Hybrid working is changing the world of work for the better. It’s giving employees a better work life balance and allowing them to save money on commuting costs. It has the potential to positively impact climate change. And it’s providing employers with a chance to save huge sums of money on rental costs and business travel.
And yet, when we speak to key decision makers throughout the corporate world, we see recurring concerns surrounding a number of central issues – specifically retention, on-boarding, hybrid meetings, and space allocation. Implementing the right technologies and digital workplace strategy is fundamental to help combat these problems.
Retention is one of the main concerns that employers have regarding hybrid working. If employees are not coming into the office every day; if they do not have the same number of opportunities to form lasting relationships with their colleagues; if they’ve not been exposed to and won over by the workplace culture, then what will stop them leaving the second a better offer comes their way?
The answer? A workplace culture and workplace relationships that can thrive in the virtual realm, as well as the physical office.
The misconception at the root of these retention concerns is that organizational culture and workplace relationships are not things that can be experienced via a 2D screen. But with the right technology – along with serious consideration of habits, norms, and conventions surrounding the use of this technology – culture and working relationships can thrive!
It’s no surprise that more people are using online collaboration tools today than ever before, but many are using only a fraction of their functionality. Some people use the chat features and little else; others use teams for video calls and nothing else; others continue to communicate with team members via email, while occasionally and randomly deciding to send the odd chat message.
We, as a hybrid working consultancy, use Teams for almost everything we do. Email has been completely abandoned for internal communications. For us, Teams chat is easier, quicker, more immediate, and more personal. We also encourage “video-on” calls between our team members. We understand that relationships are the glue that holds an organization together, and we do everything we can to make them flourish.
Collaboration tools, paired with applications like ‘Spark’ and ‘Random Coffee,’ create synergies and interconnections that might never have existed in the old world.
Another common concern is on-boarding: how do you onboard a new employee, introducing them to the company culture, its practices and processes, if your new employees are not coming into the physical office and learning about these things first-hand?
But again, identifying the right technology solutions will offer a way around this. For one, IT departments can preload laptops in such a way that means everything an employee could possibly need, including a host of on-boarding guides, is there and waiting for them before they log in on their first morning. This can then be closely followed by a video call with HR or their team leader to ensure that their first days and weeks run as smoothly as possible.
And there’s no reason training in general can’t be conducted in a similar way. We’ve heard of countless training courses, apprenticeship programmes, internships, etc., that moved online last March without a hitch. Not all training needs to be done in person provided that the right technology is in place (and people are shown how to use it).
3. Hybrid meetings
What do you do when half of your team members are in the office and the other half are at home? Pre-pandemic, this might have fueled tensions within teams, which diminished when the entire world was told to work from home. Now, with many organizations implementing hybrid working models, frustrations within teams could once again begin to bubble.
Many technology providers, as it turns out, are working on solutions to this problem as we speak. Some solutions involve placing numerous microphones and cameras around meeting rooms so that remote participants can participate clearly. Improvements in speaker, camera, and microphone quality are also being looked at to ensure that the quality of communication between dispersed colleagues is as high as physically possible.
4. Dynamic allocation
Utilisation studies have shown that, pre-pandemic, the average desk sat empty 60% of the time during any given work week. This figure now looks set to plummet further over the coming months as hybrid working becomes reality.
Findings like this raise an important point: hybrid working is completely incompatible with fixed seating. It will only reduce real estate costs if the empty desks formerly assigned to now remote employees are utilised by those employees that are working from the office on any given day.
This is where dynamic allocation comes in.
Imagine the following scenario: at some point before the start of each week – maybe on the Friday afternoon prior – each of your employees enters information into an app about the days they are planning to come into the office and the kinds of work they expect to be doing on each of these days. This app then works out which kinds of workspaces this employee will need – e.g. a meeting room, a collaboration space, a focus desk, a standard hot-desk – and reserves these spaces for them at the appropriate times. In the process of doing so, this tool factors in things like social distancing, the needs of the team, the location of team members, etc., and sets an anchor point so that a space is provided for each team to congregate around.
This kind of technology will mean that less space is needed to accommodate a larger number of employees; it will help create the conditions within which both individuals and teams can thrive; and it will, ultimately, provide a firm foundation upon which hybrid working can succeed.
Like anything worth having, hybrid working comes with its challenges. Ultimately, if you’re organisation is going to make a real go of it, it’s going to have to gets its culture, its processes, its infrastructure, its HR, and – most relevant to this post – it’s technology right.
If you’d like to learn more about the ways technology can be used to smooth your transition to hybrid working, we’ll be running an AWA Institute event on 16 February, where we’ll be doing a deep dive on the ways technology can be used to support a hybrid model of working.