The business landscape has seen significant changes in the last two years. Employees have acclimated to working from home, technology has evolved, and organizations have changed. As offices reopen, employees will have to readjust to in-person work, and workspaces will likely look a bit different than they did pre-pandemic to meet new business standards.
What does this mean for IT admins helping prepare office spaces for reopening?
IT teams will likely have to account for changes to both their organization and the wider business landscape. The reopening effort should be coordinated across departments and address employee and organization needs holistically rather than defaulting to old in-person standards. The result should be an office space that serves the business’s current needs and functionality and is shaped to accommodate future changes.
How Offices Have Changed
Understanding larger trends around in-person workspaces helps contextualize changes you may see — or need to make — in your organization’s workspace. The following holistic changes to the modern office are affecting how people work and how spaces should be configured.
The Need for Flexible, Dynamic Space
For many organizations, in-person work used to be the only option, and the goal of going into the office was to simply get work done. Now that work can be done at home, going into the office at a hybrid-remote company will be an intentional choice.
For many, the goal of going into the office will be more about collaboration and personal interaction. This means we’re likely to see more collaborative spaces — think social areas, smart whiteboards, casual seating, and A/V capabilities to include remote employees — instead of the traditional one-workstation-per-employee setup.
Other employees might choose to go into the office for important calls, to work on a hands-on project, or to work heads-down without the distractions of home. These employees might need space to spread out, A/V equipped “call rooms,” and quiet workspaces.
Even in fully in-person work setups, remote calls and virtual collaboration have become a part of work culture; customers, vendors, job candidates, and other third parties have come to expect the option of virtual meetings and communications. Offices will now be expected to support this need.
In short, the modern office serves a wider variety of needs than its pre-pandemic predecessor. From A/V equipped call rooms to sectioned spaces for quiet work, offices will look less cubicled and more open and dynamic.
Retiring Analog Tech
The pandemic catalyzed the technology lifecycle considerably: new technology grew faster and replaced old technology more quickly. While operating remotely, organizations learned how to move away from things like paper records, physical storage, and traditional phone calls. This opens up the possibility of getting rid of office technology like printers, USB drives, fax machines, and desk phones.
For companies that hadn’t done so yet, the pandemic was a call to shift to the cloud. However, going back to the office won’t be a call for the reverse; systems will likely remain cloud-based. This means server rooms and infrastructure equipment won’t have a place in many modern offices — back-to-the-office initiatives might include retiring legacy equipment and repurposing the space it took up.
Some companies are reopening their offices with additional contingencies around healthcare, like mask requirements, symptom reporting, social distancing, office sign-in systems, and temperature checks. These initiatives, which will likely be driven by HR or leadership, can trickle down to affect IT’s planning, from floor plan needs to health data storage and the associated compliance requirements.
Many organizations’ departmental structures have changed considerably since the start of the pandemic. Some departments grew, some shrank, and some prioritized new endeavors — all of which can change the anatomy of a workspace.
To optimize your company’s office space, you’ll need to understand its needs, policies, and goals, which will influence the technical configuration of the space. The following are common factors IT teams should consider when preparing the office for in-person work.
Many companies changed in size over the pandemic. If your company is larger or smaller than it was the last time it was in the office, this may call for floor plan and technology changes. Hybrid workspaces often reduce in-office headcount, which grants companies the ability to adjust and reallocate resources, often saving money in the process (i.e., you may be able to lower the amount of bandwidth you need without impacting performance for lower headcounts).
Workflow and Initiative Changes
Going remote affected the way many companies functioned, from adopting project management tools to prioritizing new remote initiatives. These changes may affect the way your office is laid out and the technology your company needs; for example, if many teams started hosting weekly stand-ups every Monday morning, you may need to make sure there’s space for more than one departmental group meeting (possibly with A/V to include remote workers) at a time.
Many pre-pandemic offices had Ethernet-wired workspaces; however, some are choosing to instead opt for more open, dynamic layouts that rely more heavily on Wi-Fi. Common factors that could contribute to this decision include:
- How dynamic and mobile workstations need to be.
- Whether static workstations need to be re-wired to accommodate social distancing or new layouts.
- Wi-Fi’s availability and reliability in the office space.
- Whether your office will support mobile devices.
- The cost of rewiring for Ethernet versus switching to Wi-Fi only.
If you’re planning to construct an Ethernet-connected space, you’ll need to closely consider headcounts, potentially broken out by department or technology need. For example, sales and marketing teams might need conference room access and technology, while developers would more likely need fast connections and quiet spaces. These needs will affect the way you configure different spaces and technologies in the office.
Note that reconfiguring the office layout could require significant re-wiring work; the alternative is using Wi-Fi as the primary internet source. In addition, mobile devices like tablets and smartphones don’t lend themselves to Ethernet connections (it’s possible, but cumbersome and unlikely to take hold in practice). Offices should support mobile devices with Wi-Fi.
Whether or not your office plans to use Ethernet, it will likely also use Wi-Fi at least sometimes. There are a few things to consider when setting up and testing Wi-Fi:
- Bandwidth: Make sure you have enough bandwidth to cover headcount, addressing departmental needs like frequent video calling or large media downloads and uploads.
