The flexible office with the right mix of digital and analog infrastructure will make office work better, more effective and … reduce costs in the future. So it’s the right mix of virtual, digital work and analog, real encounters with each other that makes work successful.
The Corona crisis taught us many things: above all, how to use new, digital infrastructures as functioning work tools. The enormous digitization push in office work has shown us that many of the things we used to do in analog before Corona are no longer necessary today. How ingenious is our realization today that you no longer have to fly from Hamburg to Munich for one-hour meetings, spend a whole day on the road, pollute the environment and incur immense costs. These meetings also go more efficiently via Teams, Zoom, Meet and various other video platforms.
But at the same time, we also notice how important it sometimes is to have an intensive, direct exchange live and in color – person to person. We then sense the vibrations, the nuances and the creative inspiration of direct collaboration.
This article examines the tension between offline and online in the new office world and how flexible office structures can help reduce costs.
7 things how digitization has changed the office
In the last two years, the digitization of work has progressed tremendously. It’s estimated to be five times as fast as it was in two years in pre-Corona times. What have been the main changes in office life?
1. Less physical presence in the office
Remotely or in the home office, we can either be just as effective at certain activities as we are in the office, or even more effective.
2. Fewer meetings with actual presence in the same room.
A meeting works via video screen, no question about it. Proven a hundred times over. We don’t always have to get on a plane. We can also “control” the relationship with partners and customers remotely.
3. Fewer business trips
We have learned that it is not always worth the effort to jet through half of Germany or even further just to have a meeting with the customer. Tragically, this realization has only come to us now because we didn’t agree on any conventions regarding the use of video platforms before Corona. Virtual meetings were beyond our imagination. In these days we have to experience again, also I painfully, how complicated travel currently is. Many flights are cancelled. Chaos at the airports. And because so many flights are cancelled, the trains are overcrowded. Traveling is time-consuming and annoying. And more costly than virtual meetings.
4. We hardly use the landline anymore
Remote work means we communicate via our smartphone. It’s learned. We now dial our mobile number first and our landline number second.
5. Our work tools are mobile
Laptop density has increased because we want to be flexible in deciding where we work. We carry our main work tool with us.
6. Fewer and fewer server cabinets.
We no longer need server cabinets in the office. There is DSGVO compliant hosting of data in the cloud. Access is easy and we can collaboratively work on files together. Simply from the home office. Quickly and easily.
7. More digital office solutions
If we don’t get together in real life as often as we used to, printing, filing and physically submitting billing receipts is now extinct at the latest. Offices are becoming more paperless. There are digital tools to submit travel expense receipts, how do we collaborate on documents in the cloud. We don’t lug files around anymore.
The result of this change in working behavior, which has been learned but also conforms to completely new conventions, is that in many areas the employee is more satisfied, has more freedom and output is even achieved more efficiently in some areas. The broad experience is by no means that team members in the home office do not live up to their responsibilities or evade the grasp of superiors. On the contrary.
In recent years, it has been increasingly proven that remote work can work if you establish the right software and hardware and foster a supportive team and communication culture. Over the months, certain stylistic devices have become established in the work rhythm that promote information flow and collaboration despite remote work. These stylistic devices are, for example, the morning hybrid daily or the Friday meeting with the entire team and the rest of the colleagues connected to the screen.
But we have sometimes also experienced that working closely together with real eye contact without a screen in between can be very pleasant, humanizing, facilitating, motivating and creative.
Where analog meetings are useful
In very intensive projects that require the simultaneous exchange of many trades and expertise, the temporary gathering of teams is incredibly helpful. We can communicate faster, exchange thoughts more quickly, move from one room to another to briefly reassure ourselves or informally clarify sensitivities. In all cases, real teamwork helps us to feel the “we” feeling even more intensely and to let mutual appreciation and motivation flow more directly into creative project work. And sticking yellow notes or developing a diagram on the flipchart creates a stronger dynamic than scribbling it down in the Miro workshop software.
But remote project work also makes sense when it would simply be far too costly for the diverse team from all parts of the world to come together in one place in real terms. It is much more cost-efficient to bundle competencies that would otherwise never have come together and to draw the power of the project from this diverse mix of competencies. That is the ingenious advantage of location-independent digital collaboration.
However, when it comes to forming opinions, moods, sensitivities, difficult debates or setting the course for business, you have to come together. This is the only way to fully perceive between the lines, to grasp the vibrations in the room. And these vibrations account for at least 50% of decision-making.
