Even the federal government is getting in on the hybrid office trend. There are many good reasons to continue the combination of in-office work and remote work: high productivity, happy employees, and lower facilities overhead.
But there’s a security downside. It’s easy to lose track of the whereabouts of assets. Workers move documents, office equipment, even furnishings between home and office. Without a comprehensive check-out check-in system, business assets can fall through the cracks.
And missing assets are costly. Currently, the average office chair is $400. The average laptop computer is $1600. A single missing document is valued at an average of $120, and the cost could be far higher if the data contained in that document cannot be replicated. The cost of lost assets can easily outweigh the cost savings of a hybrid workplace.
This is where RFID can make a difference. You may think of RFID as a tool to manage your product inventory or secure your building’s entrances. In fact, the technology can be extended into other areas of asset management:
- Office furnishings – Doorway-mounted RFID readers monitor the movements of furniture in and out of a room, or out of the building if you’re supplying furniture for your employees’ home offices.
- Office equipment – The same doorway readers track RFID-tagged laptops, tablets, and cell phones. Paired with RFID personnel tags, you’ll know which employee has which electronic equipment.
- Documents – Sensitive documents can be printed on paper with embedded RFID, and file folders can be RFID-tagged. Like furnishings and equipment, the documents are monitored as they are moved around the office, and tracked if they are taken out of the office.
Can you manually track the ins and outs of assets between home and office, the way it’s always been done? Of course. But a paper and pencil sign-out system is astonishingly error-prone.
RFID is accurate. It doesn’t count on people remembering to sign out a file folder or a computer. It doesn’t mistakenly transpose a chair’s asset management ID number. You can rely on the asset data an RFID system delivers.
The hybrid office trend is here to stay. Manage your office assets with RFID and ensure your operation is getting all the benefits of the hybrid workplace.
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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.
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“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?
- 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.
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2020 was an experiment in necessity – how to shape or reshape the workplace, whether vacant, partially occupied, or fully occupied. As we move into the post-pandemic world, what are the workplace changes that look like they’re here to stay?
As we now know, mandated work-from-home (WFH) turned out to be far more productive than expected. The results of a recent survey by Upwork echoed an earlier Stanford study that showed increased productivity and job satisfaction among WFH employees. At the height of WFH in 2020, nearly two-thirds of staffers were working remotely, but Upwork estimates that the number of WFH employees will settle in the 20- 25% range in coming years.
The benefits of productivity, employee satisfaction, and real estate savings are solidifying the value of the hybrid workplace. Although a few organizations were experimenting with hybrid-style offices before the pandemic, it has now become the standard for many businesses.
With the establishment of the hybrid office come challenges and opportunities.
A significant challenge in the hybrid workplace: information access. Employees still need access to office-located documents on the days they are working remotely. Removing paper documents from the office means the risk of damage or loss. But without access to the information in the documents, workers lose all their WFH productivity gains. Imaging overcomes the challenge of data access; imaged documents, and the data they contain, are accessed securely from anywhere.
The hybrid workplace offers an opportunity to re-fashion the function and design of the office. The soul-crushing mid-century-modern cubicle farm is out. The much-despised open office plan is also out, due to productivity and health concerns. In its place is, appropriately, a hybrid design that offers some separation and privacy but also includes large spaces for collaboration. Hoteling will still be part of the picture, but staffers will reserve workspaces based on activity rather than mere available space.
Interior structures such as smart lockers will furnish separation and traffic routing. At the same time, they will provide an essential storage function for staffers who split their time between the office and WFH. Other structures like the prototype sound reduction panels from the University of Washington and architecture firm NBBJ also offer privacy and a visually interesting design.
Scientist Jonathan Schattke said, “Necessity is the mother of invention, but its father is creativity.” The hybrid workplace may have come into its own out of necessity, but its form and function reflect creative solutions, supporting workers with appropriate technology. The new hybrid worklife is here to stay.
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Seventy percent of employers anticipate downsizing their office space, according to a KPMG survey of CEOs. Pandemic-enforced work-from-home (WFH) has evolved into widespread adoption of the hybrid work style, a flexible combination of time in the office and time working remotely. Some businesses are going near-100% remote, reducing their footprint to a single small office. Many others are shifting to hub-and-spokes offices for their hybrid operations, letting employees put in their office hours in smaller “spokes” offices close to home, and reserving a downsized downtown “hub” office for central administration, IT, and major meetings.
The shift to smaller spaces inspires fear and loathing in facilities managers and operations administrators everywhere. The design phase alone is a daunting challenge; every department has to weigh in with their different, and sometimes conflicting, needs and wants. And then there’s the relocation logistics – what to move, when and how to move it, and where to put it all when it arrives at its new home.
It’s the stuff of nightmares.
It’s also a great opportunity to review office operations and make positive, profitable changes.
- Convert your documents to digital format via imaging
- Save the cost of moving all that paper, not to mention all the filing cabinets to house it. Retain only the necessary paper documents, and shred the rest.
- Support your “spokes” offices and WFH workers with an accessible, searchable database of imaged documents. Keep them on-task instead of spending time searching through folders in filing cabinets.
- Boost your community goodwill (and your bragging rights) by reducing paper consumption and increasing your sustainability rating.
- Convert to an RFID asset management system
- Save the cost of replacing lost furnishings. Tag furnishings to create a locational database, tracking items from office to office, and from room to room.
- Keep track of electronic devices that move from business office to home office and back again.
- Save the time and labor costs of a manual inventory that requires visual identification of assets. Output an accurate report of the business’s assets automatically.
Incorporate these upgrades into your office relocation plan, and you’ll begin reaping the benefits before your move as well as after. The right technology will banish those downsizing nightmares and set you up for hybrid workplace success.
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Here’s yet another important reason for converting your paper documents to digital imaged documents: the global pandemic. Whether you have switched to a hybrid office, or your business is classified as essential, your staff is touching paper documents every day. Those documents can be a transmission point, not just for the coronavirus, but for a host of other infectious agents as well.
The National Institutes of Health, UCLA, and Princeton University tested the longevity of covid-19 on various surfaces. They found that, in general, the smoother the surface, the longer the virus could live. Cardboard, rough and uncoated, was less likely to transmit the virus. Other forms of paper – smooth, coated printer paper of the type used in many business operations – provide a somewhat friendlier surface for the virus. The science is far from conclusive, and research is ongoing, but any reduction in risk is beneficial to everyone.
Paper is a high-touch element in any business. A few examples:
- Order forms– touched by the sales rep, the customer, the sales manager, the order filler, the file clerk
- Patient forms– touched by the desk personnel, the patient, the nurse, the physician, the lab, the accounting clerk, the file clerk
- Sales brochures– touched by the marketing coordinator, the sales rep, the customer, and (in the case of displayed brochures) the general public
It’s easy to see how viruses and bacteria can get passed around on paper, despite having all the recommended contagion measures in place. But when a document is imaged, it’s removed from the touch chain, and from the chain of potential contagion.
And in addition to breaking the contagion chain, you get all the other benefits of imaging, too. Imaged documents are readily accessible via electronic devices, speeding the flow of information. They are secure from loss, accidental damage, and unauthorized access. And they take up a fraction of the space of paper documents, reducing your storage footprint and your real estate costs.
We have advocated touchless technology for quite a while, not just for health reasons but for cost efficiency and for connectedness to the IoT. Imaging your paper documents is part of the wave of touchless tech that does more than just improve your business operations. It’s a risk management tool, keeping your staff and your community safer during and after the pandemic.
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