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Episode 15 – The Evolution of Office Space

Let’s get it on the table: this is an episode about how COVID has affected the working world, although really, the pandemic only accelerated trends that were already taking shape for years. As workers start to return to the office, there are many unanswered questions. Will we all return to the office? As frequently as before? If not, then there will be a lot of unused space. How will that space be used? More conference rooms and collaboration spaces? A return to private offices? These questions have massive technical implications, but they are essentially driven by culture, not technology. Our guest Adam Cox is a senior analyst for Futuresource, who has had a front row seat to the changing dynamics of the AV space. He will share new insights based on thorough research to help us all understand: what is the future for the office?

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Episode guest

Adam Cox
Sr. Analyst – Imaging & Professional Video, Futuresource

Adam is senior analyst at Futuresource Consulting and is responsible for researching and reporting on technology trends across the imaging, pro video and collaboration market categories. Adam is also heavily involved in work looking at end users and service providers across the corporate markets. In addition, he works on tracking and examining the collaboration, wireless presentation and conferencing equipment sales channels. Adam joined Futuresource in 2006 working on a broad range of market tracking, analytical and strategic pro broadcast AV projects. He soon went on to lead the broadcast equipment team covering the full broadcast production chain from acquisition to content delivery. Adam holds a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Film and Television Studies.

Episode transcript

Justin Kennington (00:09):

Hello everybody and welcome to SDVoE LIVE! I am your host, Justin Kennington and this is TV for pro AV. We’re getting into summer. I think everyone I talk to complains about the heat already. I remind them that it’s only mid-June and it’s going to get warmer before we get cool again, but when we get cool again, when we get past our vacation season, it might finally be time for many of us to start thinking about a return to the office. What is that going to look like? We’ve got a very interesting guest, our old friend, Adam Cox, from Futuresource. He’s a principal analyst for collaboration and pro AV at Futuresource and he’s recently helped to publish a report on what the office is going to look like as we all get back to it towards the end of 2021 and into 2022 – some very interesting findings from that report.

We’re going to chat with Adam about that in just a little bit. Before we do that, I’m going to talk over some news related to the return to the office and what that will be with my co-host Matt Dodd. But before we get to Matt, I want to remind you all about the aftershow, which is coming up at the end of our half-hour program where you can ask me, ask Matt, ask Adam what’s on your mind.

So without further ado, let’s bring in Matt and check out the news.

Matt Dodd (03:28):

You’ve thrown some great news articles up. (Visit “Resources” on the episode 15 page in SDVoE Academy for links to the news articles.) Let’s take a look at the first news article, “Which verticals will drive recovery in commercial audio?” What’d you get from this?

Justin Kennington (04:08):

The piece was about the commercial audio space, but I think it can be applied more broadly to all of audio/video, when they talked about the vertical segments that are expected to recover the most quickly, that are expected to recover the least quickly. There weren’t any big surprises there. In other words, all the findings made sense. The corporate space is one that continues to do well. The article mentioned there were project delays at the beginning of the pandemic and understandably so as everyone’s figuring out what in the world is going on here, but now these corporations are working to adapt their office space into this new environment. We’ll talk with Adam about some of the details of what that might look like, but of course that means more spending, more projects, and more emphasis on upgrades, on changes to the AV systems that support these offices. What about you, Matt? What did you think?

Matt Dodd (05:06):

I started reading this with a “not really convinced” frame of mind. I had an eyebrow raise, if that’s fair to say, when budgets have already been assigned to equipping AV space within these arenas. Don’t hang on that being a positive thing, budgets certainly in government space are always assigned at the beginning of the year for whatever reason it might be, whether it be building a new road or equipping office space.

It’s interesting that certainly office space management are very heavily focusing on how they’re going to do it. How are they going to spend that budget? It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens next year, once we’ve lived that first year of people coming back to the office space. What I’m pleased to see it doing is focusing on the hybrid working space.

 

Some of the places that it talks about, some of the verticals of hospitality, I know that in the toing and froing of lockdown and an ease of lockdown, certainly over in the UK, people have really thought about this. Bar owners, hospitality people are used to floods of people coming into the bar, ordering drinks and sitting outside. The whole bar, the whole internal element of that business has had to shift itself outside.

