Re-entering a transformed workplace
COVID-19 has transformed how we view the traditional office and the expectations of both employees and employers. Many of the trends we’ve seen over the last two years will stay with us even as the pandemic fades, and in the years to come, we can expect to see the workplace transform in a way that changes the connectivity needs of companies and their workers.
Connectivity needs in the average office used to be fairly static. While the employees within a space would come and go, the infrastructure largely remained the same. People were assigned desks, conference rooms were equipped for in-person meetings and IT was on speed-dial for any problems. We were also fairly static in our movement in and out of the office. Employees typically came in five days a week for a set amount of time, completed their work and went home.
This picture has changed drastically. For two years and counting, many workers have been in a remote or virtual environment that truly tested the limits of connectivity. Offices sat dormant as kitchen counters and spare bedrooms became the modern-day workstation. Bandwidth needs changed as well as home networks were tapped for video conferencing and downloading media-rich presentations.
As employers now plan for a post-COVID workplace, many are likely to adopt a hybrid approach – not only due to the benefits of a hybrid model gleaned from the pandemic, but also the demand from employees that the flexibility provided by COVID stays intact. Regardless of the balance of in-office versus remote working, one thing is clear: keeping employees connected is a core driver of any decision-making.
Staying connected in a hybrid environment
The workplace of the past was based on a set number of employees working on fixed computer stations for email, and Wi-Fi was a mainstay to supplement hardwired connections.
As workplaces evolve, the connectivity needs of the future will be more dynamic in nature. Rather than work with a set number of people plugging into the network every day on devices the system has already accounted for, offices have to serve as a transit hub for a variable number of workers. Even those working in an office will need to connect with remote colleagues. The technology solutions for the workplace of the future must allow more reliable connectivity, handle more devices and increase capacity to foster a more free-flowing workforce.
There are a few other aspects of a pared down, hybrid office that those building IT infrastructure need to consider. One consequence of this shift in how we work is the ability to downsize. As more employees opt for a hybrid workstyle – or move to fully remote – there’s no longer the need to have a large, physical office. Companies are downsizing their footprint or eliminating it entirely. Others are also exploring shared working spaces where multiple businesses can operate without having to make heavy investments in capital on their own – and both of these models have specific connectivity needs.
Another impact of a more dynamic architecture is the changing role of IT support personnel. Rather than stopping by a workstation and solving issues in person, IT now must service employees remotely, often from a remote location themselves.
All these new demands add up to a need for a powerful, secure and increasingly flexible infrastructure. Wi-Fi isn’t going to cut it, and instead offices have to explore cellular connectivity through solutions such as 4G/LTE and 5G.
Why employers must adapt to the times
Businesses that dig in their heels for a return to a fully in-person setting, or push off the digital transformation of their workplaces, are only setting themselves up to be left behind in terms of attracting workers and meeting the connectivity needs of the workplace of the future. These trends aren’t going anywhere, and today’s workforce is not willing to sacrifice the gains made over the last two years in terms of work flexibility.
The first consideration for employers when evaluating the return to an in-office setting of any sort is ensuring their space is outfitted with the technology solutions needed to meet employee demands. In the past, a poor connection was blamed on the service provider. Today, however, customers put the responsibility of good cellular connections on the building owner. With low occupancy rates of office buildings, customers now have more choices. To attract potential tenants, venue owners must consider an in-building cellular solution in addition to Wi-Fi connectivity.
By adding cellular connectivity like 5G, companies prepare their spaces for a transient workforce that needs a network that is reliable, secure and can process high bandwidth rates. Also, since the workforce is not tied to a specific operator, the solution needs to be multi-operator so any tenants or visitors can have good cellular connectivity. Cellular, as opposed to Wi-Fi, provides the flexibility to be connected anywhere without the need to opt-in to a specific Wi-Fi network.
Remote employees also factor into the equation given the high rates of data now having to go in and out of an office. Just as important as it is to be able to receive signals from remote employees on a video call, you also must account for the data an office is uploading. These two must go hand-in-hand to maintain connectivity and keep things running.
Corning is already working with businesses to make the transition to a hybrid workplace easier. Our distributed antenna systems (DAS) offering is designed specifically with 5G in mind and provides the multi-operator solution needed to connect employees at the flip of a switch. We also lead the industry in specialty optical fiber that can fit into smaller spaces while also providing offices with the flexibility to expand their networks in the future. Regardless of your company’s connectivity needs, Corning is the go-to provider in the industry and is here to bring your business into the future.