Hybrid work: creating an office fit for the future
Jordan Kirby, Technical Manager, N4Engage, advises organisations on how they should tailor their new hybrid work and remote work technology strategies in a post-pandemic world.
According to recent research, how we choose to work has changed dramatically over the last year, only 12% of people want to return to full-time office work. 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.
Employees and employers have become accustomed to the benefits of hybrid workplaces in terms of cost savings, convenience and a choice of where to work and when, along with 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. Organisations need to create a hybrid working strategy that works for everyone to meet those expectations – business leaders, workers and customers.
The benefits of hybrid working
Hybrid working allows organisations to optimise their commercial premises, reduce travel costs and increase productivity. In addition, 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 recruit 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 to 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:
1. Safety First
Hybrid working does not mean an end to office-based work so employees will need to be reassured the business premises are as safe as possible. In addition, employers will need to make changes to help staff feel safer at work.
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.
2. The Right Tools
When the pandemic hit, 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.
To implement hybrid working effectively, employees need to share documents, create them 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 employees. 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.
3. Changes Worth Making
The pandemic has completely altered our expectations of the office. People no longer see it as a place where they go for menial, standalone, head-down work. Instead, they do a lot of that at home now. On their own.
Instead, the office has become the place where they will meet people, 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.
The future is hybrid
The demand for hybrid workplaces is only going to increase when the pandemic is finally over. Businesses need to respond to that demand. In addition, enforced working from home has made employees much more aware of the benefits of escaping the confines of the office and working from anywhere.
If businesses fail to provide hybrid working opportunities, they could lose some of their employees to companies that do and deter others from joining them.
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Hybrid workplaces can unlock a brave new world for employers and employees. However, employees may not take it kindly if their employers insist they remain stuck in the old one.
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