When Work Goes to the Worker: Three Strategies for the Hybrid Workplace
“When disaster struck, work from home (WFH) saved the day. Work from anywhere (WFA) will win the decade”, noted Mark Gilbreath of LiquidSpace in an interview describing the future of the flexible coworking space business.
Whether we think that the future of work has arrived or it is just around the corner, one thing is certain: there is no going back to the pre-pandemic office. The pandemic ushered in an unprecedented transformation of the workplace unseen in scale and scope since the introduction of the assembly lines in the early 20th century.
Every organization today is redrawing the boundaries of work and exploring new alternatives. There are three main modalities in which workplace innovation is evolving today: physical space, augmented work and the virtual reality environment (the Metaverse):
- Physical workplace is going hybrid. Flexible options rule the day.
- Intelligent automation augments human expertise. Service is delivered at scale.
- The Metaverse emerges as a virtual collaboration alternative. More breakthroughs still to come.
Redrawing the physical boundaries of work today
LiquidSpace was founded a decade ago on the idea that 9-to-5 workplace orthodoxy needed to be disrupted, that commutes to work needed to be shortened and flexibility of work had to become the mantra. Flexible workspace options were needed, and homes were never the only alternative. After more than two years of the pandemic, “people want their homes back, and they want to see their colleagues again, but they don't want the long daily commute and monotonous routine that a full-time return to the old office entails", wrote Doug Chambers, COO of Daybase, another flexible workplace solution company. The business case for flexibility has been made loud and clear, giving rise to the ecosystem of alternative workspace arrangements.
Along with LiquidSpace and Daybase, there is also Codi, the “hyperlocal, walk to work” company that marries the concept of Airbnb’s people’s homes with WeWork’s coworking amenities.
The receipts from multiple workplace surveys are back and the verdict is clear: it is neither the office nor the home, but the flexibility and personalization of work that will win the day. The pendulum has swung on workplace preferences from the office to home and it has now settled in the middle, favouring the flexible “hybrid” arrangements.
LiquidSpace, Daybase, Codi and the relaunched WeWork are among the growing number of such flexible, wired “work from anywhere” services ready to scale up and offer the answers to the questions of the post-pandemic workplace.
Such innovative solutions are a win for the companies that can provide supportive office environments for the employees at a fraction of the cost of a traditional office; a win for employees who can literally “walk to work” to the closest flexible workspace set up and ready for a productive workday. This continues to be an exciting place to watch in the near future.
Delivering intelligent automation through augmentation
The exponential growth of smart workplace technologies is another important factor in closing the geographic and time zone gap while bringing work to the worker.
To set the context, imagine a familiar situation on a manufacturing site. Repair services have to be called to fix the malfunctioning equipment. It may take time for a technician to arrive, inspect the issue, recommend a solution, order the needed part and wait for the delivery before eventually installing the replacement.
Enter oculavis, a German start-up that connects technicians and the users of machinery/equipment to provide guidance and instructions on how to fix equipment remotely. Once there is an issue, the operator puts on the smart glasses and follows step-by-step instructions delivered through augmented reality until the diagnosis is complete. If needed, the system connects with an expert on the specific issue automatically. In this scenario, the expert can attend multiple repair sites in one day while the users on the ground can get complex fixes done under the supervision of an expert that otherwise would have been beyond their skillset.
This same principle of work coming to the worker can be applied to a mechanic, for example, and drives the exponential growth of telehealth services, online instruction, personal trainers, chefs and even hairdressers.
Today, there are multiple technologies delivering on-demand services where help is needed most. The industrial Internet of Things, the networked technology environment has emerged that enables data collection, exchange and analysis as well as much needed just-in-time services at the time of need. In-demand experts could be accessed remotely, across time zones and geographies, multiplying their impact when they are needed. The future of human expertise is in its ability to be scaled and to get amplified through technology.
Shaping the workplace of the future in the metaverse
The third and perhaps the most futuristic modality of the hybrid workplace comes with the launch of the Metaverse. This fully immersive alternative reality where individuals are represented by digital avatars may in the near future become the preferred place where remote teams collaborate. The Metaverse today remains vague and complex for most observers.
In the summer of 2021, when Mark Zuckerberg introduced Horizon Workrooms, Meta employees used the virtual reality office app for over six months. According to Zuckerberg, “These kinds of experiences, where you can actually feel present with other people, are ... a much richer way to interact than the types of social apps we’ve been able to build on phones or computers”.
Technically speaking, the Metaverse still has a long way to go and its goal will never be to fully replace the physical workplace. Without a doubt, it will become a place of immense consequence in the future, affecting the way we work and earn a living. A virtual office will be created that mimics the existing real-world office or conference settings of the company. The Metaverse setup will be able to optimize the work environment to the needs of individual workers and maximize the worker’s experience.
The issue at the heart of today’s hybrid workplace debate is not about the concerns over worker productivity alone. Neither is it about saving on the real estate costs nor about whether working from home is a better use of workers’ time than the daily commute to work. It is not even about which collaborative technologies to adopt.
The long-term workplace agenda is about tapping into the skills, resourcefulness and resilience of the world-class talent no matter their origins, gender, race, age and, ultimately their location. It is about creating a workplace environment – in person, remote, hybrid, virtual or other – where this next generation of workers could be at their best.
It is urgent for business leaders and people managers to get curious about expanding modalities and technologies of work and seek answers to the questions about new ways of working.