- Access points: Make sure the Wi-Fi reaches all the workstations in the space. Look for dead zones: sometimes building structures, Wi-Fi from neighboring offices, and even HVAC systems can cause interference. Access points and Ethernet access can rectify such issues.
- Security: Writing the Wi-Fi password on the company whiteboard is not a secure method for relaying access to the network. RADIUS is a significantly more secure option: it issues unique login credentials to each user. It can also do this for VPNs, making it a double whammy for hybrid-remote offices looking to keep remote access secure.
- Segmentation: Another method for securing network access is through VLAN tagging, which are segmented networks. It’s common to create VLANs for users with different levels of access, like guests, users, and admins, for example. When paired with a cloud directory like JumpCloud®, dynamic VLAN assignment can automatically assign users to the appropriate VLAN based on their group membership and permission levels.
Note that while Wi-Fi is quite reliable, it’s still not quite as foolproof as Ethernet; your IT team could potentially be inundated with more connectivity work down the road if you switch to Wi-Fi only.
Bring your own device (BYOD) policies were a popular remote work solution, and BYOD’s many benefits are driving companies to keep it in place when they go back into the office. Your company’s decision to use mobile and personal devices in the office may influence your decisions around connectivity and workstation setups.
After months (or years) of sitting in an office untouched, some of your technology might have developed some functionality issues. You might run into problems with hardware that’s fallen into disuse, lost settings on devices, and equipment that’s no longer up to date. Include equipment testing on your office prep to-do list: check equipment like desk phones, conference room equipment, door entry systems, video cameras, and any networking and server room equipment.
Accommodating New Spaces
Because your office layout and functionality might look different than it did pre-pandemic, you may need to consider the technology supporting these spaces. For example, creating more call/conference rooms might necessitate a booking function for each room. New smart whiteboards in collaboration spaces may require training or instructions. Creating these accommodations ahead of time streamlines the transition to the new space, minimizing helpdesk tickets and technology misuse.
If you’ve onboarded new people since going remote, they may not have everything they need to work in the office. Make sure they’re entered into any door entry systems and develop a system for issuing them any badges or credentials they’ll need to get in and get to work.
Some of these changes, like BYOD policies, health reporting, and Wi-Fi use, can raise security issues; however, security and compliance must remain a priority. Zero Trust is a common method for maintaining security in perimeterless environments; it establishes trusted identities, devices, and networks, and verifies them through secure authentication and authorization.
Get the details of using Zero Trust to secure your office in the whitepaper, Zero Trust Security: A Transformative Way to Secure Your Hybrid Workplace.
Communication and Collaboration
Cross-departmental communication is a must when it comes to preparing to reopen offices. Communication should be multidirectional and collaborative. Leaders should keep employees abreast of plans, goals, and changes; IT must keep other departments up to date on technical planning; departments should collaborate with IT to map out a space that works from both departmental and technical aspects.
Some common cross-departmental issues include:
- Health information recording. Make sure any health recording initiatives account for security and compliance.
- Headcounts. Max headcounts could come from HR, central leadership, or individual departments. IT needs to understand headcount caps for different workspaces and equipment to plan accordingly. Further, if IT discovers headcount limits — like budgetary limits that cap in-office bandwidth or spatial constraints for wired workstations — they must relay them to the departments or people dealing with headcounts and logistics.
- Equipment and space. IT needs to know what types of equipment and space different departments need. Departments may not have considered their equipment and technology needs and how they may have changed since they were last in the office; prompt them to do so well in advance.
To streamline and track departmental technology requests, try creating a quick questionnaire where department heads can request new equipment or functionality. Specify a deadline well before your office reopening date and supply cost parameters if you have them available.
As increasingly flexible and diverse working options inundate the job market, companies need to keep the employee experience top of mind to maintain a competitive edge. Consider working with department heads or surveying employees directly to learn how people prefer to work, what technology they need, how they collaborate, and more.
Whether fully in person or hybrid, your company needs to deliver seamless experiences: employees need to be able to access the resources they need when and where they need them. This access needs to be secure and fairly frictionless, and intuitive and predictable, whether users are in the office or working remotely.
Many companies power this secure, seamless access with a cloud directory.
Build the Right Foundation with a Cloud Directory
Cloud directories are the next-generation version of legacy directories like Microsoft Active Directory (AD). Because they aren’t tethered to legacy equipment, cloud directories don’t require extensions or add-ons to manage off-premise resources; instead, they seamlessly connect employees to the resources they need, regardless of their location.
JumpCloud, for example, manages identities, devices, and resources from the cloud. It uses a multi-protocol approach to connect users with virtually all the resources they need to Make Work Happen®, regardless of whether they’re remote or in the office. It’s also OS-agnostic, allowing for device diversity, and takes a Zero Trust approach: it includes multi-factor authentication (MFA), single sign-on (SSO), and conditional access to keep access secure regardless of location.
JumpCloud is easy to test drive: the first 10 users and 10 devices are free — perfect for IT admins testing it out before reopening the office. It also comes with 24/7 live premium chat support for the first 10 days to make sure you’ve optimized it to your environment. Try JumpCloud Free today to build a strong foundation for your in-office or hybrid-remote setup.