Federal agency executives are asking employees to return to the office. But the people they want back are not the same people directed to work from home in early 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.
People’s attitudes and perceptions about work and the workplace have changed permanently, said Matt Mandrgoc, head of the U.S. public sector for Zoom.
As for employees? “They’ve decided how they want to work, when they want to work, and where they went to work,” Mandrgoc told Federal News Network during Workplace Reimagined.
That’s why the time has come for agencies to reimagine the workplace, he said, adding that agencies need a strategy for the how, when and where:
On the where: Now that the government has largely finished required upgrades to virtual private networks or virtual desktop infrastructures for supporting telework, it might be time to examine how IT departments can help employees upgrade their home technology, Mandrgoc suggested.
On the when: Management needs to explore nonstandard working hours and think about the new norm as not being 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. This is doable, thanks to communication technologies that support asynchronous exchanges, he said. The bonus? Accommodating people’s various prime times, the parts of the day when each individual is most productive, he said.
On the how: The key here is ensuring flexibility for the when and where, Mandrgoc said. “Employees now are demanding autonomy, flexibility and, most importantly, the need for technology to support this way of working,” he said. “The government needs to meet these fast-changing demands. And it’s essential to really empower people to accomplish more.”
A hybrid work environment is not just about the right technology
As agencies invest in technologies to support a new vision of the workplace, they’ll need to include the required training and education, Mandrgoc said. “We’ve seen a cultural change around how people are interacting, so government will really need to upskill their entire workforce to succeed in a hybrid workplace.”
On the tech side, organizations will need a well-crafted technology stack that includes good cameras, microphones and collaboration platforms, he said. His company’s Zoom for Government can tie hardware and collaboration software together, he said. With such a stack, agencies can ensure high productivity for remote employees, Mandrgoc said. It can even help people reluctant to, say, appear on camera, grow more comfortable with the video collaboration experience, he added.
Ultimately, a successful hybrid workplace, Mandrgoc said, depends on three elements: First, management must listen carefully to employee feedback. Second, the technology team must ensure equitable and mutually beneficial connections so that everyone in a meeting or collaboration session has a similar experience, regardless of where they’re working. Third, agencies must provide frictionless platforms that support hybrid work. It has to work consistently and be easy to navigate, he said.
Reimagined meetings add to overall customer experience
Specific technologies and technological approaches are now available to support this reimagined workplace, Mandrgoc said. He cited as example conference rooms.
Agencies commonly hold meetings for which some employees are physically present and some are remote. So that everyone has an equal sense of engagement, agencies are investing in multicamera setups and screen arrangements, he said. These eliminate the phenomenon of remote employees seeing a fixed wide-angle view of a room with tiny figures around a table and of in-person employees seeing only a tiled set of remote participants or a single, large head beaming down at them.
In many ways, what Mandrgoc called the reimagined workplace journey is all about evolving both employee experience and customer experience. Good employee experience means “democracy and parity between the remote and in-person interactions,” he said. And good customer experiences using solid video communications give constituents the feeling they’re part of a partnering interaction, he added. Therefore, reimagining the workplace and creating these improved interactions supports the December 2021 executive order on improving federal customer experience, Mandrgoc said.
Over time, this new workplace will also encourage agencies to rethink office and furniture investments so that hybrid and mobile employees can simply walk into online, connected spaces.
In this future environment, “I don’t have to have tethered wires all over the place to bring someone into a video meeting,” Mandrgoc said. “I can walk into a room, be able to sign up online, have secure access to actually connect up to the screen showing information.”
The 5 pillars of a reimagined workspace
“If you think about, there’s five areas that really create the foundational platform for the workplace reimagined,” said Zoom’s Matt Mandrgoc.
Simplicity: a space that’s intuitive to use so people will embrace it
Scalability: available in all the locations an agency occupies and available to all potential users
Innovative: new technologies in place for a quality experience, including capabilities like virtual breakout rooms, sound suppression and virtual backgrounds (Mandrgoc said to expect online white-boarding and other tools soon.)
Extensibility: ability to add third-party hardware and software to the basic collaboration platform