Thinking about remote and hybrid working took a huge step forward during the pandemic but has since slowed down by a clash between traditional and new ways of working.
Today, the conversation is focused on office versus home and how many days a week employees should be in the office. But this is the wrong question.
Fixating on this can lead to ‘inflexible flexible’ working practices that mean people come into the office just to spend the whole time on back-to-back calls with no opportunities to interact with others. This wastes the potential of the office, saps employee motivation and, potentially, impacts on productivity.
It’s time to ask a more fundamental question: how best can we make work work? This means looking at a team’s dynamics, the individuals involved and the resources that team needs to do the work well. It’s about recognising that the digital workplace is now the common ground for employees, and it’s only after layering on all the factors around dynamics, resources and individuals that it’s possible to decide where and when the work should be done.
The step to hybrid is permanent
We need to start from a baseline that hybrid working is here to stay. Regardless of the economic situation, employers are unlikely to reverse hybrid working because it’s so attractive to current and potential employees. People want purpose in their life, and this includes a workstyle that balances wellbeing, greater sustainability through less travel, and opportunities to meet and communicate with colleagues. It’s what sought-after top performers are looking for, and a valuable chance for organisations to attract and retain talent. It’s also important to recognise how offering remote working can boost diversity and inclusion by providing a more accessible environment for disabled and neurodiverse people, potentially opening up untapped sources of high-performing workers.
So, how do we make hybrid working work?
Rethink the office
Offices form a really powerful magnet for collaboration, communication and for building community and ritual. This can all be done in the digital space, but it involves more formalisation and effort. Human interactions flow more easily in the office, so it’s important the space supports this when teams are in, giving the flexibility to collaborate however they want to. This means keeping office design fluid, so it can evolve to meet the needs of the people using it.
Managing varying needs for space is currently a challenge for organisations, and remains an area of experimentation with no firm answers. At the moment, Tuesday is the most popular day for hybrid workers to come into the office, and this can lead to a chaotic environment with pressure on the space available. And yet offices on a Friday are largely empty. Levelling usage out will probably come down to careful planning around what each team needs to accomplish and when they can make the most of in-person work, looking at the workflows of the organisation as a whole. Smart organisations will use building and network usage data effectively to help with this planning.
Build a ‘digital by default’ mindset
The future will inevitably be a blend of the physical and digital, with someone working remotely at any one time – making digital the common ground. Building a ‘digital by default’ mindset will help bridge the gap between office and home workers, fostering inclusivity.
Technology can really help here, particularly in terms of supporting the hybrid meeting experience. Organisations are exploring how noise cancelling solutions can improve spontaneous meetings in more open collaboration spaces. And there’s a lot of innovative work going on around making remote participants more ‘present’ in hybrid meetings to overcome the proximity bias that leads to them being ignored by those in the room. Mixed reality and artificial intelligence can potentially create a more physical presence for those who are remote, perhaps by projecting their video feed or avatar into the room. More simple interventions focus on enabling people in the room to see the chat feed and ‘hands up’ function that connect remote participants to the meeting action. However, we mustn’t forget that good facilitation skills contribute significantly to effective hybrid meetings.
What does the future of work look like?
In an environment where there aren’t yet any hard and fast answers to what the optimal form of hybrid working looks like, the best policy is to stay flexible, curious and open to experimentation. Our collective goal must be to make work work for people, for productivity and for the planet.
From a technological perspective, this will involve a supportive base, with the right network connectivity for all workers, unified communications solutions to support collaboration from anywhere, and devices and workspace setups that are fit for purpose.
Security will need to embrace every potential working situation, from physical security in co-working spaces, to educating employees on digital security when working in public places.
The bottom line is that successful hybrid working takes commitment across the whole organisation, from senior leadership down to individual team members.
How can we help?
We’re on our own hybrid working journey and test out many of our approaches within our teams before sharing them with you. Our role is to help you design and implement workplace solutions that are tailored to your people’s needs, delivering a flexible and secure infrastructure that will evolve as you develop your ideas.
Our services range from managed workplace and collaboration solutions, to supplying 5G, wi-fi and networking capabilities and connecting you to your clouds. Behind the scenes, our innovation teams continue to explore the role the Metaverse, augmented reality and virtual reality can play in a hybrid world, working with the global innovation ecosystem to develop Proof of Concepts with customers.
To start the next phase of your hybrid working journey, visit our webpage.