Hybrid Work: How Companies Can Help Employees Find Their Way — Literally

Author: Christian Gilby, Senior Director – Enterprise Product Marketing, Juniper Networks

Christian GilbyOver the past two years, employees across industries have had to adapt to a new world as remote work became the norm overnight. Now, as mask and vaccine mandates are lifted and distancing guidelines loosened, these employees are being asked to return to the office. All too often, they are feeling lost. Literally.

Having been absent from their place of work for so long, many have forgotten the location of the various conference rooms. Or the names of those rooms have changed. Shared resources, like printers, may be in new locations. Some employees who were hired remotely have never even been inside the building where their office is located.

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“Rightsizing” Takes on a New Meaning

These wayfinding problems are not trivial for employees who are already struggling to find their post-COVID work/life balance. The challenges are even more daunting for HR and real estate teams tasked with accommodating those returning workers. For example, what if those lost employees manage to reach the conference room they’re looking for, only to find it occupied by another group? What if, because of new hybrid work schedules, half the conference rooms are empty most of the time?

Determining how much office space and how many conference rooms or huddle areas are needed is a difficult task, made even more difficult by the new dominance of the hybrid business model. A full 74% of companies indicate they are using it or planning  to implement it on a permanent basis, and 63% of high-growth companies are committed to a “productivity anywhere” approach. Hoteling vs. assigning permanent space adds to the dilemma for real estate planners. How many employees will really make use of a conventional office, and how many are perfectly well served by a “hot desk?”

Answering these questions properly will deliver two important business results: optimized real estate spend and higher productivity of workers when they are in the office. There are also human issues related to morale and retention. A survey taken during the height of the pandemic revealed that 75% of employees felt the aspect of their work that suffered most from being out of the office was collaboration.

If companies want to rebuild camaraderie and benefit from a return to face-to-face collaboration, they need to come up with good solutions, not only in terms of scheduling, but physical space as well.

A Data-Driven Solution

IT can play a major role in making this happen by providing indoor location services. These services not only help employees get to where they need to be, they also provide real estate teams and HR with hard data about important issues such as desk and conference room occupancy.

Indoor location services have been gaining traction for some time. The market was estimated at $7 billion in 2020, with retail and healthcare accounting for roughly half of use cases. In retail, one of the fastest growing markets, these services help customers find what they’re looking for and, in the aggregate, help stores plan and optimize traffic patterns. What’s important here is that these capabilities directly map to the needs of companies “re-boarding” large numbers of employees.

Employees using a simple mobile app with GPS-like functionality can find their way to their desk (permanent or just for the day), the conference room where they’re expected for a meeting, or “things” like printers, fax machines and the like. Real estate planners can determine the occupancy of desks and conference rooms by tracking the movements of employees over extended periods of time, so they can decide how much space is needed based on data, not guesswork.

AI-Driven Technology

The technology behind today’s advanced location services is known as Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE), a subset of the well-known Bluetooth protocol commonly used to connect wireless headsets, keyboards and hands-free systems to our smart phones and computers. In advanced BLE systems, an antenna array locates tags on employee ID badges or in fixed locations, using AI to calibrate the system to an accuracy range of one to three meters. As a result, employees can easily figure out where they are and where they need to be, while planners can build a rich data set upon which to make decisions.

All in all, the return to the office presents a complex set of challenges ranging from personal issues like transportation and childcare to business decisions involving scheduling, collaboration, optimizing productivity and long-term real estate planning. The best solutions to the problems discussed in this article will come from a data-driven approach where HR, real estate teams and IT work together.

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