Dangerous Hybrid Workplaces

Dangerous Hybrid Workplaces

With the irregularity of office use, the role of the office, connecting people, has become rather complicated. Connection leads to interaction, which leads to communication, followed by ideation and then collaboration. Thereafter, collaboration is often coordinated by an event we typically refer to as a meeting, which is a coming together of people, place and time. This was largely a physical event, with all attendees in physical proximity of one another, however as technology evolved and blended into the meeting room, it began to include people external to that meeting room. As a result, the physical workplace has a splattering of meeting environments often referred to as meeting rooms, conference rooms, huddle rooms etc.

As companies begin to return to the office, many are beginning to experience the new role of the office in this hybrid working workstyle, which is both connecting people at the office AND connecting those who are not in the office, to those who are. Traditionally, the space within the workplace that facilitates this, is one of those meeting environments I mentioned before. Those meeting rooms are shared resources which need to be booked in advance of use. More significantly, even before the introduction of the hybrid working workstyle, they were a scarce, complicated and inconstant resource. Thus, with the increased demand on these meeting environments, many companies are defaulting to automating how employees book these meeting resources in the hope it services the demand.

A good example of this is the introduction of one button to push (OBTP) which is the convenience that, when you have booked the room, the technology in the room is linked to the meeting with the push of a green button at the time that the meeting room was booked for. This is great because it means it saves the user a bunch of time with not having to input the meeting credentials into the video endpoint at the start of a meeting. This added to other technologies that smooths out the actual booking of the room, all combine to take a lot of friction out of a booked meeting.

While the convenience is undeniable, one has to question if the right things are being prioritized for automation and further question if the behavioral byproduct of this has been fully thought through. If you were to journey map the effort involved with using that environment on demand (so without booking it) and then comparing it to the traditional approach of booking it, it becomes evidently clear that from a physical workplace perspective, the workflow has been smoothed around scheduling and starting a meeting, not connecting/engaging people.

What one notices here is old ways of working detuning the pace and impact of new ways of working. The engagement sequence is arguably something like; (1) connect, (2) interact, (3) communicate, (4) ideate, (5) collaborate, (6) meet. The typical physical workplace assumes that all the people you would be engaging with are in proximity, so the workplace design traditionally services (1) to (5) within the general workplace but facilitates (6) via a traditional meeting room, which is more often technology-enabled. Engagement is being replaced by meetings, and workplace etiquette incentivizes the user to use a meeting room, which needs to be booked at a time in the future. Engagement is broken.

Many a physical workplace was never architected for this new form of engagement and binary physical workplace etiquettes are at risk of throttling the seamless workflow and engagement. Basically, the physical workplace is facilitating the booking of a conversation with someone rather than spontaneously connecting with that person. That’s not natural and that’s what makes the poorly architected hybrid workplace, dangerous. In one poorly calculated move, the workplace can potentially work against your two largest costs to business, People and Real Estate.

Within the hybrid working strategy, the physical workplace is being positioned as the “hyper connector” at the center of collaboration. However, the gap is in the assumption that they will have the critical mass of people in proximity of one another to enable steps 1 to 5 of our engagement sequence.

The physical workplace is no longer capable of connecting people like it used to and we have to pause at the suggestion that it has sufficient pull, to attract users within a defined frame of time, to enable connection on mass. Coordination of people beyond a behavioral routine, at scale, is better defined as an event and those will continue to play a role, however relying on them to enable the engagement necessary, is unrealistic.

“Engagement” is a continuous transition, not a series of individual timed events. The office needs to be enabled to facilitate those first 5 engagement steps first, by spontaneously including folks not in the office at any given moment. Don’t fool yourself in assuming a laptop is sufficient to fulfill this in the office because it is not. The capabilities of the laptop should be viewed as part of the architecture to enable engagement transition, not the ultimate solution. It’s a gap filler only. That many are rushing to use technology-enabled meeting rooms as I mentioned before, proves that the laptop alone is an inferior instrument.

You need to think about how you seamlessly enable all 5 of those engagement steps within the physical, in mid-flight, and without pause. It needs to be on-demand, in a very simple, secure way. It needs to be seamless. “Meeting” should be the last and only step that requires scheduling.

Our workplace strategy is focused on engagement. We are increasing the viscosity of our entire workplace portfolio that includes the office but increasing the stickiness of engagement by keeping our people connected in a very inclusive, effortless, and scalable way. That’s real hybrid working. Thank goodness we have the Webex platform and Webex devices to enable that.

Article contributed by Cisco Workplace & Real Estate Strategist John Corbett

“As the return to the office movement takes shape, our maturity in understanding what the new complexity of a hybrid workplace looks like starts to become clearer and here in Australia, we are a little further down the line when compared to the rest of the world as we exit the pandemic. There are many examples and here is my attempt at sharing what I am observing as one of the bigger ones. When we start to use the office to just meet, we may need to ask why and if that’s the right thing.”


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