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WorkSpace Wednesday: Future of Work is Still Anyone’s Guess

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With COVID cases going down in the U.S., people are finally shedding their masks and returning to normal life. Retail shopping is rebounding, travel bookings are up, and the box office is booming. But just as these products and experiences are rebounding, one element of pre-pandemic life hasn’t fully returned just yet — and that’s full-time in-office working.
 
This isn’t to say that enterprises aren’t broaching the topic of return to the office; it’s just that they are doing it in a myriad of ways and at various times. In a recent WorkSpace Connect article, Eric Krapf, GM of Enterprise Connect, shares how two examples of enterprises that are bracing for the return to the office. Apple is calling employees back to the office in September for three days a week (two days remote), and German software company SAP is opting instead for a 100% flexibility plan, Krapf shared. Apple even detailed the specific days that would be in-office (Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday) and work from home (Wednesday and Friday).
 
For enterprises shifting back into the office, even in a hybrid work model, many are redesigning and rethinking how they use their physical space, as my colleague Beth Schultz reported in her latest WorkSpace Connect article that looks at research coming from commercial real estate firm CBRE. During an event hosted by facility management software provider SpaceIQ, a CBRE representative shared that a large majority of their customers (86% of CBRE’s occupancy management accounts) are mobilizing or considering mobilizing around activity-based workspaces. Generally, an activity-based workspace consists of twice as many "me" spaces (spaces for individual work) as "we" spaces (conference rooms, huddle rooms, etc.).
 
For further insights on how spaces and strategies are changing, Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst of Metrigy, shared his research on the topic, along with five questions that you should ask yourself before the return-to-office. The first one — and the biggest: “Why do you want to bring employees back to the office?” While many managers believe that employees are more productive in the office or that they prefer to be in a physical office, Lazar stated it's more complicated. Many remote work challenges can be addressed with collaboration and work-management tools and training, Lazar added. Of the 476 organizations Metrigy surveyed, 34% are making changes to their physical office to accommodate social distancing and COVID protocols, though he noted vaccines might change the extent of these changes, Lazar said.
 
All of this is to say that predicting exactly how the future of work will look like is becoming more difficult — or should I say more individualized. Enterprises still on the fence will have to decide soon whether to continue with a remote-work focus, pivot back into the office, or go the often-discussed hybrid route. Each path has its unique challenges and opportunities. For enterprises that go with the industry best guess (hybrid), one version might look dramatically different than another’s. Ultimately though, each option is about empowering employees, regardless of where they work.
 
And guessing where we will be in one year’s time is a fool’s errand, but at Enterprise Connect 2021, we hope to provide enterprises with tools to cope with the evolution. During the “Workplace Strategies” track, industry-leading voices will share their perspective on where we are, what we learned over the last year and a half, and most importantly, where we are heading, as we finally put the pandemic behind us once and for all.

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