Today’s Hybrid Workspaces: Transforming the Collaboration Paradigm

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By Jeff Volpe and Mark Coxon

Businesses have learned many lessons as they work their way through the pandemic, not the least of which is the important role of collaboration tools in navigating a socially distanced world.

At the outset, remote work for many was treated as a temporary work-at-home experiment that would soon pass. More than a year later, the remote work model has taken hold to the point that it is now an integral part of workplace culture and office design strategies moving forward.

As organizations of all sizes and across all sectors transition to hybrid, they are looking to digital innovation in order to provide the agility and fluidity needed to accommodate a newdistributed, collaborative work model supporting work from home, mobile and in office workers. From the traditional workspace perspective, not only does this mean an overhaul of existing office design principles, it also demands a strategic approach to AV and IT convergence that seamlessly and democratically interconnects all employees regardless of their location and function.

This new reality is one that is here to stay for the foreseeable future, according to a recent Gartner study. It forecasts that by the end of 2023, 40% of organizations will move to “anywhere operations”, blending virtual and physical experiences, for increased productivity and customer reach.

It is encouraging to see that the past few months have led to a number of positive developments that are advancing the hybrid workspace transformation: organizations have been able to accelerate their digital transformation plans at an unprecedented rate; collaborative tools and cloud computing are proving their worth in connecting disparate workforces seamlessly and effectively; and employee productivity is holding steady, and in some cases improving, in remote, mobile or hybrid models.

As companies ease back into reopening their workspaces in whole or in part, organizations are now having to rethink the future of those spaces to accommodate a more geographically dispersed and hybrid workforce. Much of that success will rely on upending the fundamentals that were dominating office design for the past decade. Open spaces, multi-function conference rooms, huddle spaces, and collaborative desk placement were all conceived to encourage spontaneous encounters and allow teams to work and transition between locations collectively.

Now, social distancing practices are reinstating the physical spaces between departments and activities that preceded the open office model. Gathering spaces will be earmarked for specific functions; huddle rooms reconfigured for seamless connectivity and single use; hotelling style workstations assigned to specific individuals each day; and conferences rooms that equally support interaction and collaboration for those on site and virtual participants.

The challenge is now on business owners to rethink their AV/IT infrastructure in a way that transcends the physical barriers, building the new hybrid culture that will support workers for months, and likely years, to come. That infrastructure must be optimized with technology and innovative design to support themixed workforce that shifts effortlessly between home, mobile and in-office environments.

With today’s integrated AV and IT technologies, organizations can create new, more collaborative meeting spaces that are efficient, productive and engaging for all participants – wherever they are. From wireless presentations displays, to interactive large format displays with whiteboarding software, to USB-Cenabled desktop monitors, to large commercial displays for messaging and wayfinding. The current challenge for business leaders is choosing the right tools and applying them in the right way to support operations and facilitate seamless, personal interaction within the workforce. In the past, we were accustomed to having remote workers log in on their laptops to join conference room meetings virtually, appearing to those onsite only as an array of postage-stamp sized images on a small screen. Today, however organizations need to ensure democratized representation in meetings, for remote and onsite participants.

The quality of the interaction has to be as compelling as an in-person meeting, whether workers are joining from their homes, or the next office. The better the quality of the interaction both visually and vocally, the stronger the team building and collaboration activities.

The fundamentals of a completely interconnected and unified communications ecosystem range from large format displays that expand the visual footprint to a high level and interactive whiteboarding software for sharing thoughts and materials online, to professional-quality digital web cameras, lighting and microphones.

With advanced interactive software for example, participantscan post comments in real-time, write and draw naturally on screen, facilitate interactive sidebars, and perform every other function they would normally do when physically in the room. Digital webcam’s and microphones running over IP-based networks not only elevate the visual and audio quality to a professional level, many now have added features such as voice activated response.

On the more futuristic front, technologies such as augmented reality can be leveraged to create an even more immersive experience, allowing a remote participant to virtually move through the room and view others’ reactions.

Conferences and brainstorming sessions are not the only area that can benefit from advanced AV/IT integration. Huddle rooms are another space we can expect to see changes. Originally designed for smaller in-person group discussions, these spaces will be adapted and fully equipped with interactive displays, cameras and microphones for conducting virtual meetings with team members within or without the building. Even individual desks will become fully-equipped hotelling style collaborative workstations for the designated user.

The past year has provided a valuable lesson in how strategic office redesign combined with communications and collaborative technologies can play a critical role in driving productivity and building hybrid culture in a socially distanced world. We are learning to adapt to a paradigm shift where collaboration can no longer rely solely on facetoface communications. Rather, collaboration must be supported by an advanced level of digital capabilities that can replicate the in-person experience as much as humanly possible. The good news is, the tools are available. All that’s needed is a shift in perspective to unlock their potential.

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Jeff Volpe is President, Americas for ViewSonic, a leading global provider of interactive and collaborative visual engagement solutions for enterprise, education, consumer and commercial markets.  

Mark Coxon is Technology Leader at Tangram Interiors where he helps people connect the dots between the devices in their pockets and the spaces that they live and work.  

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