Now approaching three years since the “great work-from-home experiment” was forced upon nearly every office worker, a substantial percentage have found their way back into the traditional office setting, some have settled into a hybrid arrangement and a smaller number have vowed never to return, even if that means quitting their jobs. How companies have responded to these situations and how technology has helped shape these decisions was the subject of a recent breakfast seminar sponsored by the Maryland Tech Council, held at the corporate headquarters of MOI in McHenry Row in Baltimore City.

Kelly Schulz, CEO of the Maryland Tech Council moderates the workplace seminar featuring panelists Darren Fitsch, CRB; Kelly Ennis, The Verve Partnership and Charles Crawford, Vision Technologies.

“If the move to all-remote work was something every company had planned on in advance, the shift to properly migrate data systems would have taken 18 months but, in this instance, it was completed in less than two weeks,” suggested Charles Crawford, Vice President of Business Development for Vision Technologies. “Many employees are telling their employees that they worked just fine from their homes, so what is the reason to go back? They said, in fact, my office is simply where my laptop happens to be at any given time. But, there still exists a large majority who never liked using videoconferencing tools and will always crave face-to-face interaction and collaboration. They reached a tipping point during the pandemic and, despite all the digital whiteboards and such at their disposal, believe successful outcomes are better achieved with others in the office.”

“At the outset of the pandemic, it didn’t matter what methods we were using to redesign office space and how many six-foot circles we drew on the floors because employees were not returning to work until changes were made to the air filtration systems,” explained Kelly Ennis, Founding and Managing Principal of The Verve Partnership. “The hybrid work model has actually been around for more than 25 years but working from home was shunned and considered inappropriate for serious businesspeople. You would often hear, ‘oh, you work from home?’ and people were judged negatively. Now, thanks to a big assist from technology, it is completely accepted but interest is waning among those who feel isolated or are significantly more productive when surrounded by like-minded professionals.”

“We have used technology to track the movements of employees throughout the day, and then analyze the data to determine the proper placement of furniture and fixtures to create the most efficient interior space design,” said Darren Fitsch, Project Director with CRB. “One thing we have learned, as employees and employers work through various hybrid work models is that there is no substitute for in-person interactions.”

“Look at what everyone has dealt with over the past three years in which we have essentially needed to recreate ourselves three different times to adjust to constantly changing work environments,” added Kelly Schulz, CEO of Maryland Tech Council and the session’s moderator. “For the most part, humans don’t do culture change very well but, luckily, the use of technology has made the many necessary pivots and adjustments much easier.”

“Before beginning any space planning design project, we spend considerable time upfront asking lots of questions and collecting data regarding how people work, where people work, where they live and how long is their commute,” Ennis said. “If we don’t get accurate information or apply it incorrectly, the design will be incorrect or inefficient.”