In our final installment of the Back to Anywhere series, we’re taking a look at the bottom line. In particular, what kind of expenses are businesses incurring as they transition to a hybrid workplace? Do the savings from less office space offset the cost of employee equity measures that ensure fairness and accessibility no matter where people work? What kind of investments have to be made to future-proof the workplace? It’s an interesting time in that no one knows the answers for sure, we just know that the pandemic changed the way people work and offices aren’t yet equipped for the complexity of a hybrid workforce. Business leaders are also having to factor in the importance of company culture, employee engagement, and most importantly productivity. Workplace changes are being made for this new employment era and with it comes added expenses that may or may not pay off.
Making the transition to a hybrid workplace is inherently going to require adopting new technology. Tech investments are going to need to be made to make remote work viable for the long-term. As businesses evaluate their IT needs moving forward two things are at the top of mind: data stacks and collaboration stacks. Both are hot topics right now for businesses that find themselves in flux as they reconfigure internally to accommodate more remote work and the hybrid work model.
What pieces of data need to be captured and analyzed together? More companies are putting a lot of forethought into what’s been dubbed “data stacks” as they implement changes for the future. The data is providing direction for the changes that need to be made and allowing stakeholders to monitor the effects of those changes. But in order to do that effectively, the right technology has to be put in place. Businesses have to know what they want to learn from the information in order to find tech solutions that will add value to their data stack. If they can get this right the IT investment should ultimately save the company money by identifying inefficiencies and areas of opportunity. For example, using a data analysis platform like RefineRE allows a business to analyze how a new streamlined office space is being utilized by in-office and primarily remote employees to fully optimize the space for a hybrid workforce.
Collaboration stacks is a new buzzword that’s quickly catching on as more businesses plan for employees to work remotely. Investments have to be made in tech solutions that allow individuals and teams to collaborate no matter where they are. One of the most complex aspects of putting together a collaboration stack is making sure all of the tools work together and that each tool has a specific purpose. As businesses build their collaboration stack they have to ask themselves how exactly a tool will be used to determine if it’s really necessary. As companies test the waters and figure out what’s going to work best for their employees, it’s tempting to pile tools onto the collaboration stack. However, this often is a losing strategy that will increase costs without necessarily delivering a return on investment. During the webinar, our panelists hit on the fact that it’s better to take a strategic approach by adding only the collaboration tools with a clearly defined purpose that will be able to integrate and work together in the hybrid workplace. Some companies, like Motley Fool, are taking a virtual-first approach with their collaboration stack. This means that they are building out a collaboration stack that first and foremost is meant for virtual use but can be used in-office as well. It includes tools like Zoom, Miro, and Slack.No matter what strategy is used, ideally, the collaboration stack and data stack will come together so that the company can learn even more about space utilization, employee activities, and productivity in general.
Many workplace experts are stressing the importance of making in-person connections with remote workers. Having that time together has a huge impact on company culture, career development, and retention. At one point everyone was together in the office so orchestrating in-person time wasn’t an added expense. There was no need to strategize on how to make sure all employees had the opportunity for in-person interactions. With a hybrid workforce remote vs in-office time becomes a balancing act that could be different for every employee. Companies have to make sure every employee gets facetime, and that raises a whole other set of questions. When a company wants to organize company-wide or department get-togethers, who pays the travel expenses? Should the employee incur the cost if they choose to work remotely? Should the company cover all of the travel costs as a business expense no matter where people primarily work?Businesses may have lower overhead with less office space, but they could see travel expenses go up significantly if the company covers the costs of getting remote workers together. Simply getting employees that are geographically dispersed together is going to be a challenge for some companies that will take time, money and effort to figure out.
Creating tech stacks and covering travel expenses are just some of the major expenditures that businesses are planning for in the near future. Transitioning to a hybrid work model comes with a few other expenses, some of which will be indefinite.
A major concern has come to light as more instances of the cyber hacking surface. Working remotely can leave businesses much more vulnerable than before. Remote work analysts have long said security has to be a priority when employees are working remotely, and a recent cyber security study from Tenable has data to back that up. It attributes 74% of the latest business-impacting cyber attacks to remote work weaknesses. In an office where everyone is working within the same contained system, cyber security is much easier to manage logistically. When employees are in different locations using computers on different servers and sending information across different platforms keeping everything secure is more complex. In addition to investing in added security for computer systems and servers, companies have to plan for constantly monitoring security threats. That could mean hiring specialists, which many companies see as a worthwhile addition to their team moving forward.
During the pandemic local, state, and federal governments gave businesses tax breaks and created deferment programs. But as we move past the pandemic back payments and this year’s business fees are due. And in some areas taxes are going back up to pre-pandemic levels or higher. This is a short-term expense, but it could be a significant one.
At the moment it’s unclear how all the changes are going to pan out and pay off. But RefineRE’s Ryan Turner brought up a good point at the end of the discussion. All of these changes are increasing complexity all around. The real challenge is figuring out how to simplify it all so that the multitude of new information that’s coming in gets used and actually informs decisions going forward.