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The Office of the Future Is All About Experience

User experience is a term that has been around for a long time. It was coined nearly 30 years ago to describe the quality of a person’s interaction with a product or service. Though it sounds like business jargon, user experience actually suggests a higher purpose: to put humans at the center of design.

The concept has been applied to technology devices, apps, and websites, and it’s time to apply it to the office as well. Historically, the concept of the office has been pretty simple: Employees wanted, and companies were expected to provide a comfortable, well-organized space (perhaps with free snacks in the break room).

Not anymore. During the pandemic, many people experienced the perks of working remotely, and the majority of them are now calling for a hybrid work environment.

In response, organizations are implementing hybrid models that combine remote work with time in the office. In fact, tech giants Google, Facebook, and Apple just recently announced their plans for bringing employees back into the workplace.

The very concept of the office is undergoing a huge transformation. The office of the future is now everywhere: at home, on the train, in a coffee shop. Hybrid doesn’t just encompass a home or business office—it’s any place or location with connectivity.

The office will no longer be a place where everyone goes five days a week to sit at an assigned desk. Instead, it must accommodate unprecedented fluidity: Whoever is in the office on any given day will want to choose spaces that most closely align with what they want to accomplish, and with whom, at different points throughout the day.

The onus is on companies to ensure that the office of the future provides an outstanding user experience for workers. Think about what a major shift this is. Rather than the top-down approach where an organization imposes a certain office design on workers, sometimes without considering how people actually want to work, post-pandemic flexibility requires that employees’ needs come first.

As a report co-authored by Deloitte and Gartner put it, “By putting workers at the center of design, it becomes possible to create a digital workplace that transforms how people collaborate, get work done, and ultimately do business.”

How can businesses accomplish this?

The office of the future will require more than just an airy, open floor plan and ergonomic furniture. Many workers returning to the office are millennials (they’re the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, after all), digital natives who have grown accustomed to instant gratification. They expect to have the information and tools they need to do their jobs at their fingertips at all times.

Millennials are choosing where they work based on a new set of values, with flexibility and a focus on employee wellness being top requirements. If businesses don’t prioritize these things, workers aren’t afraid to walk—the great resignation is still alive and well. Companies that recognize this and invest in workplace experience have a far better chance of attracting and retaining great talent.

The new office environment will need to be interactive and flexible with an emphasis on saving employees time. Companies would be wise to invest in apps that let workers interact with their colleagues and their office environment seamlessly. Think apps that tell employees which desks and conference rooms are free at what times, or which of their colleagues are in the office that day and when they’re available to meet or go out for lunch. This tech needs to be mobile so that employees’ can make decisions regarding their workday wherever they happen to be.

Perhaps most importantly, everything should be in one tool in order to give workers more time back in their day. Whether someone is trying to order food for a team lunch, report a spill in the hallway, or figure out where they need to park that day, everything they need as it relates to the office should be achievable in a single interface. Employees don’t have the time to be jumping from mobile apps to apps on their desktop to SaaS portals on top of juggling their workload, so anything companies can do to save workers time is paramount.

Safety is also top of mind as we transition out of the pandemic. Companies must make workers' health and safety a top priority and address the needs of people who have concerns about returning to the office. Management needs to do more than just offer lip service: Companies should make it easy for employees to reserve socially distanced workspaces, opt to join crowded meeting rooms remotely, and ascertain the cleaning status and air quality of designated work zones. Companies that want, or are required, to demand health attestation surveys or proof of vaccination can streamline the ask so that employees can comply with just a few taps in an app.

The world has changed, and the office is changing along with it. Employee experience has now become the true north in office design and technology, and that will remain the case long after the pandemic has subsided. Now is the time for companies to invest in technology that will make hybrid work a delightful experience for workers.

Soumya Das is COO at Inpixon.

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