The challenge of communication parity in hybrid work

Olivier Djololian, Head of Workplace Practice at CloudStratex, advises on how to find the most efficient approach to hybrid work.
Olivier Djololian, Head of Workplace Practice at CloudStratex, advises on how to find the most efficient approach to hybrid work.

None of us need reminding that the norms of working life have been upended. The pandemic has seen offices shut down, employees retreating to more rural areas, and a broad re-evaluation of what the future holds for everyday working practices.

There has been a lot of debate regarding the merits and disadvantages of remote and hybrid working, in which employees undertake some, most, or all of their work from home.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, however, has recently noted that a new, vaccine-resistant variant is “likely” to emerge – meaning that the pandemic will not end in the immediate future.

As such, debates about the pros and cons of hybrid working should play second fiddle to the simple reality that working from home will need to remain an option for the foreseeable future.

As such, companies need to definitively shift from temporary or improvised measures into properly considered, fully integrated remote working infrastructures, with an emphasis on ensuring that employees are able to effectively communicate – whether some remain in a London office while others call in from a rural village.

To truly embrace hybrid working, employers need to provide the technology to make communication for remote workers as simple as chatting across a bustling office without sacrificing the productivity to be found in peace and quiet.

In ensuring that workers are neither isolated nor overwhelmed, employers will take a big step towards achieving hybridity – not just in name, but as a comfortable and productive mode of working.

The importance of workplace communication

There’s no question whatsoever that communication is essential to any business, whether as part of internal relations between colleagues or outward-facing interactions with clients and partners. Research from the Economist Intelligence Unit has found that 44% of respondents believe communication barriers lead to project failures, delays, and cancellations.

Companies of all sizes will need to reflect on how to communicate effectively under a long-term hybrid working model. For some, like Salesforce, workers have been given the flexible choice to come to the office as little as once per week, prioritising days involving collaboration or presentations.

Businesses like Google and Apple, by contrast, are opting for a model which sees workers in the office for three days per week and home for the remaining two.

Whatever model hybrid workers adopt, communication parity is essential. This means that an employee working from home should have as frictionless an experience with chatting to a colleague as office-based workers do.

Equally, however, any measures companies might take towards achieving easy, accessible communication also need to provide parity between home and office for switching off communications and downing tools.

The Harvard Business Review has recently described ‘collaborative burnout’, noting that around 80 per cent of an employee’s time can be taken up with meetings, calls, and emails – and whereas an office worker can walk away from the office, this can be more difficult for those working from home on a given day.

How, then, can employers negotiate these twin needs to keep communication clear and convenient while drawing a line under workers’ free time?

Embracing technology to bridge the gap

Employers need to invest in the right technologies to achieve parity for workers whether they’re at the office one day and at home the next. The obvious investment to make is in cloud-based services, since – given that such services don’t require the purchase of expensive infrastructure – the investment is a modest and achievable one.

To take one example, cloud services can offer parity in terms of employee experience through the use of virtual desktops, whereby the worker uses the same desktop regardless of the device – whether on a smartphone on the sofa or at an office-based machine.

In terms of communication, Teams Voice is an excellent means of achieving parity. As a part of Microsoft 365, Teams Voice can be accessed as easily and routinely as workers might open a Word document, ensuring that communication is smooth and frictionless.

Just as importantly, software like Teams Voice allows users to set ‘quiet hours’, minimising disruptive communications and protecting free time. Not only can office- and home-based workers communicate with comparable ease, but each will also have the ability to raise communication barriers where necessary and avoid ‘collaborative burnout,’ whether by leaving the office or pressing a button.

By embracing the right tech, businesses can ensure that remote and office-based workers alike are neither out of the loop nor permanently ‘plugged in’, securing the kind of balance that hybrid working – at its best – can offer.

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With hybridity set to dominate for years to come, businesses need to adopt its advantages, maximising the productive opportunities that new working norms have to offer while ensuring that workers are productive, connected, and calm.

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