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Future workplace planning emphasizes collaboration, flexibility

ServiceNow's Kevin Nanney discusses the technologies businesses are implementing to smartly manage and reshape their offices into flexible, collaborative neighborhood workspaces.

When it comes to planning the workplace and workforce of the future, many businesses have been forced to scrap some of their "old" future planning in the wake of COVID-19. As employees return to the office and a large majority of the workforce continues to be productive from home, companies are smartly reinventing and reshaping their workplaces into hybrid environments.

"There is no going back to the pre-pandemic workplace," declared an article in the Spring 2021 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review. "Organizations and individuals have had no choice but to discover new ways of working. Many have reported successfully implementing years' worth of digital transformation plans over the course of a few months."

Workplace planning options that were once considered unthinkable now include moving operations from cavernous to smaller facilities, establishing multiple satellite offices closer to workers' homes and maintaining the current footprint with alternations geared to greater flexibility for employees and management.

"I do see companies starting to set up and get ready for more of that hoteling experience or that hybrid workplace," said Kevin Nanney, senior director of product management at ServiceNow, during an interview by TechTarget's Jamison Cush. "You're seeing more neighborhood concepts ... collaboration areas" in rearranged office layouts.

Legacy systems are being replaced by collaborative real-time technologies and workflow engines that monitor software and hardware setups, real estate usage, and what employees are doing and where they're going when they come to the office, Nanney explained. Businesses, he added, will "start looking at heat maps and utilization and vacancy and occupancy rates of ... desk or collaboration areas or neighborhoods or rooms. And these are going to be analyzed over months and years" to determine whether to expand or consolidate workplaces.

In this video, Nanney and Cush discuss the cloud-based AI, machine learning, analytics, collaboration and automation technologies and applications businesses are implementing to consolidate digital workflows and maintain continuity in newly configured hybrid workplaces.

Jamison Cush 00:00

What are the major ways office layouts will change as a result of COVID-19?

Kevin Nanney 00:27

That's a great question. Office layouts are being rearranged or the thinking about how they're going to be rearranged has been taking place for a few months now. I really think there's going to be a learning process here. I do see companies starting to set up and get ready for more of that hoteling experience or that hybrid workplace. So, name desks -- you're going to the same desk every day. Some of that will probably go away at first. And you're seeing more neighborhood concepts. For example, I'm in the R&D section and [in] research and development, we've got certain neighborhoods that might get set aside within our buildings for us to go back to and they're really looked at as these collaboration areas. So, the layouts are going to change. It's not going to be so much of these assigned desks and assigned rooms and whatnot; it's going to mainly be organized by these neighborhood concepts and looked at by capacity, usage and things like that. That'll continue to change as people start to return to work and use the offices more.

Jamison Cush 01:39

That sounds like there's going to be a pretty large shift in employee culture and workplace behaviors. I'm coming from an office that had a lot of collaboration spaces, and it was an open floor plan. Is that going to be gone? And then how is that going to influence how employees interact with one another once we get out of this?

Kevin Nanney 01:59

I would think the fact that you're coming from an open office with lots of collaboration space, more offices are going to lean toward that versus more set cubes and spaces. I think there's going to be more collaboration areas; I think they're going to be set up differently. You're going to have collaboration areas. That capacity and that usage is going to be monitored like it hasn't been before. We're going to be looking at capacities. And I think what you're going to see is more of these workplaces will be evolving. They'll start looking at heat maps and utilization, and vacancy and occupancy rates of whether it's desk or collaboration areas, or neighborhoods or rooms. And these are going to be analyzed over months and years. And then these offices in these real estate areas that companies use, they're going to change whether it's expansion or consolidation, depending on what the usage and utilization of that space looks like.

Jamison Cush 02:58

As these companies change, what sort of technologies are they going to be leaning on in order to accomplish that?

Kevin Nanney 03:03

I think what you're seeing, and we're feeling that as well, is there's a lot more spotlight on the workplace or real estate teams. Whereas before there was probably the technologies that were being used were a little more, and I hate to use the word 'legacy,' but a lot of the technologies out there were older. And now you're looking for more of these collaborative technologies, things that are more real time, newer workflow engines that can really take a look at usage. People are coming in. What are they doing when they come to the office? Well, how do you measure what people are doing and where they're going? When did they come to the office? You're looking at software, you're looking at hardware setup to monitor usage of real estate as well. That's something that really did not get a lot of importance before, I would argue, in the corporate workplace.

Jamison Cush 04:00

Let's break it down. I'm in an office, post-COVID-19, a reopened office. What does the conference room look like?

Kevin Nanney 04:09

It just depends -- the conference room could look the same, [but] there's just not as many chairs. Instead of a single table being in that conference room, there could be four smaller pods setup with chairs that are physically distanced. We're seeing all kinds of permutations to what the conference room used to look like. Some places you might not see a conference room; there might not be a glass wall with a table in there that people go in to talk. It might be an open floor plan with that table now out in the open, that's more spaced out. It really just depends on what that looks like. And again, I argue, I think people are going to do a lot of learning when they first come back to work, and they start to look at usage and collaboration areas and desks and neighborhoods. There's going to be this evolving usage and shift over time.

Jamison Cush 05:04

What about break rooms and lunchrooms? I think that's my concern. I don't want to lose my shared coffee machine in my office. Are we seeing the end of those amenities?

Kevin Nanney 05:18

I don't know. I doubt we'll see the end. But you might not see the soda machine in the corner where you go get your own drink. It might be more green -- bring your own beverage to work, whether it's coffee or soda or water. I don't know what those shared rooms are going to look like. I know they're closed right now. And even as people come back to work, they're probably going to stay closed. I can't imagine companies are going to want people to congregate in certain areas, whether it's a break room or a coffee room. What kinds of technologies can we help put in place to say, 'Hey, people still need breaks, people still need these things at work'? How can we accommodate that with outside food requests, outside catering requests, automated coffee runs? What are some of the things that we can automate or put in front of the employee as we continue to engage with them, from a workplace perspective, to make sure that they still have that same feeling when they're at work, even though it might not be everyone's in the kitchen, at the same time, eating up their leftovers, or grabbing a soda or coffee?

Jamison Cush 06:29

We also still have to use the bathroom. And I'm guessing the restrooms are going to be something that a lot of these businesses and facilities are going to have to consider. Or there's got to be a consideration there.

Kevin Nanney 06:43

For sure. And I've seen some setups around this. And we go out into the world today and the restrooms are different. If you go to these different places, different areas of the restroom are closed. They're trying to instill physical distancing inside the restroom. I think you're going to see that in the workplace as well. And so there's going to be new protocols; there might be new capacity constraints for the restroom, only so many people can be in there at a time. And then how is that enforced? Or how is that read? You know, those are another use of technology and protocols that companies are going to have to set up.

Jamison Cush 07:25

I almost feel guilty putting you on the spot with this one, but considering everything we just talked about, how can companies safely reopen their offices?

Kevin Nanney 07:38

There really are a lot of answers here and a ton of directions that we can take that question. I think the No. 1 thing is to safely reopen the office. Corporations, workplace teams, CHROs, CFOs -- they really need to look at what can we put in place to engage with that employee, to engage with your employees. Overcommunicate, overshare and make sure that there's a lot of self service for coming back to the office, whether it's let me reserve a workplace, let me look at capacity and see where can I go grab a collaboration area for myself and my team? Having the technology in place, and overcommunicating with the employees, it's going to be the No. 1 thing to begin to bring employees back to the workplace.

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