Daily Digest News – January 11, 2021

Hand selected flexible workspace news from the most reliable sources to keep you ahead of the pack. We find all the latest news, so you don’t have to. Morning and afternoon updates. Stay in the know.

Here’s what you need to know today:

 How The Workplace Will Look In 2021

The last year has led companies to make long-term changes to their workplace operations in an effort to keep their employees safe, as well as their business afloat.

So what trends can we anticipate organizations to take with them into the new year and beyond?

Safety protocols were common for manufacturing and warehouse environments, but office environments will now see an uptick in their own safety procedures. Things like temperature checks, sanitation practices and health surveys will be common practice moving forward.

Flexibility in terms of schedules will also continue playing a role in the workforce. While this was once seen as a rare benefit for some knowledge workers, flexibility will be crucial for companies looking to boost workplace morale, as well as attract and retain talent.

One of the more challenging issues with remote working is maintaining a semblance of community and a supportive culture. 

Business leaders will need to make an extra effort to create a virtual work environment that keeps employees engaged by hosting weekly meetings, team-building exercises and encouraging feedback about how to improve remote operations.

Along with a healthy culture will be the need for better healthcare benefits, both physical and mental. Wellness in the workplace has taken the front seat of workplace culture discussions, and understanding what an employee needs to perform their best will be crucial.

With employees working from various places, businesses also need to invest more into cybersecurity tools to alleviate any risks. Making sure remote workers are equipped with the right resources and IT tools will be crucial in operating a distributed workforce.

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Using Virtual Reality To Improve Soft Skills

Soft skills are more valuable today than ever before. With remote working has steadily increased, conflict resolution, teamwork and leadership skills have become essential to a healthy distributed workforce.

However, according to recent analysis, 59% of hiring managers and 89% of executives expressed issues recruiting candidates with these skills.

So how can businesses help teach their employees to retain these skills without in-person training? One suggestion is virtual reality.

VR offers a totally immersive experience for people to interact and role play with avatars in order to hone in on these skills without real-life consequences.

For instance, H&R Block hires up to 5,000 call representatives annually, 1,600 of which join during the second half of tax season. 

Typically, these entry-level workers are dealing with emotional, generally angry customers during this time and need the skills to stay calm, listen intently and solve the customer’s problem.

“The future of VR is being immersed into an environment blending physical and digital worlds, where users interact via a headset, their computer, or their mobile device to role play with an avatar or learn a new skill,” said Christopher Dede, a professor at the Harvard School of Education.

This technology not only helps employees improve their own skills, but can also reduce cost and logistical issues that can come with in-person training.

According to a 2020 PwC study, VR can be more cost effective than traditional training programs and allows employees to complete programs up to four times faster.

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How Atlanta’s Office Market Is Bouncing Back

Analysis of the commercial real estate industry has largely been grim. With millions of businesses vacating their space due to the pandemic, there has been much uncertainty about the future of the market.

Atlanta in particular has seen slow leasing activity along with rising rental rates. However, there has been some promise for the city.

For instance, New City Properties recently announced it would be expanding its budget to prepare for future pandemics, which includes setting aside revenue for new technologies.

Additionally, some developers are opting to invest more into green space over machinery. For example, Norfolk Southern’s new headquarters that is expected to open later this year will use its 3.4-acre lot to create a campus-like hub to offer employees plenty of outdoor space that alleviates risk of airborne transmission.

For those who don’t have the space for large gardens, many are taking out their antiquated cubicles and replacing them with private offices.

Although remote working has been the hot topic of companies today, time has proven that these arrangements do not accommodate all work styles. 

That is why it is important for companies to create a workspace that is not only safe and healthy, but also helps their workers accomplish their tasks effectively.

Developers are optimistic about the market’s recovery too, with construction on major office projects moving forward such as the 523,500 square foot Atlantic Yards development.

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Offices Becoming More Grounded In Wake Of Pandemic

Chicago ad agency SRW was preparing to move into its sparkling new workspace last March when the unthinkable happened — a pandemic unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes.

Kate Weidner, cofounder of SRW, and her partners had spent time looking for an office that features advanced smart technology and would nurture a sense of creativity.

However, when partner Charlie Stone stumbled upon an abandoned street-level former meatpacking plant, the company jumped at the opportunity.

“We didn’t realize at the time how important it would become, but so many of our friends and colleagues in skyscrapers were not going into the office,” said Weidner. “We were lucky to have a space, once restrictions were eased, that we could go straight into, with our own entrance.”

Now, ground-level offices could see a surge in cities as companies seek out spaces that are easily accessible and make distancing more feasible.

Many of these spaces once belonged to department stores or packaging facilities and have been standing empty since the start of the pandemic.

Jonathan Wasserstrum, CEO of commercial real estate firm SquareFoot, has noted the trend and is working with companies such as Instacart to find their own space.

While this means sacrificing panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline or London’s financial district, Wasserstrum says having a safer workplace and home far outweigh a pretty view.

Despite the immense challenges companies large and small have faced over the last several months, Wasserstrum believes that it will have an overall positive impact on the future of workspaces.

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Where IT Professionals Fit Into The Future Of Workplaces

IT professionals and users made the swift transition to remote working and many were able to continue their operations with little interruption.

Following this, some companies noted that productivity actually grew despite concerns that it would take a hit with this arrangement.

For years, the idea of a remote and distributed workforce was anticipated to be a part of our everyday workplace operations. But the pandemic accelerated us nearly a decade into the future.

While the pandemic is still far from being over, it has become increasingly clear what a post-pandemic workplace will look like for IT workers and professionals across various industries.

“There is a ripple effect from this,” said Suzanne Adnams, analyst at Gartner. “It creates a whole bunch of management challenges no one has had to deal with before. If only part of your workforce is coming into the office, what does that do about your office space? Do you assign a permanent workplace to someone who will be there only two days a week? What is the role of an office anymore? If it’s not the primary workplace of all the organization, then where does that lead?”

One of the most significant trends that is emerging from this grand remote experiment is the model of the hybrid workplace. This allows employees to work from home, in the office or from anywhere throughout the work week.

This shift also means big changes to how IT specialists operate, from the adoption of remote working tools, cloud enablement software, advanced security protocols, new methods of collaboration and more.

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Hybrid Working Is The Future

With COVID-19 vaccines being distributed worldwide, companies are now faced with the decision of whether to continue offering remote working options permanently.

While world economies are unlikely to normalize until at least 2022, navigating the time in between has proven to be a challenge.

Remote working has been a huge morale and productivity booster for some, but others have expressed issues with isolation, communication, work quality and more.

Knowing this, it should be evident that this arrangement does not suit all workstyles and is outright not possible for some jobs. For instance, those in the manufacturing industry are unable to take their work home.

Still, data has indicated that this massive shift does not mean the end of the office. Rather, a more hybrid approach is emerging that provides the benefits of both in-office and remote working.

According to research from recruitment firm Hays of over 9,000 professionals across Asia in February and September of last year, half of respondents were unsure if their company was “future-ready.”

They also expressed the factors that would prepare companies for the future, such as more digitization, flexibility of remote working options, increased training and development opportunities and more.

“[This hybrid way of working] will provide diverse opportunities and a means for business continuity for the modern workforce comprising remote and on-site employees,” said Datuk Nora Manaf, chief human capital officer of Malayan Banking Bhd.

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