Looking Back To Go Forward — We Had the Keys All Along

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At the start of January 2020, working from home was a carefully guarded privilege. Some professions — and some job categories — had the chance to stay home and do work on their computers. Some people (mothers in particular) changed their lives to have the ability to work from home.

Some employers embraced the idea. Other businesses were against giving their workers the freedom to manage their work time at home. Managers and supervisors were uncomfortable and even resistant to letting employees out of their sight. Predictably, executive leadership who were uncomfortable with the work-from-home paradigm didn’t invest in their IT infrastructure. IT departments were not set up for the mobility and security that the employees would require to work from home.

All those concerns evaporated in March of 2020. Businesses had to respond to the coronavirus. That’s what we called it back then. A battalion of laptops was sent home with employees. Thousands of dining room tables were covered in technology. People stayed home. We learned another meaning for the verb “zooming.” Who thought that would mean sitting down very much in one spot?

Some IT departments had a plan and had been eager for the funding to implement their infosec and mobility strategy. Some IT departments scrambled to answer the demand they had not anticipated. One way or the other, work was getting done.

The laptop workers began to adjust their lives to the new shape. Garages got reorganized to hold workspaces. People with RV’s and campers converted them into offices. Since they could work from home, many people went to stay in other places. People stayed with different family members. Other people remembered a favorite spot that they’d always loved and got Airbnb rentals to work from a place that made them happy. As long as they got the work done, it didn’t need to be discussed with the employer. No one needed to know if you were working in a different state.

It didn’t stop there. Employees, particularly in high-cost regions, negotiated a permanent work-from-home solution. My Uncle Marty moved from Palo Alto to Colorado Springs. In March 2021, San Francisco experienced a 30% increase in people leaving the area as compared to 2019. Many New Yorkers also left their city for more comfortable living spaces. Given their need to keep productive workers on staff, many employers accommodated this new arrangement too.

Indeed, businesses were aware of the new opportunity as well. Both parties could decouple productivity from geography. Early on in the pandemic, Twitter and Google shut down their headquarters in California. REI — on the outskirts of Seattle — had almost finished its custom-designed HQ building in 2020. But before occupancy, it put the building up for sale. By August of 2020, the world had completely changed. Businesses needed to justify the expenses of office spaces. Previous assumptions were inadequate for the future. Questions must be asked and asked. A new strategy was required for a new business landscape.

In contrast to Silicon Valley’s response, the military-industrial company Raytheon took a 360-degree view of their facilities and devised a multi-year strategy they call “The Office of the Future.” Their CEO, Gregory J. Hayes, gave an interview to a newspaper, saying, “Raytheon Technologies Corp. is likely to shed a quarter of its 32 million square feet of office space in the wake of remote working practices that took hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Raytheon’s offices are being rebuilt to reduce working spaces to the hotel model and increase the collaboration space. Since the goal is to have as many workers as possible stay home, the office space is optimized for meetings and collaboration, contrasting to the previous goal of a more quiet working space.

Our AV technology suite had the conferencing tools and hardware from the beginning of the pandemic. But there are also occupancy sensors and room usage tools we can supply. Customers need to know about these tools and be provided with a vision of how they can be used. There are savings to be realized for the customers and retention strategies to begin in this office and WFH hybrid reality. Reducing and reconfiguring the office space will benefit our customers on many levels.

For AV companies, the right benchmarking stories and proposals can deepen trust with customers. AV installers and providers have a depth of knowledge of the available tools that the customer needs. Customers don’t know what they don’t know. A trusted AV vendor could begin a discussion about the possibilities and provide a solution that solves their biggest worries.

Both providers and customers are being forced to look for new possibilities. The way things used to be is way back in the mists of time. This is a moment to get informed and spread the word about what is possible. Change brings opportunity. Now is the time to be prepared to meet the opportunity. The pieces are waiting to be fitted together. We are ready. We were born ready!