E-Handbook: AI tools and technologies reshape workplace planning Article 1 of 4

Digital workplace alterations emphasize flexibility

Not so long ago, designers of corporate office spaces were charged with the creation of open, collaborative, economically sound environments where employees could meet informally, and sometimes serendipitously, to discuss upcoming projects, allocate discretionary budgets, share weekend adventures and settle football point spreads. Back then, much of the office landscape was painted with a multitude of desks, workspaces, meeting places and employees as far as the eye could see -- a bustling working world without walls.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. C-suite executives were forced to reinvent their workplaces to accommodate a limited number of employees returning to the office under COVID-19 restrictions, while a larger number of employees continued to work exclusively from home. Among corporate workplace planning options were moving operations from cavernous to smaller facilities, establishing multiple satellite offices closer to workers' homes -- or maintaining the current footprint with alterations geared to greater flexibility and safety for employees and management.

Along those lines, a September 2020 Wall Street Journal article headlined "Goodbye, open office. Hello, dynamic workplace," offered a preview of redesigned office spaces that may feature moveable soundproofed pods, clusters of desks, digital whiteboards, wireless device charging, ceiling-mounted occupancy tracking sensors and no-contact digital employee sign-in stations.

Will the FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines alter this scenario? Not in spirit. Flexible workspaces are here to stay for increasing numbers of employees returning to the office -- not to mention those who discovered they're just as productive working from home since the start of the pandemic.

As companies reshape their workplaces, workforce continuity is critical. The common denominator in workplace planning is cloud-based applications that employ AI, analytics and automation to consolidate digital workflows across departments, cities and oceans. This handbook examines the tools and techniques that ensure workforce continuity, while reinforcing employee collaboration, productivity, safety and privacy.