That’s good for AV space because now we’re seeing much better AV systems, much better digital signage, much better outdoor spaces, which is naturally going to continue post pandemic. Beyond that there’s always going to be a requirement for well-utilized outside space, which to be fair in my experience, I think bars are focused too heavily on the inside and not really thought about what happens when people go outside. From that perspective, it was very good. I suppose I just had a raised eyebrow Justin, on it. I’m hoping that people don’t just expect, oh, well, there’s money there to equip outside spaces now, it will be fine in the future. We really have to wait and see. What do you think?

Justin Kennington (07:49):

Well fair enough, and the article’s point about budgets was specific to the government sector. Here in the States, and I imagine elsewhere, economic stimulus is the name of the game. I can almost wonder if we could see an AV infrastructure package coming from congress one day soon, $2 trillion of AV spending. Why not go for it?

Matt Dodd (08:09):

That’d be good.

Justin Kennington (08:10):

A final point that I thought was interesting in the article, it talked about the retail sector and how the retail sector weathered the storm of the pandemic relatively well by just shifting to online sales, which of course took off in the past year and a half. They still have cash flow and still a healthy business. Their next challenge is how to draw people back into the stores, how to get that foot traffic back. The report here cited AV systems as a way to create interesting and unique experiences that might draw people back, so if you’re an integrator near the retail space, watch for those opportunities

Matt Dodd (08:48):

That’s good as well, of course, because Amazon has been a big threat to people who are selling in the retail space. Lots of people were selling in the retail space who don’t have this return to work thought behind them. They don’t rely on multiple different spaces to sell stuff to so I can imagine how difficult it must be for a business to have to then jump in the world of retail, to sell amongst many, many other people who are doing so, but with a different model. Interesting topic.

Let’s see what we’ve got next, “The Biotech Sector Is Gobbling Up Real Estate”.

Is it? Well, I think the biggest takeaway for me here was that whilst we’re working very, very hard to allow people to work from home, you can’t really do biotech work from home. If you’ve got a lab you can’t really take the lab home.

Justin Kennington (09:43):

It depends on what kind of home you have. I’m sure Tony Stark has a bio-secure lab floor in the basement somewhere, but it’s true that not everyone does. I brought this article in speaking of verticals that are doing well. Here you have an industry that demands in-person effort and is buoyed by a sudden increase in interest in vaccines and in the technology that this industry produces so you see this massive growth in this space. The article talked about for the AV sector, for the integrator, the installer, the IT professional, these are companies that need things like access control, like security, conferencing systems, a big focus on cybersecurity. If you have expertise in those areas or if you want to brush up in those areas, here’s a segment that you can target to drive your business in the next year or two.

Matt Dodd (10:47):

Let’s move from biotech, from not being able to work from home, to your final piece of news, “Work from home should not mean hurt from home”.  We could talk for ages about this, but it really has elevated and suddenly brought the topic to attention. The fact that companies have to focus on looking after their employees in the work-from-home environment, no more people managers and owners of companies saying you will not work from home because I can’t keep my eye on you. It’s going to reduce the micromanagement factor and it’s going to really help to support people using valuable space at home to be more efficient. That was the biggest takeaway for me here. Hybrid is going to be cool. What about you?

Justin Kennington (11:40):

That was it. What I took from this one quickly, and then let’s get to our guest, is that the average office worker moves his or her mouse 100 feet per day. That’s almost six miles a year of mouse movement. So, watch those ergonomics.

Matt Dodd (12:00):

Let’s bring in our guest, Adam Cox, great guy.

Justin Kennington (12:24):

Adam. Thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about Futuresource for those in our audience who don’t know what Futuresource does.

Adam Cox (12:35):

Futuresource is, well essentially we’re market analysts, we’re a research agency and we focus on a wide variety of different markets and technologies ranging from the pure AV space, the broadcast space, but into the consumer electronics and the distribution of digital content as well. Quite a wide-ranging area, but my focus is very much on the collaboration and pro video space and in particular collaboration at the moment. It’s an interesting time to be in that world.

Justin Kennington (13:08):

It sure is and I’ve read some of your recent report on the return to the office on how things might look over the coming year or two. One of the things that jumped out at me in your report, and you can tell me if it’s surprised you as well, is the number of people who worked from home full-time before the pandemic compared to the number of people expected to work from home full-time after the pandemic. Your report said that those numbers would actually be about the same. We won’t have more people working from home full-time. That surprised me. Did it surprise you?

