The complexities and changes resulting from the pandemic have forced workers to adapt, expectations around working practices have changed rapidly and workplaces must evolve to keep pace.
In the future, organisations are likely to keep a “core office” and it will remain the place where most team connection, learning and collaboration happens. The long-term expectation is for expanded communal space in these offices - conference rooms of various sizes, huddle rooms, “village greens” and social hubs.
For many workers home is a feasible second option but the flexibility to choose a third option – a coffee shop, local library, perhaps a museum lobby – will be important too. And the popularity of coworking spaces, retail spaces and suburban “spoke” offices will grow. It’s therefore likely the workplace will become an ecosystem which provides multiple options for workers, resulting in greater freedom and more employee-centred choice than before.
Organisations will need to implement reliable technology to manage office space utilisation in a transparent, accessible way. And they must ensure a seamless connection between workers, both inside and outside the office.
The faster speed and higher bandwidth provided by 5G will be critical. Phone and tablet apps will become ever-more powerful and 5G will ensure they can be used for complex tasks without the need for a fixed desk.
The combination of 5G and “edge computing” (computing that’s done at the edge of a network) will sharpen speeds and response times further yet. It will drive better digital experiences – ranging from improved video download speeds to augmented reality – and enable more engaging, effective working practices.
Rapidly changing workstyles and technological advancement may stop real estate decisions being taken in traditional ten-year cycles. Organisations will need to build out spaces like e-products, with a minimum viable product mindset and a continuous improvement culture.
The delivery of networks nationally is a major civil engineering project which tens of billions in public and private investment will help deliver. National government, local authorities and private companies will need to cooperate to coordinate delivery—something which groups, including Speed Up Britain, have campaigned for.
The concept of private 5G networks has also been gaining traction. It allows enterprises to purchase 5G spectrum and deploy their own mobile networks which are enclosed and secure. Organisations can determine who connects to it and what data is kept on site. Issues can be resolved quickly, and data is kept local, interactive, and real time.
As well as improving building management and user experience, private 5G networks can help eliminate excess core cabling and infrastructure, saving time, money and opening up possibilities for flexible floorplans and workspace design.
It will take time to build out a 5G network which gives citizens across the UK a fully optimised digital experience in whichever location they decide to work. It is, after all, only in the past few years that the faster speeds of 5G smartphones been introduced. But the capabilities of 5G technologies are becoming ever-more real—and the draw of agile, connected workplace ecosystems is undeniable.
The office might be optional but for the future of work, 5G is crucial.