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Is the industry focus on hybrid work failing customers?

The great hybrid work experiment has been a qualified success. Companies can function with higher levels of remote work – though collaborating creatively, building company culture and retaining staff are much  more challenging with a distributed workforce.

So far, the answer from the AV industry has largely been that companies need to invest more in meeting room technology to improve “meeting equity” and the experience of remote workers. This has created the paradoxical situation where investment within the office is for the benefit of those outside of the office.

At the extreme, we have a specially designed Microsoft Teams room, with a curved table to improve the viewpoint of remote participants. However, such solutions do nothing for the people in the room. There’s no compelling reason for people to come into the office have such meetings. Why not simply have everyone at their own desks, or at home, and avoid buying new furniture?

As long as organisations have remote workers, they must consider how to best include those employees in meetings. However, while most employers in the major markets are now comfortable with the idea of a workforce distributed between the home and the office, they would prefer a bit more office, and a bit less home.

With Enterprise Connect just around the corner, it’s time to consider whether collaboration companies are offering solutions to the wrong problem.

Office occupancy as a coordination problem

While the costs of remote work may be mitigated through technology – cloud-communication platforms, improved video and audio for virtual meetings, and so on – it is much harder for technology to replicate the benefits of working in the same location.

In-person communication is richer, and much more effective at establishing rapport and loyalty between team members. People go to the office to spend time with colleagues, not for the pleasure of using a more efficient desk-booking system.

For workplace technology to supports its customers, it must enable in-person interactions. At Enterprise Connect later this month, I hope to see solutions which recognise the need for human beings to spend time with each other.

A low-rate office occupancy is, essentially, a coordination problem. People stay at home when there aren’t enough other people in the office to make it worth their while. Once a certain threshold of people is passed – and this could be on a team level, not a company level – then they are much more likely to make the trip.

Software solutions are well-placed to address this issue. For instance, location sharing via calendars, or meeting scheduling which considers participants’ locations, and first tries to select a time when as many people as possible can be in the same room.

Such simple solutions could make a huge difference in encouraging people back into centralised locations. Employees are open to spending more time in the office, but the experience must add value; and the value of the office is other people.

Alistair will be attending Enterprise Connect in Orlando, Florida, later this month. Connect with him at the event

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Alistair Johnston

About the author

Alistair Johnston

Alistair leads the Collaboration team at Futuresource Consulting, researching and consulting on the ways we work together, both in the office and remotely.

With a background in both operations and marketing, Alistair is particularly interested in how individuals and companies adapt under conditions of technological and social change.

Alistair has an economics degree from the University in Cambridge, and has previously worked as a business analyst, particularly within the financial sector.

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