Sep 27, 2023
8 mins read
Future of Work
With many companies, most notably Zoom in recent months, transitioning to a hybrid work setting, and office space utilization in the ten largest metro areas at just 47%, there is a clear change in what “going to work” is looking like for many workers.
The concept of “going to work” has undergone a heavy shift over the last decade. But in the last few years, particularly due to the pandemic, the evolution away from the traditional physical office feels more like a tailspin. Many companies have found themselves without the knowledge to solve the unique challenges that occur when transitioning to a hybrid work setting (or in some cases, remote).
Add in the implementation of generative AI to help automate some of the tasks and workflows that used to be done at the office, which frees up employees to focus on higher-level tasks, and “the office” as we knew it may not actually exist anymore.
There is no shortage of experts who are more than willing to battle over the benefits and downsides of flexible work, but companies don’t need more opinions; they need solutions.
Recently, we hosted a fireside chat with Oded Gal, former CPO of Zoom, where we discussed what “going to work” will look like in the near term (and the future), and how companies can tap into AI and other technologies to help bring their distributed, remote, and hybrid teams together. Here’s an edited excerpt from our live discussion, which you can watch in full on our YouTube channel.
Flexspace (FS): Recently, Zoom, which you know quite well, along with JP Morgan and other companies, announced their return to office policy. Along with the low occupancy rates, this all begs a very important question: Why did we fire the office?
Oded Gal (OG): I would say that we basically fired the old “office.” It still exists but in a different form. There’s more focus on collaboration, which is less accessible for a lot of people who became remote, so many companies are making changes whether that’s downsizing or closing offices. This is happening because of the shift toward this new way of work.
FS: When work is not tied to any one single location anymore, and can be done anywhere, what does it mean to “go to work?”
OG: Going to work is certainly not like it used to be. In my own situation, I used to be that person who forced everyone to be in the office in one open space. It was all product and design in one section, and that’s just how we used to work. But that kind of role is gone. People have learned that the flexibility of combining office and home is so valuable and they don’t want to go back to full-time office work. This is what really drives this different behavior of thinking of work as something more flexible and more fluid. It’s less about sitting at your desk and working, and more about being responsible for your own time and using all kinds of tools to really create a collaborative experience between teams who might be remote or distributed.
FS: What’s the biggest challenge of these return-to-work mandates?
OG: With so many individuals working remotely, there is a lot of confusion. Companies need to find a way to make these synchronous collaboration sessions effective. And they can only really be effective when people come together in the same space and you can have activities like socializing, bonding, training, even happy hours, which sure, you can do remotely, but it’s not as effective. It takes longer and it takes effort. This begs the question, how do you bring teams that are remote, hybrid, and/or distributed together? That’s the problem that we have to solve.
FS: With that in mind, how do you make sure everyone has the same access to the space that they need?
OG: It’s difficult when employees simply cannot physically come to the office. Companies can provide the ability to travel, but from a budget standpoint, that’s not feasible in many cases. So how do you compensate for that? Flexspace is really ideal in the sense that you can allow remote teams that are in the same location to have that ability to meet synchronously and manage it.
FS: How do you think generative AI will impact the future of work?
OG: If we make the assumption that not everybody can come to the office, we need to figure out a way to ensure remote and distributed teams feel included. Technology is really the best way to bridge that. Asynchronous collaboration supports messaging and file sharing, with technologies like Slack and Zoom Huddles offering continuous collaboration capabilities that will allow people to feel that they are in the office to some extent.
But there are also other things that can be done in terms of connecting the physical conference room with the remote participants, for example, so that everyone truly feels like they’re together.
FS: What are some other ways AI can help support hybrid (or remote) work?
OG: I’m a big believer in the assistant or the copilot. In the current world, executives have their admins, who schedule these types of sessions and all-hands, but that’s not scalable. Not everyone can have a person dedicated to helping them coordinate those tasks. So what if you had a bot or a kind of software that does it for you, that knows your teammates and your manager, and can help coordinate and scale these sessions? I truly believe that AI assistants are a key component to making hybrid work even better.
FS: What is the future of the physical office?
OG: I don’t really see a replacement for the physical office and meeting face-to-face. But we need to ensure that those in-person meetings are truly meaningful and productive. What I envision is tapping into AI and new devices to create an experience where people are sitting in the same room, some physically and some virtually.
FS: What’s your advice to organizations making the transition to a hybrid work setting?
OG: First of all, people need to expect that this is the new world. And while it might not be ideal, we need to embrace tools that exist and are being developed right now to make it better. That means tapping into technology, productivity tools, and AI to help create a positive experience for the increasing number of individuals who are now transitioning to this setting.