Jan 10 - 6min readTech and the Hybrid WorkplaceBy Borne
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in all areas of our lives – both personal and professional. Within the business world, one of the most affected aspects was, undoubtedly, the rise of remote working. This is not to say that working from home arrangements weren’t already widespread, in certain industries. But with the sudden outbreak of a deadly virus like COVID-19, we all witnessed the establishment of telecommuting as the “new normal”.
With infection rates mostly under control, vaccines widely available across Western countries, and an understandable eagerness to go back to our old lives, more and more people are now gradually returning to their workplaces.
Is this the end of remote work, then? Absolutely not – it’s, perhaps, the beginning of a more widespread type of hybrid working arrangement.
This means that some people might continue to work remotely, while others might choose to go back to the office. It also means that the same person might decide to work from home on several days, and to travel to the office on other days, maybe for meetings or other important occasions.
So, what is this new, hybrid workplace going to look like? A good way to find out is by looking at the technologies that support it.
Mobile First, Video Second
Enabling employees to work from anywhere meant, first of all, being able to provide a reliable connection to specific servers that could also be accessed via mobile. This will definitely continue to be the case, even with more and more people deciding to go back to the office full-time. More importantly, though, companies will need to keep implementing and updating video conferencing tools, like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet, to name but a few.
This technology, in fact, will help those who choose – or need for health reasons – to work from home to participate in meetings and events without feeling left out simply because they are not physically present. To accommodate this necessity, companies might need to add more video endpoints across their offices, in order to enable a better, smoother, more engaging live conferencing experience for all. Video calls will also help to strengthen the connection between individual employees who sit in the office with those who are at home.
Communicating via video conferencing software, in fact, offers people that all-important visual connection that they need to perform, engage, and work in a more productive and efficient fashion.
Digital Notifications and Signage
To create a better hybrid office, companies might be required to install digital displays in specific areas, such as conference rooms.
By simply turning these displays on, IT staff will be able to provide employees with information such as how much capacity that room has, when it was cleaned, what other facilities are available, or simply welcome employees and offer company updates.
The beauty of this new type of digital signage is that it doesn’t have to be limited to the physical office. Companies can decide to broadcast this information to remote employees through chats and messaging apps. This can be a great way to boost employee engagement, happiness, and inclusion.
Managing a Physically Hybrid Space
Another essential aspect that companies need to think about, when it comes to organising a phased and safe return to a hybrid workplace, is managing the available physical space.
For example, if an office used to be at full capacity with a total of 100 desks, with the ongoing coronavirus restrictions its availability might need to be cut down to 50 workstations.
This means that those employees who want to work from the office will need a way to book their own workstation and weekly slot(s), in order to comply with the current guidelines.
For this reason, companies might need to introduce apps or tools that enable employees to remotely reserve a desk, as well as to inform them when no more desks are available for a specified slot.
Keeping Engagement Levels High…
One of the biggest challenges of a hybrid workspace is, undoubtedly, finding ways to make sure that all employees – both those in the office and those at home – are kept engaged and involved.
This requires a bit of creativity from company executives, especially in departments that feature a significant mix of remote and in-person workers.
Virtual assistants might help with this. They can provide the right type of support to all employees, and enable them to achieve a better and healthier work-life balance – whatever working arrangement they have opted for.
Another popular choice is gamification. As the name suggests, this means launching friendly challenges, competitions, and other games across departments, to offer informal engagement opportunities and highlight the importance of teamwork.
Lastly, companies can bring remote and in-person employees together through virtual events. These will be delivered through video conferencing platforms, and will allow teams to discuss issues, offer solutions, and stay involved, regardless of where they are.
… and Security Tight
Cyber security should be at the forefront of any company’s digital operations, but this is even more paramount when a significant portion of the employees are working remotely.
However, it is also important to strike the right balance between ensuring data, system, and network security, and protecting the employee’s privacy rights.
More and more companies are steering towards biometric identification as a way to deliver secure access to staff. These technologies leverage facial or voice recognition to provide the right access rights to the right people.
To make sure that these methods are always mindful of employees’ privacy, it is essential that they are implemented exclusively during moments of authentication – not organically throughout the day.
Supporting C-Level Positions
Offering support to all employees within a hybrid workspace also means allowing executives to adapt and adjust to this “new normal” in ways that safeguard their productivity, efficiency, motivation, and emotional health.
To this effect, it might be useful to introduce software tools such as corporate knowledge bases, apps to track goals and processes, and other platforms to support better communication between executives and remote and in-person teams.
Recruiting Best Practices for a Hybrid Workspace
The new hybrid office will also pose challenges – and offer opportunities – to human resources teams, particularly when it comes to recruiting new staff members. Once again, technology can lend a helping hand.
Companies should leverage video conferencing tools to enable remote job applicants to attend online interviews and get familiar with the company. Similarly, applicants who prefer to attend an interview in person, should be allocated a specific room and time slot by using the facility management technology tools that we mentioned previously.
But the challenges don’t end once a person has been recruited. If the new arrival decides to mostly work from home as opposed to being based in the office, companies should be prepared to offer them safe, easy, and fast remote access to its systems and networks.
And in order for the new person to truly feel welcome and at ease, it is important to also provide regular virtual touch-base meetings with direct line managers and other co-workers, as well as involve them in company-wide events and activities.
Leveraging Voice-Assisted Software
We all know – and many of us use – voice-assisted technology like Siri and Alexa.
Imagine, though, if we could extend this to the hybrid workplace – in particular, to conference rooms.
For example, with AI-powered, voice-assisted software and other machine learning tools, employees and executives will be able to start a meeting, call a co-worker, and even take notes during a meeting.
This will help to both speed up certain tasks and operations, as well as add a welcome human touch to a hybrid office.
Are You Ready to Join the Hybrid Workplace Revolution?
In our post-pandemic times, working in an office might never look the same as it used to.
While an increasing number of people is choosing to go back to their physical workplace, just as many employees decide to keep working remotely. Others, again, prefer to mix the two arrangements, thus creating their very own version of a hybrid office.
For companies to stay competitive and successful in this reimagined space, it is important to know, implement, and leverage specific technologies.
Voice-assisted software, digital signage, video conferencing tools, gamification, and knowledge platforms are just some of the many ways in which companies can support a thriving hybrid working environment that stands the test of time – and the challenges posed by unexpected crises such as global pandemics.
Technology will prove essential to connect remote and in-person employees and employers, as well as to coordinate and organise activities and events that are based both online and in the office.