Adam Cox (13:43):

It did, absolutely. Just to put some numbers to that, we did this survey, speaking to people in the US ,UK, France and Germany. All the respondents worked at home at some point during the lockdown. This was done around the turn of the new year. What we saw was 18% of people pre-COVID were working from home full-time and that actually dropped to 16% in terms of expectations post-COVID. Now, I think what’s really clear is it’s not that people are going to go back to the office. It’s because people want to go to this more hybrid working model where they want to be in the office some of the time and working from home some of the time. What was actually interesting, as well, is that the peak of working from home five days a week during lockdown is only 35% of respondents.

Hybrid working is a trend that’s emerging. Actually, it’s a trend that’s here now. There are benefits to working from home. Obviously home-life/work-life balance, lack of a commute is a big one, but then being in the office is really important as well – actually seeing your colleagues, having a work culture, having spontaneous creative moments that you just don’t really have over Zoom or Teams. I think people have realized that a compromise is probably the best, where possible. Go into the office and work from home throughout the week is what a lot of people are choosing to do.

Justin Kennington (15:30):

I have the feeling that before the pandemic, we all clearly understood the benefits of working from home. Many people didn’t do it, but many people maybe wished they could – more time with the family, less time commuting, all those things. I think what’s happened in the last year is we’ve started to focus and really understand, for maybe the first time, the benefits of being in the office, those things you mentioned – the spontaneous collaboration, just the friendships and the engagement with your work that brings. I think maybe it was hidden and taken for granted before this.

Adam Cox (16:07):

I think you’re absolutely right and I think a big caveat to this is, of course, culture. We did this research, looking at those four countries. Even within that sample, the US was way out in front of people working from home and the acceptance around that, followed by the UK, and then France and Germany were quite a way behind. If you extrapolate that out to the whole world, anecdotally what we’re hearing is that when you go out to the Far East, when you’re looking at China and Japan, there just isn’t the same working from home cultural or the acceptance of that. Now part of that is because those countries, certainly at the beginning, dealt with COVID a lot better than perhaps the US and Europe did. They weren’t forced into that, but more than that, there is a cultural expectation of people being in the office.

That’s simply a trusting. You mentioned the micromanagement aspects earlier on. That’s exactly what  those cultures, out in that direction in the world, they haven’t got over that part or haven’t adopted the, you could argue, more progressive working from home, hybrid working models that we have in the West. Even within Europe, there are huge differences, but looking globally, it’s very difficult to make a generalization about how things are going. Overall I would say there is a move to hybrid working. And what we’re seeing in the research is not a revolution. It is very much an evolution, a continuing trend of adoption of that hybrid working model.

Justin Kennington (17:45):

With the idea that hybrid work becomes more prevalent, becomes maybe the most commonplace working structure, what are the adjustments to the office itself? What do the employers need to be doing? What are they doing to start making the workplace better supportive of that?

Adam Cox (18:06):

That’s a good question. It comes down to how people are going to meet. Historically, a meeting room within an office was the hub of a meeting. You would have most people in that meeting room, you may be dialing in one or two people who are working remotely or you may be calling another meeting room within your organization. Now, where your employees are, is going to vary day-by-day. The meeting room, therefore, has to reflect that changing nature of work. It needs to be not just suitable in terms of technology for people in the office, but also outside the office. Those needs need to be treated completely equally as well so we’re going to see, and we are seeing, a significant investment in meeting room technology, particularly around video conferencing to allow that flexibility to take place.

Justin Kennington (19:08):

I have some obvious guesses for what those technologies might be, but still I want to hear it from you. What are the technology trends that are going to be driving the next couple of years? What is our audience going to be asked to install?

Adam Cox (19:26):

Another good question, like the previous question, there’s no one answer to that because you have different-size organizations, you have different verticals, but by-and-large, obviously, it’s video conferencing and collaboration at the center of investments. That may be in-room screen sharing that can then be mirrored outside of the office with remote workers. It could be as simple as having a webcam or a PTZ camera based in the room, or it could be a full-blown room kit with a room hub at the center of it and satellite speakers and microphones around that as well.

