by Marshall Mosher, founder and CEO of Vestigo, works to elevate remote teams in virtual reality.
Working life as we knew it before is gone forever. What’s next is a topic of urgent debate among today’s business leaders.
Staff preferences have changed inextricably. Flexibility and mobility have once replaced standard procedures and advanced office privileges as top priorities for workers. Meanwhile, leaders grapple with the implications for workplace culture and productivity for large-scale, long-term teams.
These trends have already brought about minor workplace tweaks, like Work-from-Work Wednesdays and Zoom, and all Zoom policies, that try to transfer some semblance of intentional design to this new way of working.
Next year will define the future of work more clearly. Specifically, new design methodologies, updated communication, collaborative best practices, and new operational imperatives will help resolve uncertainty about the future of business.
For employees and business leaders looking to get ahead of the curve, here are the top office trends that will shape our working lives in 2022.
1. The office is just a headphone
Before the pandemic, physical offices provided people with a central location to focus on their professional responsibilities while creating opportunities for networking and collaboration.
Restoring this balance in a hybrid work environment has been challenging. Employees may be more productive working remotely, but they are also working more hours than ever before, indicating that it can be difficult to achieve focus and attention outside of the office.
Meanwhile, communication and collaboration present major challenges for mixed teams. Off-site workers may struggle to deal with peers without the “water cooler” and the serendipitous encounters that defined the old way of working. While video conferencing allows face-to-face conversations one click away, remote workers can feel isolated when they can’t hear a speaker or banter on site.
Virtual Reality (Full disclosure: My company’s area of expertise) bridges the gap, and puts many operations in the location away from a headset. For example, a virtual reality startup looking to redirect the way we work is giving remote workers easy access to a “single mode” virtual reality experience that allows people to work without distraction while integrating multiple monitors and other productivity resources into the platform.
Likewise, the growing popularity and affordability of the Oculus VR headset and its Horizon Workrooms product means that people can have immersive collaborative communications anytime from anywhere in the world. VR meetings are a more compelling alternative to their video conferencing counterparts by putting everyone in the same place, restoring the parity lost when many people left the office.
It’s increasingly clear that companies won’t be returning to pre-pandemic standards, but virtual reality is putting the office experience off the headset. Expect more companies to experiment with this technology to enhance employee productivity and collaboration possibilities going forward.
2. Physical spaces bring people together
Many companies want their employees to return to the office at least occasionally. If productivity is not location specific, people will need a better reason to give up on the commute and come into the office.
In other words, working on the site should provide something that people cannot get at home. Moving forward, the physical space should be a place that brings people together. Expect companies to redesign spaces to significantly reduce or eliminate individual workstations, rather than providing places people can connect to like never before.
As Patrick Braswell, Senior Managing Director of the Market Connecting Companies to Their Perfect Spaces, recently explained to me in an interview, “At home, people congregate in the kitchen. I expect many companies to create these great kitchen spaces and cafes where people can bump into each other. From By placing whiteboards and other collaborative resources near these places, companies will drive collaboration in new and meaningful ways.”
Since most companies are unlikely to abandon their offices entirely, these places will be optimized for a hybrid reality, serving as spaces to bring people together, not just locations where employees work to get their to-do list done.
3. Weird would be normal
The persistence of the pandemic loosens our grip on established norms. That’s why people should expect that the next year will be defined by ever-changing places and processes.
Nowhere is this more evident than at Google, which is redesigning its headquarters around team incubators made up of chairs, desks, whiteboards, storage and other resources — all of which can be quickly rearranged to meet the team’s changing demands. Robots and inflatable balloon walls re-orient the room when employees need more privacy, adding a new dynamic to previously stagnant spaces.
Collectively, interest in “flexible workspaces” strategies has increased more than 500% since the pandemic disrupted workplace operations. Employees should expect the results of these efforts to be as multifaceted as they are unique.
The coming year promises to answer some questions about the future of work while creating new ones as our careers continue to change and adapt to changing trends and operational realities.