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The Big Pause: The Rise of the Chief Workplace Officer

The dust is starting to settle.  Management has stabilized business units.  Relationships are proving to be invaluable.  Face to face meetings are starting to happen again.  Companies, like families, are starting to recognize what is important.  For some, the future is bright.  Not so much for others.

For workplace, specifically office, it’s not great out there. 

If you have read my articles in the past, you know Orion Growth believes there are three workplaces inside an organization’s ecosystem:  The physical office, its virtual version, and culture.  Some firms allow one or the other to dictate or influence the hierarchy, while others place a specific emphasis to highlight their mission.  For example, a company who invites their clients in for regular engagement will naturally spend more to create an office experience.  They dress to impress.  Others choose to focus more on culture or user experience.  Some like mahogany wood paneling while others install slides and bike racks.  It’s all workplace. 

So what?  Well – ‘workplace’ gets complicated after you sprinkle some Covid-19 into the mix. 

Overnight, we went home.  Overnight, we decentralized.  Overnight, we became less secure.  Overnight, companies like Amazon, Door Dash, Citrix, Microsoft, and Zoom saw 25%+ gains while entire mega-industries like Agriculture, Education, Construction, and Healthcare had the music stop.  Alera Group put together a pretty interesting whitepaper illustrating impact by industry.  Here it is. 

Interdepartmental concerns abound.  Operations is being pulled in 60 directions, HR is concerned about bringing people back and equally concerned about compliance with work-from-home while struggling to keep up with personnel requests. IT and IS are concerned about data/network/hardware and critical infrastructure plans while juggling help desk requirements.  Finance and Accounting seem pretty stable after going remote, given the FinTech solutions that have been adopted over the last 5 years. Marketing / Communications is in full tilt, working hard to align with post-pivot company objectives and the newly exposed lack of a centralized internal communication platform.  Consideration is being given to leased space – discussions are circular and seem to be going nowhere.  One-year extensions are everywhere – it’s ‘the big pause’ I’m alluding to in the headline.

The time is now for a Chief Workplace Officer.  The corporate real-estate function is interdisciplinary.  IT/Network. Legal/Contracts.  HR/Programming.  Finance/Leases. Marketing/Signage.  This is the tip of the iceberg.  From construction and purchasing through admin and delivery of a finished space, corporate real estate literally touches every inch of the organization.  None of this will be possible without a new digital office – a unified and centralized platform that supports these disciplines from anywhere.  An office on the cloud if you will.  Throw in the complexities of what this will look like when we, ‘go-back’ and how the new office will support work-from-anywhere and you have a whole new field. 

The office upstairs will closely resemble the actual office.  Establishing how people work, their basic function and flow, are equally important in both worlds.  We don’t put gregarious sales groups next to deep work programmers in the office….and we certainly don’t give them the same tools for their trade.  Careful consideration of platform and hardware are equally as important as location of restroom, breakroom, and the intentionality of collaborative space and huddle rooms.  Real Estate and IT just got together and had a baby. 

As a certified Microsoft partner, we’ve taken a deep dive into virtual over the past year and half.  We’ve turned our office into a test lab for hardware – working with various assistive technologies that support our work from anywhere platform.  My aim as the owner of the company has been to provide my clients and co-workers with enriched virtual experiences.  That means clear audio, crisp video, productive screen space, ergonomic positioning, with fast processing and network connectivity.  It also means providing an insightful, simple virtual platform for file sharing, collaboration, and organization. The hardware helps them. The platform helps me.  

Measuring productivity with work-from-anywhere is an issue.  Absent a platform and user interface, it is nearly impossible to measure how long, how often, or how effective someone is doing their job.  The great news is that remote-managed solutions are ubiquitous, inexpensive, and unbelievably simple to implement (when compared to comparable systems of the past).  Off the shelf applications that allow system admins to implement meaningful no-code or low-code solutions are out there.  Plus, non-proprietary platforms that allow Open API and Open Source API give IT the ability to write scripts to gather information across these platforms.  When paired with field-tested peripherals, users and clients alike benefit from a reliable, enriched, and simplified virtual experiences while directors and executives benefit from refined analytics and real-time reporting in a fully customizable platform.  Simple, right?  

The CWO might just become one of the most important positions in the company over the next 10 years.  H/Her role will consider each discipline and establish the hierarchy for budget and implementation. Departmental platforms will be created.  Workflows will be re-established.  Security will be reconfigured.  New physical offices will be redesigned with careful consideration around health and safety.  The new office hubs will support work-from-anywhere platforms and offer enriched Audio/Visual and collaboration tools.  When people come back together (and they will come back together) they will be highly productive, and the new workplace landscape will seamlessly support that. 

So now what?  It starts with pressing the pause button again to restart the music.  Things will be different for a while. There’s no need to dwell on that when so much needs to be done.  With budget season nearly upon us, we need to roll up our sleeves and start to have substantive discussions about disposition, return-to-work, and work-from-anywhere costs.  For the foreseeable future, a new budget allocation for workplace is imperative, and it might require everyone to give up a little for the organization to benefit a lot.

Chris Moeller is the Owner and Managing Principal of Orion Growth, a division of Gaia Ventures.  He has been pairing companies who seek efficient, repeatable workplace solutions with providers for over a decade.  Orion Growth is restoring the human connection by fundamentally changing the way workspace is delivered. 

Photo by Joe Roberts on Unsplash