From Remote Work to Hybrid Work: The Tech You’ll Need To Link Home And Office
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From Remote Work to Hybrid Work: The Tech You’ll Need To Link Home And Office

Your tech life is about to get messy. Here are some solutions.

By JOANNA STERN
Mon, Mar 15, 2021 5:43amGrey Clock 5 min

Hope your magic Mary Poppins, go-back-to-the-office bag is ready. Let’s see, you’re going to need your laptop, your laptop’s power adapter, your headphones, your headphones’ power adapter, your ring light, your ring light’s power adapter…

Oh, and you thought this was just a one-time pack? That’s cute. Prepare to do this two to three times a week, as you split time between your home-office and your office-office for the next, well, forever.

Welcome to the exciting new world of hybrid work.

“Somewhere in the vicinity of 60% of the workforce are choosing the hybrid option,” said Gartner analyst Suzanne Adnams, “which means their ideal is working at home and coming into the office three days a week.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “two to three days at the office” while reporting this column, a socially distanced steak dinner would be on me.

What isn’t as clear? Where you’ll go once you get to the office. That depends on your employer. Here are three possible options:

• Same-old desking: Business as usual. You still get your own desk, but maybe now, your chair and your colleague’s chair are farther apart.

• Hot desking: The horribly named trend where employees don’t have a permanently assigned desk. Also referred to as hoteling, flexing or desk swapping, this is becoming the leading hybrid option for a key reason: It doesn’t make sense to have one desk per person if people only come in a few times a week.

• No desking: The office isn’t for solo work but collaboration. So instead of desks there are mostly group meeting areas, with a privacy phone booth here and there. Companies including Dropbox have committed to this route.

I certainly can’t tell you in detail what’s going to happen at your company, but I can say this hybrid life will make you even more dependent on your tech tools. The very tech that enables us to work from anywhere (laptops and smartphones, video calling, Slack) is also the technology that stands to make this so messy.

Your colleagues are at the office whiteboarding but you’re stuck at home in a little Zoom box? You survive the commute to the office, only to discover you left your USB-C dongle on the kitchen table. Hey, Bob From Accounting, stop screaming on your video call. This isn’t your basement!

But I have hope. Not only did we prove our tech resilience when we embarked on the Great Work-From-Home Experiment a year ago but the makers of our most depended-upon products are paying attention and adapting for this next phase. Here are a few of the biggest hybrid challenges and some potential solutions.

I’m back to the good old commute, but at my hot desk, I have nothing, not even a coffee-stained mug.

There are no two ways about it, you’re going to need a bigger bag. And for the record: Anyone who tells you a backpack is only for middle schoolers is just wrong.

When you head to your building (assuming you remember where it is), you might have to pull out your phone. Your employer might require Covid-era health check-ins and other precautions, but it also might give you the opportunity to book your workspace, through systems like Robin or Salesforce’s Work.com.

Congrats, you made it to “your” desk. I can’t guess the tech that will be available when you get there, but expect it to be pretty bare-bones, especially if you BYOL (you know, bring your own laptop).

In Salesforce’s redesigned spaces, for instance, employees get just a desk and two side-by-side monitors, Jo-ann Olsovsky, the company’s chief information officer, told me.

At least Salesforce employees will be able to keep other belongings in lockers and easily get other tech peripherals—mice, keyboards, headsets, chargers—from tech vending machines situated around the offices. You don’t pay. Just swipe your employee badge, hit the button for your item and grab it from the bottom tray.

If your office’s vending machines only dispense stale Doritos, you might request stuff through your IT department. Regardless, you’ll likely be dragging your favorite equipment to and fro. Certainly, more expensive gear that you don’t own two of—tablets, microphones, noise-canceling headphones—will be in your bag.

For the smaller stuff—battery packs, charging cords, a mouse and the miscellaneous adapters to connect drives, memory cards and cables to your laptop—you’ll need a dongle bag. Don’t have one yet? Oh, you must. The one I just got, the InCase nylon accessory organiser, has mesh pockets and straps for organizing different cords and adapters. It lists for $50.

I’m at the office with some colleagues. Other colleagues are at home.

If you think going back to the office means the end of video calls, I have bad news for you. Expect most meetings from now on to have a video component and there to be even more cameras in the office—and not just in the conference rooms.

“It’s hard to imagine going into an office now and all those little closed spaces that might have had a phone in them not being video enabled,” Logitech Chief Executive Bracken Darrell told me, adding that he expects some companies to put webcams at hot-desk stations as well.

Executives who work on collaboration platforms at Microsoft, Google, Slack and Zoom said a key need was for employees at home and at work to feel like they’re on a level playing field when on calls and working together. Here are initiatives they’ve launched:

Microsoft Teams: A system called Teams Rooms links conference rooms with remote users who want to join in. Voice recognition in new compatible speakers can identify who in a room is talking, and the person’s name will appear on screen. You won’t be embarrassed dialling in from home, either: A new presenter mode removes the background of your video and places you in front of the presentation, or positions the presentation in a box over your shoulder in “reporter mode.”

Google Workspace: Google also powers speakers and cameras for the office, but as people leave the house, they’ll be using their phones more for video calling too. An update to the Google Meet phone app will better display people on video. A coming update to Google Docs, Sheets and Slides will include the ability to overlay voice and video chat as people work together on documents.

Slack: An audio-room feature is coming, so users can quickly hop on a conference call. Think Clubhouse but for quick meetings. The company, which Salesforce agreed to buy, is also adding a feature for sharing prerecorded video messages. This could help a manager send an announcement to everyone, whether they’re in the office or at home.

Zoom: The pandemic’s breakout star has its own conference-room service called, say it with me, Zoom Rooms. The company’s Zoom Rooms Controller app for iOS and Android lets people in the conference room control meetings from their phones—no need to touch the grimy shared keyboard or room control panel.

A bigger challenge: What if the in-person meeting includes some physical stuff, like a whiteboard? How do the people at home keep up and contribute?

Google and Microsoft have tried to make that easier. Microsoft makes the Surface Hub—a giant Windows tablet for offices that runs the cloud-connected Microsoft Whiteboard app. Those on a Microsoft Teams call can view and add to the digital whiteboard. Same idea with Google’s Jamboard. People in the office can scribble on the giant screen and those in a Google Meet video call can view and add to it. Zoom works with third-party hardware makers to integrate whiteboarding.

I’m working from home today—how do I share that with the world?

The upside to all this is being stuck at home won’t be as bad as it once was. You’re already honing your setup, and some companies even plan to continue subsidizing employees home-office needs. And now that you’ve gotten used to overcommunicating your schedule and deadlines? You just keep doing that, wherever you are.

Google’s added some features to its calendar to help, including what it calls “segmentable working hours.” You can make it clear to colleagues what location you’re working from or if you’re doing something else, like exercising or commuting. Slack is also exploring adding more status options to indicate your whereabouts.

This return to the office may have a slick name—hybrid work—but make no mistake, it’s as hybrid as Frankenstein’s monster. Just remember, one year ago we got through a pretty cataclysmic work change, and we will do it again. Just don’t forget about the dog.



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”