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Getting Back to the Office of the Future
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Getting Back to the Office of the Future

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than a year since the world as we knew it changed. Offices began to close down, travel was halted, and masks, social distancing and bulk purchasing of hand sanitizer and toilet paper became a normal part of life (well – maybe not that last one. Has anyone really figured out what the toilet paper shortage was all about?).

As for the rest of it, it’s all part of what we called the “new normal” for a long time but is now really just “normal.” Because, as it turns out, human beings are pretty adaptable, and over the last year we’ve done just that – adapted and found ways to continue to go about our personal and business lives.

The office, of course, has been one of the areas most affected by these changes in behavior. As many, if not most, office workers headed off to work from home, the office itself sat nearly empty – but not forgotten. Facilities and operations managers and IT staff, in fact, probably spent more time thinking about the office over the last year than ever before – how to bring staff back in the face of not only changed circumstances, but altered mindsets. Even once most workers have been vaccinated and we’ve achieved something close to herd immunity, we will be shaped by the fact that we’ve gone through something that changed us fundamentally. The way we think about germs, contact, and the ability to transmit disease has been altered, and that increased cognizance means the office space itself must change.

The less-touch revolution

One of the first things that changed in the spring of 2020 was our aversion to touching things. In the beginning, we thought COVID-19 was far more transmissible via surface than it likely is (wiping down groceries with Lysol was probably not necessary), and it led to some rapid changes that seem to be sticking. Key among them was technology that enabled us to control things without touching them – the most obvious example being the rapid adoption of touchless payment options. While some stores accepted Apple Pay or similar options prior to last April, that number jumped significantly. In a survey conducted by Forrester for the National Retail Federation, 69% of retailers surveyed said no-touch payments increased in 2020, 19% of consumers surveyed made a contactless payment for the first time ever in May 2020, and 57% said they were likely to continue once the pandemic subsided.

We get used to convenience, and that lesson is likely to hold true for office technology as well. Sure, it may be safe to touch a surface, but – well, you’ve heard the one about your keyboard having more germs than a toilet seat? If we can avoid touching shared surfaces, we probably will.

Enter voice commands, like Alexa. You probably have two or three of these (or similar devices) in your house, or maybe you’re used to saying “hey Siri” to get your phone to do things. Well, why not tell the office MFP what you want it to do? And not just simple things like “Alexa, print document.” Alexa is all about the details. You can say things like “Alexa, make a color copy” or “Alexa, scan document two-sided and monochrome.”

Not a fan of talking to machines? That’s okay — there’s an app for that. Since most people are likely to have a smartphone on their person wherever they go, it’s simple to download an app that works with the office MFP. You simply walk up to the device, pull out your phone, select the function you need and print from cloud storage or release a document you’ve sent from your computer. You can also scan documents to yourself or to preset cloud storage locations.

And if you’re thinking, “but in order to put a document in the MFP to scan, I still need to touch the input tray” – well, yes. That’s why, upon reopening, you’re likely to see much stricter cleaning and disinfecting guidelines in place. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends cleaning followed by disinfecting as a best practice for the prevention of coronavirus and other viral respiratory illnesses, and to enable that, most office equipment manufacturers will offer guidelines for safely cleaning their equipment.

Convenience and a less-touch experience go far beyond the printer, of course. Today’s office is smarter than ever, and new measures put in place will simply build upon those smart capabilities.

For example, reception areas have changed, and will now need to include things like temperature screening and virtual receptionists. Visitors to an office will be able to quickly have their temperatures scanned to ensure a healthy environment for everyone. However, to ensure no contact is needed prior to screening, reception can be outfitted with a large-format display, high-resolution camera and a high-quality soundbar to welcome visitors in style without any contact required.

Another change will include the social distancing we’ve all become familiar with. To ensure common areas like breakrooms and conference rooms don’t become too crowded, NFC tags can monitor capacity in rooms to limit crowding and congestion. To further prevent too many people in one space, interactive displays can share information from presenters who are in other rooms – or other locations – from their computers or mobile devices. Tools like digital meeting assistants ensure all meeting attendees can connect from wherever they are, allowing the feel of collaboration without making anyone feel uncomfortable about being part of a large group gathering.

Whether employees come back to the office or continue to work from home, work will continue, and the office will remain central to that work. To keep employees both safe and comfortable, that office will need to become smarter. Fortunately, the technology to make that happen is already here, creating the office of the future a little sooner than anyone expected.




1 comments on article "Getting Back to the Office of the Future"

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It has become a trend to hire a Virtual PA for simplifying the complex tasks related to various business processes. Try it!

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