Work from home crowd and office hardcore try to make the best of both worlds

Emilee Geist

Joining video calls from an open plan office is “bloody difficult”, complains one senior auditor.

“[With] virtual, we really do know what we’re doing now …The hybrid thing is far, far more complex,” says Mark Williams, a partner at KPMG.

“The historical tendency has been to design events for the people who are in the room … and then treat everybody else as almost second class citizens. You’ve got to spin that the other way around now.”

New role for the office

Computer-based tasks such as emailing can be carried out easily from home but a strong consensus is emerging that offices still have a role.

“While working from home can be very effective, some things are better suited to the office, typically those involving lots of interaction with others such as training and team building,” says Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC.

The firm is considering focusing more on standing meeting spaces than on board rooms, Ellis says. New technology ranges from providing virtual whiteboards to staff working from their spare bedrooms to more ambitious experiments with virtual reality. KPMG, one of PwC’s main rivals, has also invested in technology to adapt to a hybrid working model.

The firm has repurposed 28,000 sq ft at its Canary Wharf headquarters to create spaces where teams and clients can work together, including the capability to include colleagues and clients who are at home or in other offices. The “Ignition centre” includes breakout areas, floor-to-ceiling white boards and an area with cameras and huge screens for meetings involving detailed data or visual materials.

“In the hybrid world, you have to treat it like a BBC studio,” says Williams, who is head of the Ignition project in the UK. “You have to have the camera technology, you’ve got to have the screens where you can genuinely make people feel like they are present in the room. And for the people who are in the room, make sure they can see every single facial feature of those people on the screen.

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