September 7, 2022
4 min read
There's nothing better than a quick colleague catch-up turned groundbreaking idea. But how can organizations ensure both remote and in-person employees have equal access to these impromptu interactions? This article discusses the importance of holistic solutions in bridging the gap between the remote and in-person employee experience and how these solutions can encourage seamless collaboration between employees no matter their location.
You're at the office, getting up from your desk to grab a morning coffee.
Along the way, you run into a team member, who asks if you've considered some newly-released data for a strategy you're developing. They send you a link that you quickly review on your phone (of course the Wi-Fi connection is top-notch in your office), and then chat about it for a few minutes.
Later, thinking about the idea your colleague shared while sipping your coffee, you tweak a presentation, sitting at a communal table. You invite other coworkers to gather around and talk about the changes you've made – then your scheduled meeting begins. Your manager is off-site today, so she is video-conferenced in, her face is crisp and clear on a smart monitor, at eye-level with everyone seated.
The din of the office gets a little loud, so someone draws shut a folding glass wall, creating a more sound-proof environment for your discussion, while still allowing sunlight to shine through.
An hour later, you and a small group head to the cafeteria for lunch. You're chatting about another project now, and it occurs to you that a colleague working remotely might have some essential insights to share.
In a corner of the office cafeteria, there's another video-conferencing screen, surrounded by a cluster of comfy seats. You patch your team member in from home and they join the discussion, as you all share a meal together.
These are a series of "casual collisions" and spontaneous interactions that spark creative solutions and collaboration, said speakers at a recent virtual event hosted by video conference platform Zoom.
The event, titled "The flexible office: How modular spaces adapt to the unknown future," explored how organizations can create flexible, hybrid workplaces that equip employees to seamlessly connect both in-person and virtually – via the combination of adaptable, modular solutions and integrated technology.
JayJay Kim, Solutions Architect at Zoom, says your approach to achieving such flexibility should be in an ongoing state of "beta."
"It's very similar to the Agile methodology that a lot of software companies use, where you are constantly reviewing and constantly redesigning your products – [in this case] the workspace – and constantly re-evaluating and hearing feedback, and implementing that feedback to solve for that employee pain point," he says.
Fortunately, modular interior space with technology that is integrated properly is, by definition, flexible. So with the right foundation in place you can switch up, expand and retract the use of your workspace to meet the needs of your team and business, both now and in future.
Enable integrated tech by designing and building for flexibility using modular solutions
Integrated tech is much more than simply having video conferencing capabilities on a laptop or smartphone.
"We're really trying to focus on making sure we bridge the gap between connecting virtually and connecting in person," says Brett Allen, technology lead at DIRTT.
Done properly, it facilitates idea sharing and team building, and works seamlessly with other elements of your physical space.
Kim agrees: "It's about having the flexibility to change the types of meetings on the go … and make it a full-blown collaboration. [Moving] from single one-on-one, to one-to-many types of meetings is going to be important."
To achieve this, you have to consider all the potential locations where you want to enable virtual meetings, then build in the required tech infrastructure, he says.
Kim points out that video conferencing was traditionally thought of as a secondary requirement, only activated in certain spaces. That's changed.
"Now we're starting to see that wherever people might have meetings, those spaces need to be outfitted with video-enabled devices or technology," he says.
It's important in this process to also complement design solutions that are being applied throughout your workplace because you need to enable quick reconfiguration, he says. This is where modular comes in.
For instance, think about all the behind-the-scenes components that power your technology, which are hidden from view. Allen explains how essential it is to have the ability to access wires and cabling easily – i.e. through modular walls and flooring.
Think: magnetic access tiles, hinge tiles, and articulating mounts that blend into the décor but let you get to what you need, when you need it, and modify accordingly. This means, full renovations are not required when future adaptation takes place, (so, no downtime!) and there is reduced noise and disruption to employees in the vicinity as well, he says.
Allen notes that these modular components also need to be supported by strong power and network infrastructure, which in turn provide flexibility for future growth and change.
In addition to complementary tech and modular infrastructure, Kim says it's critical to lower barriers to entry when it comes to accessing technology. With people on the go – or worse, when favorite meeting spaces get double-booked – it's important to create a space where you can pick up and move.
It should be as frictionless as possible to transfer a meeting from your phone to a conference room screen, without disconnecting and reconnecting.
The key, Kim suggests, is to simplify and use one central technology that facilitates everything from checking in on available desks or conference rooms, to chatting over video conferences with a colleague in other locations.
Modular solutions also play a key – and again, complementary – role when it comes to improving employee experience with technology.
Allen points to an uptick in demand for retrofitted "phone booths" in some corporate spaces. These sound-proofed spaces allow employees to pop in and take a video call on a big, portrait-mode screen, enabling a stronger connection than is possible through a tiny tile on a phone or laptop.
Echoing Kim, he adds that it's important to "make sure that everybody is very comfortable with all of the integrations."
Ultimately, every aspect of workspace design, including the integration of technology, should work together to maximize flexibility for employees. These are key demands from employees today, and they drive positive employee sentiment toward their workplace which improves attraction and retention.
As Allen puts it, "When you elevate [employees' experience] with the right technology components, that's when it just feels different … and then everything is now elevated."
This article originally appeared on Make Space, DIRTT's editorial platform that shares perspectives from the design and construction industries.
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