For the workplace to recover, expectations need to continue to evolve to support a changing office environment. Remote work opportunities will continue to exist alongside standard in-office opportunities, and collectively they will foster a bevy of other experiences. Working remotely, for example, might entail working from a coffee shop, or a public park or library, as opposed to working from a home office.
These new experiences and opportunities will naturally introduce a rise in demand for digital workplace roles. We will need people to manage and facilitate these experiences, as well as organize the interactions between various touchpoints across a distributed workforce. Already, we've seen new roles crop up to support virtual work, virtual meetings, virtual customer experience, and even in-office needs, such as: contact tracers, digital producers, freelance content creators, workplace wellness experts, virtual technicians, IoT maintenance and much more.
These roles, however, are plucked to fulfill niche use cases. Lifelong learners with the skills and tenacity can adapt to the ever-changed and diverse workplace settings. But what roles, and people, have emerged to support truly hybrid workplace expectations? What will the long-term effects be to the distributed workforce?
Desk Management & The New Workplace
A more robust approach to long-term use cases and jobs in the workplace need to account for how the future of work is evolving. Offices - and the spaces within - are also transforming. They will look, feel, and react differently.
Thanks to a significant boon in desk scheduling and conference room booking software, companies are now adopting a flexible work model. These tools help manage on-site capacities and meet unique demands within the office that we're witnessing in transformative work cultures. Desk booking software facilitates the reservation, usage, and later, freeing up active spaces, through an always-on, mobile-friendly workplace experience platform.
This can require an entirely new role, the "desk manager" or resource allocation specialist. They are directly responsible for managing the use of dynamic spaces and workstations redefining what workplace readiness means.
They must ensure that all workers have space(s), regardless of their working configuration. Moreover, they help facilitate and monitor the systems used to reserve, assign, and administer various resources, including desks and offices.
The Shift to a Shared Desk Model
There are several reasons why the shared desk model, or flex-desk approach, is happening.
A reduction in office space, along with the need to keep workers safely spread out, translates to a work-wide desk shortage. There will be fewer spaces and fewer workstations for the same amount of people, maybe more as companies return to full operations and bring on new talent.
Less space, with no reduction in employees, exacerbates the need to adopt a shared desk model. Employees will need space to work when they're on-site, whether temporarily or permanently. Co-working is more in your face than ever, as the balance between traditional office space and more dynamic areas also sees a shift.
Considering only remote work that can be completed without a major loss in productivity, about 20 to 25% of workforces in advanced economies could effectively work from home between three and five days per week.
Since some employees will be working remotely, 2-5 days per week, there is no need for a 1:1 desk allocation. Workstations can be freed up and repurposed when no one is using them. To do this, you need flexible office space, filled with flex desk seating or smart desking solutions.
This approach aids in restructuring the traditional workplace to meet the demands of a dynamic, and distributed workforce, where desks, offices, conference rooms, shared spaces, and all related locations are adapted to improve flexibility to manage schedules, working conditions, location, and much more.
Cross-Functional Workplace Roles To Support Flex Desks
Do you have the capability to create a new role, or even a new division to support flex desks? Yes? That's great. You're now the Chief Desk Manager. In most cases however, this emerging need to manage capacities and multi-site occupancies does require a cross-functional group across the enterprise to manage different facets of how to allocate, manage, and communicate shared desk policies.
Responsible for maintaining the availability, function, and cleanliness of workspaces for employees. They must ensure all desks, shared spaces, and conference rooms are kept to a standard. Workstations must be cleaned after use, and outfitted with appropriate equipment for each type of user. Facilities must also provide desk and meeting room metadata, whenever applicable, to aid in the management of desk and space booking solutions. Facilities also have to work with cleaning and safety crews to activate or deactivate inventory based on various health and safety conditions.
Similar to facilities, real estate crews must leverage available space as a tool to protect the workforce. Real estate is responsible for the entire workplace and square footage on a local, regional, and global level and must therefore rely on sharing digital and physical information to create safe, protected spaces that allow workers to feel welcome and valued. Real estate needs to understand current space usage, occupancy trends, and safety requirements in an effort to control ROI and the ongoing management of the physical footprint across the organization.
As has always been true, communication and transparency are key to efficient HR groups - especially so in a hybrid work world. Employees need to be armed with the right resources and information to make the best possible decision for their work-lives, productivity, and beyond. Employees must understand health and safety protocols, workplace occupancy rates, workplace etiquette etc., all of which can only surface from the root of the HR department as they collect this data, understand it, process it, and relay it in a more relatable manner to employees.
Responsible for meeting the day-to-day functions of workers. Are on-site and off-site solutions giving employees exactly what they need, in regards to support, value, and usability? Workplace experience specialists ensure information, processes, and expectations are clearly communicated and upheld in regards to how to book a desk, reserve a conference room, and coexist in a flexible work environments.
On the foundational side of these digital solutions, IT support for employees are invaluable. They help ensure all digital touchpoints, app requests, and technical activations are both active and reliable, 100% of the time. Through their work, smart office solutions streamline workplace use cases through a single, unified mobile command center. This champions value to employees and teams through increased consistency and usability amongst workplace productivity, communication, and collaboration tools.
Implementing a flexible, co-working model introduces many new opportunities. And all of these shared responsibilities, new or otherwise, align under one workplace goal: keep employees connected to the workplace and ensure their day-to-day experiences are as accessible and frictionless as possible.
That's because employee engagement is an instrumental component of any successful operation. If you can keep workers happy, productivity remains high, the company's reputation benefits and customers will better taken care of. It's an outward trickle effect.
Engagement is especially critical with workers spread out across a vast distance, whether on-site or off. Collaboration is more difficult to foster when people are working from a bevy of office and off-site locations, including coffee shops, home offices, etc.
The reality is - maintaining a smart desking workplace environment is not complex. The right tools make it easier, and a solid buy-in ensures the solutions are leveraged appropriately and generate enough data to continue improving the system. But the responsibilities do need to be shared to provide and receive as much contextual data as possible about how employees are moving, utilizing, and operating within physical spaces. In other words, the digital components feed the physical ones in many ways, and neither can exist without the other.