Onboarding and getting to know new colleagues should definitely happen on-site, not remotely. The first few weeks are critical to gaining an understanding of the new employee’s needs, strengths, weaknesses and ways of working.
Being on-site in the office, spontaneously interacting with company members with whom one would not actually have any points of contact in the fixed project process, gives us opportunities and impulses for the next project or perhaps allows a joint idea to emerge that would never have happened otherwise. A company is always a collection of different people who do each other good or who can sometimes get on each other’s nerves because different opinions or ways of working come together. But these experiences of team communication are important because they foster a better understanding of each other and ultimately cause experiences of how optimal teams can work together. On this topic of hybrid culture, see also this article: Business Success Despite New Work.
We would not have these experiences in a purely digital collaboration on a remote screen.
The mix makes the difference: Efficient, cost-reducing work systems
We have seen that we need the analog, real meeting of team colleagues or of customer and service provider team. And we’ve seen that we often don’t need to get together in real life. Digital meeting solutions enable efficient collaboration between team members who might not have come together in the first place. The mix makes the difference.
We gain freedom for colleagues who can more easily fit their family, doctor’s appointments or trips to the authorities into their daily work routine. And we gain freedom within the company, which above all reduces costs and is highlighted here:
Reduction of recruitment costs for new employees
It is easier to recruit employees and thus their expertise who would otherwise not be accessible in a traditional employment relationship, either because they are at home in another part of the world or because they do not want to leave their beloved residence near the company headquarters. This would be too far away for a daily commute. Through remote work, the company has nonetheless gained access to a competence carrier that it would not have had otherwise. Possible travel allowances for employees by the employer are lower.
Reduction of travel costs
It is sometimes necessary to meet customers and cooperation partners in person. But by no means do we have to travel to every exchange. We have definitely experienced that the exchange via Zoom and Co. is often more intensive than via telephone and that the course can be set very quickly. Video meetings do not replace face-to-face meetings, but they definitely reduce the frequency of meetings with attendance. This will also significantly reduce air travel costs in the future.
Flexibility in room rentals
Office space will be used more flexibly in the future. If the team size increases again at some point now after Corona and after the current economic crisis due to the Ukraine war, space will not have to be rented in addition to the same extent. Due to the increased proportion of remote work, everyone is never on site together at the same time. This gives the office a different focus. Just as the retail landscape is changing through digitization and e-commerce and stores are increasingly becoming showrooms, offices are becoming “wow rooms.” People meet for special occasions, events or intensive exchanges. When you’re in the office together as a team, you celebrate it more. We use the moment for more intensive exchange.
If we have fewer workstations than employees, that means we use digital booking tools to reserve our workstations. This is increasingly possible because we are carrying around less and less analog ballast (such as files and folders). If we do still need analog materials, we store them in central locations. It is conceivable that each employee has his or her own compartment or roll container for the essentials.
With sliding doors or “wall folding elements” we change room sizes and floor plans as needed. Perhaps we need a “creative room” in the short term, where a specific team with different skills is working on a complex project. This project needs personal interaction and creative sparring for the period of intensive exchange. The project team designs its project space according to the needs of the project. This temporary space is then created in the company solely for this purpose.
Flexibilization of telecommunications
Expensive telephone systems, permanently installed in the company, are a thing of the past. Let’s face it. How often do we still make phone calls via the landline? Remote work has made our smartphone communication hub. It makes sense to give smartphones to every employee. This makes mobile communication via mail, Slack, teams, phone, etc. immensely easier.
If a company does not want to equip all employees with smartphones, then specific apps on the private cell phones are suitable, which enable work-related calls or other communication via business number and with separate cost billing.
Scalability of data storage through cloud computing
Finally, our Internet is also getting faster. Cloud computing will become more widespread. Server cabinets in the company will become fewer. We are often annoyed when we slowly load data to the server through the VPN connection. Better cloud infrastructures will emerge, which will make it possible to exchange and archive even large amounts of data quickly and securely. At the same time, collaborative work on the same file will be improved through program-specific solutions. Shifting V1 and V2_geaendert_von_Egon back and forth is finally a thing of the past.
We then only pay for the number of users logged in and the actual volume of data used.
So it is the right mix of digital and analog work with real encounters with each other that makes work successful. But it is also the responsibility of every team member to be able to decide whether to go into the office today or to work remotely. The “flexi-office” with the right mix of digital and analog infrastructure will make office work better, more effective and … cheaper in the future.