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How UC, Mobility and Open Offices are Changing Corporate Culture

Posted by Kevin Gulley

Oct 8, 2015


This isn’t your father’s workplace anymore.  

The days of centralized company headquarters with every employee showing up to work in an office or a cubicle from 9 to 5 are on the run.  Since the start of the great recession, an explosion in enhanced communications and UC capabilities has led to the rise of a mobile, remote workforce, which has in turn led to businesses adopting smaller, leaner, open office spaces.  All of this has forced businesses and employees to adapt how they work and collaborate, which of course has had a significant impact on corporate culture.  

It’s an interesting enough trend and topic that I recently had a podcast interview with Urban Gillis the Vice President of Channel Sales for North America for Jabra, the high-end headset maker.  Because of the nature of their products, they’ve had a front-row seat as companies work to integrate communication and collaboration technology into their work processes and have watched as businesses work to increase adoption rates and make these new ways of working part of the corporate identity.  

Unified Communications Is Leading The Charge to a Mobile Culture

The technology we cover here at the UC Buyer is breaking down the barriers between time and space in a way not seen since, when?  The invention of the PBX, maybe?  Voice, video, presence management, IM and web conferencing is now ubiquitous, and the consumerization of IT means knowledge workers all have serious, mobile tech with them all the time.  Of course this also leads to the feeling that we are all available 24x7, which can have cultural repercussions.  According to Gillis, this is something businesses need to address. “Smart companies are starting to put policies in place that take ‘downtime boundaries’ into consideration.  Many of us have already experienced a significant shift in the blending of our work and personal lives due to the mobilization of technology, and having a culture that respects employees need to unplug can go a long way.”  

From a purely business perspective the reason for investing in communications technology is to enable employees to improve productivity and collaboration.  Unified Communications allows workers to access information and their colleagues at any time and for companies that do a good job of adopting these tools they become a key part of the company culture.  “Companies have to plan to eat their own dogfood when it comes to rolling out UC.  The goal is to enable more fluid and friction free collaboration that becomes part of the corporate culture,” says Gillis.   “For example, in my mind leveraging video makes for a better phone call and improves and enhances not only the communication, but the connection between colleagues and customers.  Businesses that turn to these tools consistently report a more cohesive work environment, even when that takes place across multiple locations.”

Workers Are Out of the Office...and They're Staying There

All this tech means that employees just don’t need to be in the office as much to be connected and productive, and as a result, they’re not.  According to Gillis, 35% of knowledge workers are now mobile workers, either working on the road or out of a home office for a portion (or all) of the week  That trend is accelerating as this infographic shows.  Based on recent research, Jabra believes the number of knowledge workers working remotely will increase to up to 75% in just the next few years.  This is a huge number.  

One piece of tech that is taking on an outsized role in knitting this remote workforce together is presence management.  Many companies that I have spoken with that have had successful UC implementations are fully committed to having everyone keep their presence updated.  This leads to easy access to colleagues for a quick IM if you need a question answered, and also let’s you know when that person is unavailable or doesn’t want to be disturbed so they can get some work done.  “The average knowledge worker is interrupted every 10 minutes and it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on track,” says Gillis. “If you are constantly being interrupted you are losing productivity.  Keeping your presence updated allows you to collaborate with the right people as needed and to stay in your concentration zone when you need to do ‘heads down’ work.”   

Open Offices Are Here to Stay

As more employees work remotely, companies don’t need as much office space.  As Gillis explains, “Over 50% of existing office space sits empty with workers on the road, or working from home.”  This trend has coincided with the rise of open office spaces, which are growing like crazy as we lay out in this handy infographic.    Open office spaces can be smaller, increase space utilization rates and create a sense of collaboration and a more open culture.  Since 2010, by moving to open office spaces businesses have decreased the square footage per employee by 33%, and increased the utilization of that space to closer to 80%.

These open offices can have a major impact on corporate culture as employees are much closer together.  On the one hand, this makes it easier for teams to collaborate and can lead to improved creativity and productivity.  The flip side is that they can be noisy and for many knowledge workers it can be harder to concentrate.   Jabra has been following this trend closely and has products designed to address these challenges, like their Evolve noise cancelling headset line and even a Busylight to let people in the office know your status just by looking your way (hint: red means leave me alone, I’m trying to work!).  

Another area we discuss in the podcast is the rising importance of conference and collaboration spaces in open offices.  The trend is towards a greater number of smaller conference rooms or huddle rooms so that team members can more easily collaborate on a project with some privacy.  These are less expensive when compared to large, telepresence-enabled conference rooms, and can just feature whiteboards and conference phones or they can be outfitted to with lower cost conferencing solutions in order to bring in remote team members or customers via video or web conferencing as needed.  

Challenges and Benefits Companies Face as UC Drives Change

According to Gillis, the greatest challenge companies face when it comes to successfully making the transition to a mobile, uc-driven culture, is adoption.  Without a good plan for getting the employees on board with the new technology and ways of working and collaborating, businesses won’t get the benefit from the investment and culture won’t adapt.  Related: Read How headsets have been proven to drive increased UC adoption rates.   

“If companies and employees adapt to these mega trends, they can realize significant business and cultural benefits,” says Gillis.  “Employees build closer relationships across time and space barriers, and improved employee moral is a huge benefit.”  In addition he says that getting a leg up on the war for talent is a big upside for businesses in that they can offer flexibility of location and improved work life balance to the right candidates.

How is your business adapting to these changes.  How well have you done adopting new technologies and incorporating them into your culture?  Are you in an open office space and what are the pros and cons?  Let us know in the comment section below.

Topics: video, collaboration, Employees, Unified Communications,, Adoption, Headsets,