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Core connections

Building connectivity needs to be an essential part of workplace planning in 2021, says John Archer, Solutions Director at Backbone Connect

Conversations about the digital workplace tend to focus on the smart building management systems and intelligent sensors that help to boost workplace efficiency, from monitoring energy levels to optimising layouts and use of space. These are exciting innovations but they are only as good as the digital infrastructure that underpins them.

All too often this core connectivity and the underlying infrastructure is being overlooked as part of office fit outs. Yet, digital networks, including internet, are as essential to the modern office as running water. Leaving aside smart building systems, these power practically every facet of a company’s operations. How many businesses could function without internet access? Forward-thinking landlords factor connectivity into their asset management plans, but usually it is up to office tenants to source their own internet provider and infrastructure.

In the context of the pandemic, connectivity matters more now than ever as we work through the implications of flexible working for the office. Facilities management teams have a vital role to play in helping businesses understand its importance and making sure that asset owners and occupiers invest in the right way and at the right time to get the most out of their workplaces.

DRIVING NEW WAYS OF WORKING

COVID-19 has focused attention on the value of the office. 2020 showed just how important the physical workplace is for facilitating the collaboration, ideas-sharing and social life that drive organisations and their shared sense of purpose. But it also proved that more agile working is possible and can be a boon for work-life balance. In fact, a survey of over 950 company directors by the Institute of Directors found that nearly three-quarters intended to maintain increased homeworking after Coronavirus.

While some may rethink their position as the vaccine roll-out continues, many organisations are likely to be reassessing their leasing commitments and considering how much space they really need. As they plan for the safe return of staff, leadership teams will need to demonstrate to CFOs that their workplaces continue to offer the best return on investment. Meanwhile for some employees, the office has now become more of a destination than a necessity – why go back to the commute, especially if the set-up is better at home? They will need to be convinced that it can live up to expectations.

Connectivity must play a fundamental part in that, powering the video calls, desktop research and brainstorms that support creativity and team building in the office. Even if commuting five days a week becomes less common, good digital services will still be essential for more flexible working practices. Teams can only embrace a ‘work from anywhere’ culture if the technology is there to allow them to seamlessly access their critical applications and data.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Better digital infrastructure has to be part of business planning this year, but many will be unaware of the time it can take to install it. Getting fibre into a building for high-speed internet typically takes three months, largely due to the complex negotiations required around navigating wayleave agreements and securing access for installation.

It’s therefore important to plan early. Whether an FM team is overseeing an office move or leading a workplace refurbishment, they should counsel businesses to ensure there are no hold ups and that rent isn’t paid unnecessarily before an office is fit for purpose.

By factoring in connectivity at the earlier stages of a fit-out plan, teams can ensure it is optimised for the way businesses want to work. Configuring new office layouts isn’t as easy as just shuffling around desks. Wi-Fi access points, for example, will need to move too. Clever use of Wi-Fi can also form part of flexible contract arrangements – for example by allowing different employees to share desks on different days, with access restricted to nominated users depending on the day of the week.

Cybersecurity is another critical factor and systems must be robust. In the case of an office refurb, teams should assess what technology is already in place and what devices are connected to the web – any of these can be potential entry points for cyber criminals if appropriate firewalls aren’t in place or turned on. It’s also important to think about what would happen to a business’ operations if their connection was interrupted, and to establish appropriate back-up protocols. The Google outage which occurred late last year shows the disruption that can be caused even when system failures aren’t the result of malicious intent. Businesses were unable to access emails and intra-office messaging for nearly an hour.

THE MISSING PART OF THE PUZZLE

The FM sector plays a fundamental role in supporting the smooth running of workplaces. Teams pride themselves on their ability to support employees’ productivity and generally make it easier for them to focus on what they do best – their job. But there is a knowledge gap among many businesses around digital connectivity. By helping them to navigate this and working with partners to put suitable systems in place, FM providers can fulfil their aspiration to underline business resilience and performance.

About Sarah OBeirne

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