Plenty has been written in recent months about the huge changes experienced in workplaces across the globe. As coronavirus spread, so employees were told to work from home, ending the routine of the daily commute and office life.
Although countries are working towards a more normal experience, including having people to return to their places of work albeit in lower numbers, the growing number of Covid cases and the threat of a second wave means the UK government has once again asked people to work from home where possible.
This, combined with concerns about using public transport and the realisation that working remotely is an effective option for many has led to a new approach to working and the creation of the hybrid workplace.
What is a hybrid workplace?
A hybrid workplace is one that embraces flexibility and that places trust in its employees to choose the most suitable place to work for a given task. This means that hybrid teams will split their time between the office and working remotely. This approach is particularly effective in the current situation as the number of people working in a central office at any one time can be managed and kept at a safe level, even as guidelines continue to change.
Often hybrid teams also have control over their working hours, as well as when and where they work, recognising that people have different working styles and are at their most productive at different times of the day.
Technology is at the core of hybrid working, with tools to help teams stay connected central to an effective hybrid strategy.
Benefits and challenges of hybrid
Empowering employees to work in this way has been shown to create a number of advantages, especially when it comes to productivity and staff loyalty.
Many people, for example, prefer to work remotely on days when they have to focus on specific tasks or have tight deadlines. Days in the office are used for more collaborative work. This ability to choose how, where and when you work has been shown over time to increase productivity and satisfaction among staff.
Businesses themselves also benefit. Not only could this approach reduce the need for expansive offices, resulting in significant cost savings, a happier, more loyal workforce will also lead to a decline in the costs associated with recruitment. When opportunities do arise, the available talent pool is much increased as hybrid working means candidates no longer have to be based close to the physical office.
Of course, hybrid working isn’t without its challenges. Simply declaring a company hybrid won’t mean its employees are immediately comfortable with the new approach and so will become more productive.
It’s important to be aware of the areas that need to be focused on in order to create a successful hybrid environment. For example, communication can become more of a challenge in a hybrid workplace. Team members are no longer sat next to each other so the temptation can be to go it alone and work through tasks independently. Investing in tools to encourage communication and collaboration is key, as is ensuring these meet the needs of employees.
Effort must also be made to ensure people continue to feel part of the team no matter where they are working. If people are no longer in the office at the same time as their close colleagues, or are in the office much less, they can begin to feel distanced from those who prefer to work from the office more frequently.
Finally, as with all elements of a business it’s important to make sure that the hybrid policy is communicated clearly to everyone. If remote employees are working different hours or if in-office staff are insisting on meetings at specific times each day, make sure those involved know why. If some people are wondering how they get the opportunity to work from home and others are wanting to spend more time in the office, the policy isn’t clear, so make sure the guidelines and any limitations are made clear to all.
Equipping your workplace for hybrid
While any change in working practice is going to bring challenges, the coronavirus pandemic has shown us that the technology is available to make hybrid working a success. Many, many people embraced video, chat and collaborative tools during lockdown and it is these solutions that will make hybrid simple, effective and popular.
Firstly, it’s important to create spaces within an office that are designed for one-on-one conversations. This could be breakout areas or huddle rooms, but they need to be equipped with technology and furniture that enables quick catch-ups between teams. This means no complicated conferencing systems, just easy-to-use collaboration tools, charging points and space for personal devices. Given the need for social distancing and the fact that people may be unwilling to use these spaces immediately after a colleague, it’s sensible to have multiple versions of these rooms throughout an office. Standardising on the technology within them is also to be advised in order to deliver a more intuitive experience for users no matter how infrequently they may be in the office. Or consider a Bring your own Meeting environment, where users can walk into a room with their laptop and use the UC platform and software they are already familiar and that they utilise outside of the office.
When it comes to technology within these rooms – and indeed technology that remote workers will also have access to – videoconferencing is key. When choosing the right platform, consider the number of participants you’re expecting, the user interface, the format of your meetings and whether you need additional functionality such as Q&As, recording, screen sharing or a high number of video streams.
Also make sure the system is able to integrate with the rest of your meeting room setup and any third-party applications you rely on, such as email, calendars, PowerPoint and the like.
Videoconferencing is a technology that’s still developing so also consider whether more future-forward features such as automatic transcription, translation and other AI-based services would be useful.
Opting for room booking systems is also important within a hybrid workspace. When arranging calls between hybrid team members, those working remotely will soon get frustrated if calls are frequently starting late because office colleagues need to find a space in which to hold the meeting. Room booking systems help to boost efficiency by ensuring there is always an allocated space for a meeting. Visible signage outside of meeting rooms will also ensure it’s clear when a room is in use so interruptions will not happen.
Wayfinding can also be valuable within a hybrid workspace. Employees may not be in the office on a regular basis, they may be assigned meeting rooms they’re not familiar with and there may be one-way systems and changeable routes in place to enable social distancing. Wayfinding signage systems will ensure that employees can easily navigate the office, find the places they need to be and be kept informed of any changes all in a clear, contact-free solution. Some wayfinding software solutions allow employees to share their on-site location with their colleagues, making facilitating spontaneous meetings or conversations simple.
Wayfinding can also be of benefit to remote employees through integrations with scheduling systems. This will alert employees no matter their location to company events or updates, ensuring people don’t miss out on invites just because they’re not physically in the office.
Finally, consider desking and how this can support hybrid working. Given the recent concerns with shared touchpoints, hot desking is no longer a viable option for many companies, but flex desking, where employees book desks each morning they come into the office, could be the solution. This lets hybrid workers book desks when they need them and keeps them open for other employees to use when they don’t. By opting for a robust desk booking system resources can be better managed and it would be possible to only allocate desks for booking that follow social distancing guidelines and that have been thoroughly cleaned between users.
A hybrid workplace must support all employees no matter their location or how often they choose to be on site. Technology is the enabler to make this happen and there are multiple solutions available that can make the journey to an effective, productive hybrid environment quicker and easier for all involved.
To find out more about how technology can take your hybrid workplace to the next level, contact David Corker here