Preparing For The Post-Pandemic Office

CIOs have a major role in getting the workplace together for those who will be returning, argues Nintex’s Terry Simpson.

The workplace has been dramatically changed by Covid—and not just because so many employees are now working remotely, says Terry Simpson, senior solutions engineer at Nintex, a process management and automation software provider based in Bellevue, Washington.

New technologies that employees have depended on the last nearly two years are shaping expectations for the office as well, from improved conference call capabilities to better desk options. Simpson spoke to StrategicCIO360 about shifting expectations, changing dynamics—and how CIOs need to respond.

As employees return to the office in the coming months, what changes might be in store for them in the post-pandemic workplace? What changes have businesses made during the pandemic that will continue once work is back to in-person?

Last week I traveled to a customer’s office for the first time in 15 months. As I walked into the front door, I was met with an immediate influx of changes in this post-pandemic era. After a receptionist greeted me, I was asked to step back to the front door to complete the “entry process.” A systematic process was in place for me to step into a yellow-taped box to sanitize my hands, then proceed to another yellow-taped box to check my temperature with a fancy TV screen that showed my image from a camera and was able to display my temperature. I was then able to enter all my information into an iPad that proceeded to notify my “handler” and print out a visitor badge.

Right before the meeting, I felt a little confusion about the situation. Should I be following the strict guidelines that were established in the receptionist area, or go with a much different tone of relaxed guidelines in the meeting? The employees at this particular customer had an accepted norm inside the building that was different than the lobby. I was personally comfortable following the newly established rules and norms, but it does force you to pause and think about your environment. It was apparent that the organization had invested in new technology to help support the new entry screening process to enter the building.

What are some of the expectations employees have in the post-pandemic workplace? Are there things they’ve become accustomed to over the past year that they now expect at their jobs?

Flexibility seems to be a common theme. Flexibility in the communication mechanisms, devices, in-person versus remote and even the hours they work. One of the notable changes that seems to be the norm was every meeting I attended in the physical building this week had a virtual meeting via Teams, Zoom, Webex or some other platform.

Even more notable was the new investment in conference room technology to support a better virtual meeting. State-of-the-art video and audio devices were now present in every conference room. I recall two years ago when virtual meetings were typically not as productive due to a delayed start time because of insufficient experience using the software platforms or poor audio and video infrastructure. It was a noticeable difference that I picked up on after visiting a corporate office. 

How can CIOs best support workers back in the office? What kinds of technology infrastructure will be important during this transition?

Now that employees are starting to come back to the physical office, the demand for virtual meetings is still present. CIOs are quickly adapting meeting spaces to support a better video and audio experience. During the pandemic, remote employees have adapted to remote offices while increasing the audio and video experience. CIOs are having to replicate this for group settings in the office. Team meetings in person with a mix of remote participants is now the norm.

In many offices, the concept of having your own dedicated desk has been replaced with a hotel-like experience. You will show up, find an available or assigned desk and work from that location for the day. Your next visit could find you at a different desk on a different day. CIOs are now having to think about this new approach.

As an employee, I am personally more comfortable with two monitors, a headset, mouse and keyboard. In many offices, additional hardware is being purchased to meet these types of demands. In a previous environment, I would have requested IT to set up my personal desk as a one-time event, but now IT groups are needing to come up with a standard that meets the needs of the masses. Dual monitors and docking stations that work with multiple devices are now in higher demand. The important factor here is that CIOs recognize the needs of these employees in the post-pandemic era and help adapt the technology to meet the needs.

How can organizations continue the digital transformation that started during the pandemic? Are there changes organizations may need to make when it comes to digital/technology projects in order to brace for changes going forward?

There were many organizations that had not progressed very far in the digital transformation journey prior to the pandemic. The pandemic forced them to digitally mature quickly. The first step in this digital transformation was to cover the basic software needs for virtual meetings, instant messaging platforms, ERP, CRM, document management and much more. The second phase has been focused more on document processes and then automating them.

Most organizations have seen a lot of change with new employees, transfers internally, new roles and even retirements. All of this change has created a demand for having processes formally documented. Having these processes documented has reduced the risk profile around processes significantly. Employees that are new to a role are set up for a higher probability of success with these documented processes.

As these organizations mature with the documentation, automation becomes the next natural step. One lesson that has been learned by many over the last year is having software platforms that allow them to react to changes in the business quickly.

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