Written by: Anne-Marie Rouse, Senior Consultant, bluesalve partners

Just over a year ago, telecommuting was a rare occupation, performed by only 3.6% of U.S. employees. Thanks to the pandemic, today's number is at 44% and growing. Even as COVID restrictions recede, many people are now asking whether offices are even necessary anymore. Employers who believe that they are will face new challenges to attract and retain employees. Solutions to overcome these challenges are now getting their moment and will help define the shape of the smart office.

Do Your Workers Want To Come In Anymore?

For many people working from home for the first time, telecommuting has been everything they've dreamt of; easy, convenient, flexible. Most of them are not going to give that up quickly. A recent FlexJobs survey showed that 68% of telecommuters would look for a new job if their current job no longer allowed them to work at home.

Not every employee feels the same way. For many new telecommuters, working at home has been a nerve-wracking mashup of the personal and the professional. Video conferences during (home) school hours, potential business calls 24/7 and the cabin fever of hardly leaving home has made a lot of people anxious to get back to the "real" office.

The "office" is evolving from something fixed and literal to a distributed abstraction. Much of the workforce has become accustomed to online collaboration and a degree of autonomy over the safety of their environment. The next-gen smart office will accommodate these changes.

Hands-Off Office Life

Touchless technologies are set to explode in the workspace. Entries, faucets, sanitizers, light switches and more will be controlled by voice, smartphone, automation and even facial recognition. Many offices will use apps that have employees "check in" before arrival by answering a few health questions, with a temperature scan at the front door.

These apps can also be configured to let workers look for their own open space or conference room, change the lighting or temperature in whatever room or space they’re in, and communicate or chat with whomever is in the office with them at the time. Employees in all industries – not just tech -- are now accustomed to tools like Slack for instant communication and collaboration. Smart employers will settle on a common platform to cut down on user confusion and IT department overload.

Smart Occupancy

Occupancy sensing is also set to become a critical office addition. Expect to see it on desks and in conference rooms so that safe capacity can be monitored. If there are too many people in any given room, an alert is raised and the situation is remedied. In rotating hot desk scenarios, presence sensors can be used to assign a clean desk and even signal for sanitizing when a desk becomes vacant.

The smart office won't just be about devices doing things. It will be about using technology to keep employees safe, motivated and included. Technology that will help people best do their thing, no matter where they do it from.

At bluesalve partners, we have an active product development process we can share with clients to accelerate and improve their batting average. Better outcomes are good for everyone, the firms, the industry, and their customers. Let’s all get better together.

Bluesalve partners is committed to accelerating change, growth and success for our clients.