By Jordan Kirby, Technical Manager, N4Engage
The experience of hybrid working during the COVID-19 outbreak has taught many of us that there is more to working life than the office. In fact by June 2020, only 4% of workers wanted to return to office-working. While this has increased to 12% wanting to return to the office, there is no denying that how we choose to work has dramatically changed.
Cost savings, convenience and choice of where to work are just some of the benefits of hybrid working that employees and employers have become accustomed to over the last 18 months. Hybrid working also provides greater opportunities to use technology for collaboration outside the office.
There is an expectation for hybrid working to become the default model for many organisations and their workers. To meet those expectations, organisations need to create a hybrid working strategy that works for everyone – business leaders, workers and customers.
What are the benefits of hybrid working?
Hybrid working allows organisations to optimise their commercial premises, reduce travel costs and increase productivity. It gives employees the independence to work from the most suitable environment at any given time. This autonomy can also help businesses to attract and retain workers.
Companies are no longer restricted to recruiting people within commuting distance of their head office. Workers can also apply for jobs that are not within commuting distance of their homes. This increases the recruitment pool considerably and gives businesses the ability to focus on recruiting the best people wherever they may be.
Hybrid working can help retain workers that may have been tempted to move to a business closer to home. It’s also an important differentiator from companies that don’t offer it.
How can businesses create a hybrid workplace?
Hybrid working during a pandemic is very different to the hybrid workplace that will emerge as things return to normality. To make it part of the fabric of your business going forward, there are three elements you should consider:
- First and foremost – safety
The office will remain an important part of hybrid working – after all, hybrid working does not mean an end to office-based work. Employees will need to be reassured that the business premises are as safe as possible.
Awareness is key. Ensure employees have the information to help them get to where they need to go in the office while reducing the potential for accidental interactions with others.
High density stats can be sent to employees before they leave home so they know which places are safe when they arrive at the office or move between floors. Similarly, statistics on meeting room occupancy and booking features can help them decide when to come into the office and how to use their time there.
Employees and visitors can keep personal contact to a minimum by making presentations wirelessly in meeting rooms via their devices and with voice commands.
It is particularly important that employers can give people who want to come into the office the human contact they need while ensuring it is a safe, comfortable environment to work in.
- Implementing the right tools for the future
At the beginning of the very first lockdown, businesses rushed to implement remote working for their employees. Many relied on meeting platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams for communication and collaboration. They got the job done but they may not be sufficient in the future.
At the heart of an effective hybrid work strategy is the ability to share documents easily and, most importantly, securely. Employees should be able to create documents with others and avail of persistent messaging and calling. They also need to be able to collaborate securely with external stakeholders.
The user experience also needs to be integrated as seamlessly as possible into the line of business apps they use to do the bulk of their work.
The collaboration suite they choose needs to be optimised to suit the needs of different types of employee. It needs to work on a range of devices to suit an employee’s main tasks and provide the best match to how staff collaborate with others. For example, people who use the suite a lot need a dedicated video device so they don’t spend all day hunched over their laptops.
- Making the necessary changes
The office is no longer viewed as the place where employees go for stand-alone, head-down work. The expectation has changed. Employees do a lot of that at home now. On their own.
Instead, the office has become the place where they will go to meet people, to collaborate and socialise.
But employees will engage with fellow workers and clients in a number of different ways and office spaces will need to change to reflect that.
There will still be a need for the private individual spaces employees have always used for phone calls or video meetings but businesses also need to incorporate areas where they can mix with others in different ways.
For example, they can set up community tables for people to collaborate, giving them space to brainstorm, work on projects and socialise. Another possibility would be community lounge areas where employees can conduct informal meetings with colleagues and visitors or relax between meetings.
A hybrid future
Enforced working from home has made employees much more aware of the benefits of being able to escape the confines of the office and work from anywhere. And, when the pandemic is finally over, the demand for hybrid working will still be there.
If businesses fail to provide the opportunity for hybrid working, they could lose some of their employees to companies that do and deter others from joining them.
Hybrid workplaces can unlock a brave new world for employers and employees. Employees may not take it kindly if their employers insist they remain stuck in the old one.