With the directive to work from home now revoked, many people are returning to the office –but it won’t be business as normal, and many employers are reconfiguring their workspaces to accommodate new working practices
While the number of people who have been working in the office for at least some of the time has been rising since the end of the third lockdown earlier this year, many people have still been working at home.
Since the government lifted social distancing measures in July, along with the directive to work from home if possible, many more people will be heading back to the office in the coming weeks. It will not be business as it was; more hybrid working is expected, and there will be a greater emphasis on meeting and breakout spaces in offices, rather than fitting as many desks in as possible.
One company currently reworking its offices is Brother UK, as Liam Fitzgerald, head of reseller and distribution sales at the company, explains.“We are adopting a hybrid working model to give our people the option of flexible working, while ensuring we continue to nurture our culture with an office that provides space for conversation, group working, mental wellbeing and social cohesion,” he says.
“For example, we’ve transformed our HQ in Greater Manchester by introducing a hot-desking policy and new breakout spaces to help colleagues make the most of face-to-face contact and collaboration; other businesses may choose to downsize, or open smaller hub offices, which would require a significant overhaul of their infrastructure.
“This provides us with the perspective to support our channel partners in supplying customers with the equipment and technology they need to ensure their people continue to work productively, efficiently and securely. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to hybrid working; different policies, as defined by each customer, will require bespoke support from partners to meet businesses’ new technology needs. Dealers now have a chance to make the most of this opportunity by supplying printers and products purposefully designed for hybrid working.”
Liam adds that, while this helps to solve the pain point of the need for smaller devices in home offices, the channel can also support with other teething issues created by the shift to hybrid models. “IT managers are now responsible for decentralised technology in potentially thousands of locations – not just one office,” he says. “This is where solutions like managed print services will thrive, where cloud-connected technology can give IT leads the oversight to easily service and manage products, delivering device reliability, security and cost efficiency.”
Dealers, with the support of manufacturers such as Dams, also have opportunities to help businesses design physical workplaces and specify furniture to support new ways of working, as Simon Howorth from Dams explains.“If they haven’t done so already, businesses should begin to take steps to consider what the workplace will look like when their employees are welcomed back to the office. Companies that don’t provide workers with the types of spaces they need to manage the demands and intensity of work will find that this can have a negative impact on employee wellbeing,” he says. “The future office needs to serve as a hub for productivity, collaboration, socialising and in-person connectivity.
“While we may work in new ways, and in new spaces, some things never change. We all need connection with other people, comfort and flexibility. There still needs to be a space for focused work, calls or video meetings-but this can’t override the desire for collaboration, or replace the social aspect of the working day. The most effective and modern office spaces are characterised by division into different zones, with furniture that supports employees as they perform particular tasks.
“Multi-functional spaces enable employees to get back to the grind together with their colleagues and enjoy exchanging ideas once more, while still keeping track of social distancing. Employees will need spaces designed for collaborative meetings, areas for agile working and opportunities to relax, as well as places to escape to focus on individual tasks.”
Vanessa Warne, category director for furniture at VOW Wholesale, agrees, adding that the government Super-tax Deduction Scheme offers a great opportunity for businesses wishing to reconfigure their workspaces. “For anyone looking to create an environment where staff can feel safe-one that facilitates new ways of working such as video-conferencing and hybrid working, alongside the requirement for areas where colleagues can safely come together to collaborate and socialise, and quiet zones for more solitary working-our in-house workspace design team can help support our resellers in creating designs that fulfil these requirements,” she says.
“Utilising products from the VOW Interiors range, our design team can help create dynamic environments that lend themselves to the new world and ways of working. Our in-house design team is there to support resellers in working with their customers to redesign or repurpose their workspaces with a range of options that don’t have to cost a fortune.”
Another way dealers can assist employers that are reconfiguring their office space is with safety solutions, according toMarianne Chamberlain, sales director at Data Direct.“Dealers can really deliver customer solutions by providing relevant and adapted products for a new, safer and better working environment,” she says. “Data Direct has launched new printers, cabinets and desks which all help businesses return to productivity-the long-term and sustainable safety of employees is as greater priority as ever.
“COVID will continue to be a disruptor in the workplace and, along with ‘flu, E-coli, MRSA and Norovirus, these disruptors can be overcome through a multi-pronged approach. Data Direct provides the full range of AeraMax air purifiers from Fellowes, along with SmartMister and the SmartMisterSolution.”
It means there are host of new opportunities for dealers to capitalise on as the business landscape changes as we emerge from COVID – hopefully, once and for all.