It really depends on the budget and it depends on the vertical. You’ll have some organizations that will want to go for a more secure option, and they’re not very happy with cloud-based solutions. They want to go more traditional, more about having integrated codecs. Then you have some people who are happy with Teams, Zoom and the like, and will adopt those low cost products, such as PTZ cameras and video bars, collaboration bars as well.

Justin Kennington (20:47):

It strikes me, and we’re getting outside of my expertise so if I go wild let me know, but it strikes me that solutions like Zoom and Teams, which you just categorized under cloud-based there, are much more accessible to the easy work-from-home setup, right? I’ve got a home office here. I just dial into my Zoom account and I’m there. When you’re talking about the more traditional approach I’m thinking of dedicated hardware codecs and things. How do we make that work in a hybrid environment? How do I access that from home?

Adam Cox (21:22):

A lot of the integrated codec solutions are now featuring interoperability with the various cloud platforms, although obviously that does compromise security in many cases. They are opening up to that but generally, we’re seeing that the largest take-up is around Zoom and Teams. We look at the standardization of the room hubs, for example, is very much around those two platforms. You have others as well, but those two really do stand out. I think that the mass adoption that we’ve seen over the past 18 months has only been possible because of the cloud conferencing platforms that are out there. “Zoom” became a household name and a verb. You know, “I’m going to go to ‘zoom’ somebody”, people knew exactly what that meant. Now, the COVID novelty has worn off a little bit, certainly within the consumer world, perhaps that’s no longer as true as it was, but you’re absolutely right. The accessibility is absolutely key to those solutions.

Justin Kennington (22:29):

What I’ve observed personally is here in the world of professional audio/video all of my colleagues, anyone that I’m interacting with professionally, you can assume a very high base-level knowledge and understanding of how to use these platforms. As we’ve been shoved into this use of Zoom personally, I’ve started to observe the vast difference in some people’s understanding of the platform. When I’m dealing with someone, I’m trying not to name any names or call any of my friends or family out here, but people who don’t live in technology, now suddenly have to do their job on Zoom. That’s been a massive challenge and I imagine they must welcome that in-office experience.

Adam Cox (23:15):

Absolutely. I think that you can have different grades of experience and knowledge. I think for a lot of people, video conferencing was a new phenomenon 18 months ago or so and there was a huge learning curve and yeah, still, it’s really interesting culturally seeing how people are still working with that. The little kind of the tentative wave at the end, of course, we’ve still not worked out how to give a proper sort of goodbye at the end of the course, which is still fascinating.

A lot of people don’t want to be on video because they don’t want their homes shown behind them, they don’t want intrusion into their own personal lives. There are lots of different aspects to that as well as the technical side of things. There are still people who are struggling with the technology. It’s more, I think, being familiar with the platforms themselves rather than technology per se, I would suggest, like trying to find where the leave button is or the share screen button. People often fall foul of that.

Justin Kennington (24:24):

You could certainly learn how to use Zoom and then get invited to a Teams meeting and just, “what, what do I do? Where do I click?”

Adam Cox (24:32):

Exactly, and you’ll figure it out. It’s not rocket science, but there is still that little bit of a barrier. The point about this technology is it needs to be invisible, particularly when people go back to the office, because, before lockdown, before COVID, very few people, comparatively few people, were using video calls and all of a sudden it was forced on them and lots of people are still not comfortable with that. When people go back to the office, there’s a question mark over what is going to be used. Are people still going to be using video conferencing now they don’t strictly have to? We very firmly believe that people are still going to use this technology because if people are working from home, it is the next best thing to having somebody next to you in the office, actually still be able to see them.

Justin Kennington (25:18):

Adam let me pause you right there and call you back for the aftershow. In a couple of minutes, I want to hear what the audience thinks about how popular this technology will remain after maybe we don’t need it. So hang on and we’ll be back with you in just a couple of minutes.

Matt Dodd (27:40):

What’s happening next time? Episode 16. Time flies!

Justin Kennington (28:02):

In two weeks, we’re going to be talking about the state of control in the industry today.  Many of us have been around this industry long enough to remember when a control processor had 12 infrared ports hanging out the back of it and looking up your little infrared code databases was the way that you did things. That is not the world we live in anymore. It’s software, it’s APIs, it’s coding. In a way that’s much more congruent with how the rest of the world writes code. So what does that mean for us? We’re going to find out with our guest Lincoln King-Cliby in two weeks on “In Control: from IR to APIs”.

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