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Corporate execs: Get back, get back, to the office where you once belonged

Sing it in the key of C-suite, because operations truly doesn't care

Whether it's because they have vast real estate investments they can't shift without hemorrhaging cash, or genuinely think their workers perform better in that space, C-suite execs are working hard to convince staff to return to the workplace.

Tech vendors, meanwhile, are positively salivating about their potential role irrespective of what shakes out.

This is a boardroom debate right now: how do we get people back into offices?

According to Advanced Workplace Associates, British workers are going into the office on average 1.5 days a week, according to a survey of 50,000 workers in June and July. The consultancy advises major retail bank NatWest, the Cabinet Office and Network Rail, among others.

Yet research published in September by Resume Builder indicates that nine in 10 business will require their staff to return to work in-person from 2023, almost three years after the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

It further claimed just 66 percent of the workforce are going into work, some 88 percent of companies are offering incentives to return, including subsidized meals, commuter benefits or higher pay, and 21 percent say they'll take a hardline approach and fire those that refuse to come back.

"This is a boardroom debate right now: how do we get people back into offices?" Andy Rhodes, HP senior veep and GM of Hybrid Work Solutions, said at the Wells Fargo TMT summit at the start of this month.

"How do we get them working on things together? I mean, remote is great, but when you have new and difficult problems, putting people inside of rooms is absolutely critical," he added.

The solution offered by the HP salesman isn't in line with those mentioned above, it's rather more self-serving. Buy HP to make conference rooms more attractive, because nothing says "we value you" like a well stocked and modern… conference room.

Rhodes added: "Those rooms are just not built out yet in any meaningful way." He said businesses need multi-cameras so attendees aren't forced to look at the back of someone's head in virtual meetings (when in the office), and the market is "shifting to much more PC-based solutions."

"People are still trying to drive productivity of every worker that they have, and so even as companies look to cut costs, they want to drive up productivity. This is an area we're still seeing a lot of spending on.

"Customers want to change the optics of that real estate, the way it's used and the office is going to be a place that people come back to work together. And what's inhibiting that right now is the technology in those conference rooms, in those spaces."

Possibly, but it seems more likely that employees enjoy the flexibility of not going into an office evrery day, even if some managers have productivity paranoia that remote staff are not working to their optimum output.

Microsoft research in September found the number of meetings on Teams had gone up 153 percent globally for the average user since the pandemic.

Dell, which said in 2020 that 60 percent of its own employees would never go back to the traditional office set-up to work, isn't necessarily rubbing its hands together at the prospect of filling out conference rooms but it does see opportunities ahead.

Speaking at the Credit Suisse annual tech conference at the end of November, co-chief operating officer Chuck Whitten said a "profound change" in the PC industry continues to be driven by hybrid work.

"75 percent of companies are now in a hybrid model. That means more notebooks with a faster refresh cycle. It also means richer configurations, more peripherals. It is not just a productivity device. It is telephony. It is our videoconferencing equipment."

The PC market has shrunk throughout 2022 yet Whitten said he is bullish about the prospects - although he wouldn't be expected to say much else in front of financial analysts and investors. "We continue to hear it's a CIO level issue and they are going to continue to invest in the end user experience."

Cisco's senior veep of strategy and business development, Kip Compton, seems to agree the world of work will remain hybrid which plays into its sales of collaboration and networking gear.

He told the Raymond James Technology Investor gathering last week that "companies are outfitting their campuses for hybrid work and realizing basically that every meeting is going to be a video meeting, and so every conference rep needs to have that equipment in it, that's an opportunity for us.

"We're seeing that whenever a meeting is a video meeting – because every meeting will have some remote participants – the load and the traffic on the campus networks is intense. And that's driven a wireless and campus upgrade cycle that we think is fairly durable. That along with the traditional generational upgrades for Wi-Fi 6 is – Wi-Fi 6 has been very good. We're seeing 6E now kicking into gear as well."

Reg readers have previously told us they'd favor a hybrid working week, with two to three days spent in an office, yet that might not be an option for everyone next year. However, workers seems to have the upper hand in many instances – especially in tech – given the surfeit of open vacancies.

Nick Lovegrove, a professor at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Management, told Fortune magazine: "Companies need to ask themselves why there's been this de facto rebellion against the office, and that's because it kind of sucked."

"Employees are pushing back and saying, 'Well, if you want us back full-time, we're out of here'," he added. "The current pattern seems to be a kind of desultory drift back to the office – but without much conviction or enthusiasm."

Perhaps staff simply want better specified conference meeting rooms? Or perhaps as likely they yearn for two hour daily commutes, the grind of forcing themselves into a sardine can packed with others.

Either way – hybrid work or a return to the office – tech firms seem to think they'll be the winners. ®

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