It’s All About Options

“Return to work.” Many organizations are struggling to define what that will mean for physical space, for productivity, and for corporate culture in the post-pandemic world.

When office-based operations were forced to pivot to work-from-home (WFH) at the beginning of 2020, the hybrid workplace was in its infancy. It quickly became the preferred workstyle, balancing WFH and in-person office time. Offices were safer because there were fewer occupants at any given time, and social distancing was easy to maintain. WFH proved its value with increased productivity and employee satisfaction.

The hybrid office gives workers a welcome degree of flexibility they didn’t have in a traditional office setting. And yet it is an imperfect solution. Employees without assigned workspaces report feeling disconnected from the team and the organization. WFH requires technology and furnishings that may not be readily available in some workers’ homes. Less in-person time may have a negative effect on performance evaluations.

What are some of the options for space utilization and technology that will make the office workspace and the home workspace function smoothly together?

Technology options:

  • High speed internet: Many employers are paying directly for their WFH workers’ high speed internet service. It goes without saying that productivity, whether in the office or at home, relies on fast internet speeds.
  • Information accessibility: Especially in document-heavy industries, information in paper documents is less accessible than the data in digital documents. A database of searchable imaged documents provides WFH accessibility without the security risk of removing documents from the office. When workers are scheduled to be in the office, that same information is available without any time wasted searching through paper files.
  • Productivity apps: From screen-break reminders, to instant-join shortcuts for virtual meetings, a host of new apps deliver productivity support for WFH and hybrid workplaces. There’s even an app that converts WFH “virtual commute time” into an opportunity for exercise or meditation, promoting employee wellness.

Physical space options:

  • Smart lockers: Hybrid office workers arrive in the office with a lot of stuff, from laptops to lunches. Without assigned workspaces, they need secure personal storage. A smart locker gives them the storage they need, and it can be reserved remotely. An extra bonus: The customizable exteriors of lockers makes them an attractive design option.
  • Mobile furnishings: Hybrid workers often need to collaborate with different groups on different days. With no fixed “address” in the office, collaboration or heads-down work becomes simple with modular mobile workstations which the user can wheel to the appropriate location. Some of these mobile workstations fit into home-office settings, too, for use by remote workers.

Flexible work spaces and flexible schedules are intrinsic to the hybrid workplace and a successful return to work. With such an array of technology options and office space options, hybrid offices can become the perfect solution for the post-pandemic world. 

Photo © deagreez / AdobeStock

Were WFH and Hybrid Offices Invented Years Ago?  The Remarkable Prediction.

Were WFH and Hybrid Offices Invented Years Ago? The Remarkable Prediction.

It took 41 years and a pandemic in order to make working from home (WFH) catch on. In 1979, a scholar named Frank Schiff wrote a feature for The Washington Post, eloquently making the case for “working at home one or two days a week.” Schiff, at that time the vice president and chief economist of the Committee for Economic Development, was not a futurist. Nevertheless he envisioned a future in which technology would support more WFH, reducing stressful commutes and gas consumption – economic pressures which have not diminished much in the intervening years.

Schiff described what we now call a hybrid office, and he predicted that the possibilities for WFH would grow as service sector “information jobs” increased. Schiff’s 1979 technology is amusingly obsolete today – he refers to handheld scientific calculators, dial-up modems, and libraries on microfiche – but he was not far off the mark in what the future would bring: “A growing number of homes is likely to become equipped with machines that combine the functions of television sets, videophones, computer terminals, electronic files and word and data processing systems and that can be directly connected with offices and other homes.”

Moreover, Schiff recognized the need for converting printed documents into a format that could be used by remote workers. He recommended the use of microfiche, a technology widely used by libraries at the time. Today, as beneficiaries of the Digital Revolution, we would recommend imaging to accomplish the same goal of providing remote access to printed documents.

Schiff pointed out another benefit of document conversion: compactness. He wrote, “A microfiche stack an inch high can incorporate the contents of as many as 20,000 pages of printed material.”
Nowadays, a portable drive an inch high can hold 5 million pages. That’s equal to 4,500 square feet of storage space that is no longer necessary – a significant cost savings for years to come, especially when combined with the hybrid office’s reduced space requirements.

It has been said that there is nothing new under the sun. Schiff’s 1979 prediction proves the point, in general terms. However, the particulars have evolved far beyond Schiff’s vision. Document imaging is a key component in today’s reality of WFH and the hybrid workplace.

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