Work life as we once knew it is gone forever. What’s next is a matter of urgent debate among today’s business leaders.
Employee preferences have inextricably changed. Flexibility and mobility have replaced standardized routines and once cutting-edge in-office perks as the top priorities for workers. Meanwhile, leaders are grappling with the productivity and workplace culture implications of widespread, long-term distributed teams.
These trends have already generated minor workplace alterations, like Work-from-Work Wednesdays and one Zoom, all Zoom policies, that try to impart some semblance of intentional design to this new way of working.
The year ahead will more significantly define the future of work. Specifically, new design methodologies, updated communication and collaborative best practices, and novel operational imperatives will help resolve the uncertainty about the future of work.
For employees and business leaders looking to get ahead of the curve, here are the top office trends that will shape our work lives in 2022.
1. The Office Is Just A Headset Away
Before the pandemic, physical offices offered people a centralized location to focus on their professional responsibilities while creating opportunities for communication and collaboration.
Restoring this equilibrium in a hybrid work setting has been challenging. Employees may be more productive working remotely, but they also work more hours than ever before, suggesting that focus and attention may be difficult to attain outside the office.
Meanwhile, communication and collaboration are significant challenges for hybrid teams. Off-site workers may struggle to engage with their peers without the “watercooler” and serendipitous encounters that defined the old way of working. While video conferencing puts face-to-face conversations just a click away, remote workers can feel isolated when they can’t hear an on-site speaker or banter.
Virtual reality (full disclosure: my company’s area of expertise) is closing the gap, putting many on-site processes just a headset away. For example, immersed, a VR startup looking to reorient the way work happens, gives remote workers easy access to a “solo mode” VR experience that allows people to work without distractions while incorporating multiple monitors and other productivity resources into the platform.
Similarly, the increasing popularity and affordability of Oculus VR headsets and their Horizon Workrooms product means that people can have immersive, collaborative connections anytime from anywhere in the world. VR meetings are a more compelling alternative to their videoconferencing counterparts by putting everyone in the same space, restoring the parity lost when many people left the office.
It’s increasingly apparent that companies won’t return to pre-pandemic norms, but VR puts the office experience just a headset away. Expect more companies to experiment with this technology to enhance employee productivity and collaborative possibilities moving forward.
2. Physical Spaces Bring People Together
Many companies want their employees to return to the office at least sometimes. If productivity is location-agnostic, then people will need a better reason to succumb to a commute and come to the office.
In other words, on-site work will have to provide something that people can’t get at home. Moving forward, the physical space needs to be a place that brings people together. Expect companies to redesign spaces to significantly reduce or eliminate individual workstations, instead providing places where people can connect like never before.
As Patrick Braswell, senior managing director of a marketplace that connects businesses with their ideal space, explained to me recently in an interview, “At home, people congregate in the kitchen. I expect many companies to create these incredible kitchen areas and cafe spaces where people can bump into each other. By putting whiteboards and other collaborative resources near these places, businesses will propel collaboration in new and meaningful ways.”
Since most companies are unlikely to abandon their offices altogether, these places will be optimized for a hybrid reality, functioning as spaces to bring people together, not just locations where employees clock in to accomplish their to-do list.
3. Weird Will Be Normal
The continuing pandemic is loosening our grip on entrenched norms. That’s why people should expect that the year ahead will be defined by continued changing places and processes.
Nowhere is this more evident than at Google, which is redesigning its headquarters around team pods consisting of chairs, desks, whiteboards, storage units and other resources — all of which can be quickly rearranged to meet the team’s changing demands. Robots and inflatable balloon walls reorient the room when employees need more privacy, adding new dynamism to once-stagnant spaces.
Collectively, interest in “agile workspace” strategies has increased by more than 500% since the pandemic disrupted workplace operations. Employees should expect that the outcomes from these efforts will be as multifaceted as they are unique.
The year ahead promises to answer some questions about the future of work while creating new ones as our professional lives continue to change and adapt to shifting trends and operational realities.