As the corporate world collectively comes off mute, slippers are swapped for shoes and commuting is again part of our daily routines, we’re stepping out of 18 months of remote work and into hybrid working.
As the hybrid model transitions from theory to reality, we must assess whether this way of working is in fact working. But we must also look to the future, and understand how technological progress will continue to drive change in how we work.
The property industry’s goal in the world of hybrid working is clear: make the physical office a hub that employees are drawn towards, not forced into. At the heart of this has to be seamless and effective technology, and it’s critical that landlords are able to offer tenants technological insight on how to make the office as effective as possible via recommendations, or software and hardware integration.
In WiredScore’s offices, we’ve installed a variety of technologies to enable a sense of collaboration, such as 360-degree cameras for all meeting rooms to allow those at home to feel like they’re in the room; occupancy detection sensors throughout our office that tell us how many (and which) of our desks are in use; and an integrated desk-booking system. To achieve this efficiently, we leveraged our landlord’s experience with a specific vendor, which significantly eased the process.
Make the physical office a hub that employees are drawn towards, not forced into
Looking to the future, Facebook’s (now Meta’s) Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella have spent much of 2021 defining their companies’ future in respect to the metaverse. The word comes from science fiction and refers to a 3D virtual space (or parallel universe).
While still an ambiguous term, the ‘metaverse’ is used to talk about both the next iteration of the internet and humanity’s possible digital future. In fact, Zuckerberg appears to be taking the metaverse so seriously that he has changed the company name of Facebook to ‘Meta’ in a bold rebranding.
The first step on the path to the metaverse is online gaming. But, for the property world, the most interesting step is in its embryonic stage – the enterprise metaverse. This combines digital twins, IoT sensors and mixed reality, to create a space that allows for both physical and digital interactions, such as virtual reality tours of office space.
The implications of the metaverse for the future of the office are clear from Meta’s newest app, Horizon Workrooms, where virtual reality headsets allow colleagues to interact using digital avatars in a shared online office. This is much more than ‘Zoom in a VR headset’; not only are you interacting with avatars, but you are sharing digital whiteboards and enjoying directional audio.
I’m not optimistic about a virtual-only experience in the short term for two reasons. Firstly, VR headsets still seem to make most people nauseous, so I don’t think we’ll want to spend hours each day on them. But secondly, and more importantly, I think future technology will have to integrate the physical and the digital in equal measure, rather than abandoning the former for the latter. Colleagues who are near each other want to use that proximity to improve collaboration, not ignore it.
Time will tell whether we move from hybrid working to a permanent future in the metaverse. But until then, we know that offices must be ready to facilitate the technological flexibility that the modern workforce demands.
William Newton is president and managing director of WiredScore