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Equipping Offices for Hybrid Work

As the U.S. economic picture started to turn cloudier last year, a particular belief strengthened: any contraction in the job market would give corporate leaders the leverage they needed to impose return-to-office (RTO) mandates on even the most reluctant workers. And certainly, we’ve seen examples of managers pressing the advantage, most recently Robert Iger at Disney. But despite the tech sector's layoffs, the overall job market has remained relatively worker-friendly, leading some employees to simply balk at demands that they come back into the office.

But this article from the New York Times paints a picture that might look a little bit like détente between management and the workforce. The Times states that, “Companies, industries and individual situations vary greatly on preferences and the feasibility of remote work, but on average, both sides have similar ideas about the ideal amount of time to spend in the office.” Specifically, pointing to the oft-cited U.S. Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, the Times notes that employees whose jobs enable them to work from home prefer remote work 2.8 days a week, versus the 2.3 days per week that employers want. So, roughly speaking, the argument is over three days a week versus two.

The first interesting thing about the data is that the average remote worker is, in fact, OK with going into the office instead of being fully remote. That suggests that many employees would concede that corporate leaders have a point when they espouse the virtues of coming into the office. The tricky part is that this is an average, and any given worker may have particularly strong preferences about remaining 100% remote. But still, this data suggests that an enterprise willing to institute a two-days-in-the-office policy ought to be broadly aligned with its workforce.

But if employers are willing to settle for two days a week in the office—and even if they get their preferred three days--they’re effectively deciding to reduce office space on a permanent basis (where they haven’t done so already), conceding that the everyone-in-the-office-all-the-time model is dead. And they’re committing to a new vision of the office—or at least they should be. What does that imply about where investments should be made for their meeting room estate and other key office-based technologies?

If we’re stumbling toward a long-term hybrid work model, it would make sense for collaboration technology to have a significant role, as indeed it is poised to do, embracing office-based technologies like wayfinding, desk-booking, and employee scheduling. Those tools will be important in letting employees plan their weeks so that they use the office for collaboration and are able to access the resources they’ll need while on site. At Enterprise Connect 2023, Craig Durr of Wainhouse Research will provide some detail and perspective on this trend in his session on Technology’s Role in the New Office Experience.

When it comes to the meeting function, Ira Weinstein of Recon Research will lead a session in our popular “Communications & Collaboration:2026” track on The Future of Video and Meeting Rooms: 2026, addressing questions including:

  • What will your meeting room estate look like in three years? Will you have more rooms? Smaller rooms? More collaboration spaces? Open spaces?
  • Do companies have to provide meeting equity? If so, will it ever be affordable and deployable?
  • What role will advanced features (AI, gestures, sentiment, voice control, VR / AR, touch, etc.) play in tomorrow's video meetings?
  • What future advancements will enhance the overall meeting experience?

“Meeting equity” is the issue that brings remote and in-office work together: How do you give an equally good experience to workers in both types of locations? And, as the session question suggests, is this really an achievable goal in the first place?

Finally, Prachi Nema of Omdia will lead an Enterprise Connect session delving into the office technology question, with a particular focus on the different approaches a global enterprise may need to take, depending on which regions it’s dealing with.

Enterprise Connect is where these big issues around the future of work get discussed, debated, and delineated. There’s lots more in our tracks on Video/AV, Workplace Strategies, and our seven other technology and market tracks. It’s a wealth of information and insight, and I hope you can join us in Orlando the week of March 27 to immerse yourself in all of it, as well as the continual networking and professional growth opportunities we have for you. I look forward to seeing you at Enterprise Connect 2023!