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Employees demand office redesign for new hybrid work environment

Global study by visualisation and collaboration technology provider says employees worldwide are desperate to get back to the office and want their employers to invest in a tech-driven environment

After Covid-19, the world of work will never be the same again, but the current received wisdom that the vast majority of remote workers are happy with the “new normal” to continue for the foreseeable future looks to be an overreaction, according to a study from collaboration technology firm Barco.

Its Finding a new balance study surveyed 1,750 employees around the world – 250 each from the US, the UK, France, Germany, Australia, India and the United Arab Emirates – through global research panel provider Dynata. It found that only 15% of employees want to continue working from home full-time after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Also, it seems that the novelty of working from home has worn off. Nearly half of those surveyed said they enjoyed working from home less now than they did at the start of the pandemic, citing challenges in collaborating with colleagues, struggling to contribute to meetings and missing the social side of office life as their main reasons for wanting to return to the office.

The survey suggested that many have suffered by being separated from their colleagues, both emotionally and in their work, and 49% globally said they had found working from home less fun as time has passed. Nearly two-fifths (37%) said they miss office social life and found it harder to collaborate when working remotely. Almost three in 10 said they found it hard to contribute to meetings, while 28% said they were easily distracted at home.

Collaboration and socialising were, unsurprisingly, the main reasons why people wanted to return to the office – 45% said they found it easier to work with colleagues in the office, and the same percentage said they liked the social aspect of office life.

Most employees were found to be thinking that we are already returning to something resembling normality after Covid-19, with the number of remote-only meetings expected to drop significantly and hybrid meetings set to become the norm. Surprisingly, said Barco, employees seemed starkly opposed to the idea of spending more time in satellite offices or co-working spaces – a trend that many had predicted would result from the pandemic.

Most employees still preferred to spend most of their time at a large corporate headquarters, albeit now with more flexibility to work from home some of the time.

Looking to how people wanted to work, the study found that employees envisaged a hybrid workplace model, where most of their time was spent in the office but they had the flexibility and freedom to work from home when it worked best for them or suited the type of work they needed to do. The survey found that the ideal balance, on average globally, was three days in the office, with a maximum of two days a week working remotely.

Significant demand emerged from workers for their employers to invest in better facilities, particularly technologies, to enable this hybrid working balance. The most desired investment by employees was for better video-conferencing technologies, which one-third of the sample named as an investment priority. This, said Barco, was perhaps unsurprising, given that nearly four-fifths of employees said they used video-conferencing rooms in their office more than once a week, with one-third using them every day or more.

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After standard meeting rooms, video-conferencing rooms were found to be the most commonly used spaces in the office. Just over three-quarters (77%) of respondents said they used video-conferencing rooms at least once a week, with 28% using them every day, on average.

Barco also revealed that the “bring your own meeting” trend – where employees not only wanted to use their own devices (BYOD), but also their own preferred conferencing technology – has continued the growth it was showing before the pandemic. The laptop is now the single most important thing in most employees’ working lives – 77% said they couldn’t bear to be parted from it while at work. Also, 56% of staff preferred to host video calls from their laptop, compared with 19% who preferred in-room systems and 18% who liked to use their smartphone.

Despite the growth of in-room camera use from 30% now to 40% in a year’s time, 54% of employees still use their laptop camera even when they are in a meeting room. Barco noted that this was clearly a sub-par experience because more than 60% of respondents complained of camera malfunctions during meetings.

“For companies with a mainly office-based workforce, Covid-19 has meant the greatest and fastest shift in ways of working that we’ve ever seen,” said Lieven Bertier, segment marketing director of workplace at Barco. “There is now a burning desire from employees to get back to normal – 85% of the workforce wants to return to the office and resume the collaborative and social aspect of working life that they have missed so much, albeit with the freedom, flexibility and facilities to adopt a better blend of home and office working.

“To survive, rebuild and eventually thrive again in the post-pandemic world, businesses will need to invest in new technologies, redesign or at least reconfigure their office spaces, and give their employees the tools they need to work in the best way possible, no matter where they are located or how they choose to connect.”

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