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Lucie Mitchell investigates the innovative tools that might help with the move to hybrid working.
With the majority of people working from home for over a year, thoughts are now turning to how employees are going to return to the office once all Covid restrictions are lifted. And it would seem that hybrid working – a mix of home and office working – is set to become very popular indeed.
In fact, a recent survey by Claromentis revealed that 73% of UK workers would favour a hybrid arrangement after the pandemic. Plus, following a BBC survey of 50 of the UK’s biggest employers, covering over one million workers, 43 said they had no plans to bring workers back to the office full-time and instead were looking to adopt a hybrid model.
Technology is crucial in facilitating a successful hybrid working model, so employers need to consider what tools are needed to enable effective collaboration and engagement for employees, whether staff are in the office or working remotely.
According to a global survey last year by Xerox, many companies are investing in new resources to support a hybrid workforce, as a result of Covid, with 56% increasing their technology budgets and 34% planning to accelerate their digital transformation.
However, it’s important not to rush into any remote tech investments, warns Mark Skelton, CTO and VP of CANCOM UK&I. “Optimising the use of technology across a hybrid workforce will mean enabling a seamless blend between remote and office work, and success will be determined by the ability to ensure an inclusive, connected, and secure workplace. This cannot be rushed.”
Yet there are a number of tools that employers can invest in, to help bridge the gap between onsite and remote working. “Smart meeting rooms will be a crucial investment for businesses looking to go hybrid,” remarks Skelton. “These intelligent spaces integrate hardware and software to create a productive meeting experience for participants, whether they are joining the meeting from the office or remotely.
“There are new tools appearing every day to compliment these spaces, such as Microsoft’s employee experience platform Viva, and intelligent collaboration devices such as Microsoft Surface Hubs or Poly Meeting Room solution, which record and take notes during meetings. Effectively linked together, these tools can help create a seamless working environment and eliminate the risk of those staying out-of-office falling behind.”
He adds: “In the not-too-distant future, we will also see AR and VR integrate into meeting room spaces to take that experience to the next level and give collaboration another dimension.”
Another valuable investment is project management software, says Nigel Davies, CEO of Claromentis. “This gives teams a live, at-a-glance overview of what’s happening, who’s doing what, and project progress, with version control and task assignment features, making sure people don’t waste hours doing the same tasks twice.”
It’s also a good idea to think about investing in cybersecurity to protect against fraudsters and attacks.
Plus, consider functions like internal social media and peer-appreciation tools, so colleagues can recognise and support the hard work and accomplishments of team members. “This can increase visibility for those spending more time working from home than the office,” says Davies.
Yet with so much choice out there, it can be hard to decide what tech solutions will be the best fit for your hybrid workforce. Davies advises employers to start with your pain points.
“What’s hampering your team’s productivity and what areas need urgent improvement? An open forum for employees to talk about their bugbears is a great way to identify what you need to change. Also, make employees part of the conversation on what tools to adopt and you’ll not only get a more effective product, you’ll have a much easier time getting staff to enthusiastically adopt new software.”
After investing in new technologies for hybrid working, employers will also need to provide support to those employees who may not be so-called digital natives, such as older workers, so they can continue to do their job effectively.
“You should, of course, provide training, but more than that it’s important that employees feel like they have a safe and open environment within which to ask questions, especially when they’re aware they lack technical ability,” comments Victoria McLean, CEO and founder of City CV.
“You might even want to provide a dedicated resource for this purpose, perhaps someone from your IT team or an outsourced tech expert, who can support not only by answering on-the-go questions, but also coach employees in how to use technology at home to support business processes.”
One new challenge that may arise with hybrid working is when some workers are able to meet in person, while others are dialling in remotely, warns Skelton. “If this process is not straightforward for those dialling in, it can have a serious effect on collaboration among teams, with office and home-workers becoming two separate groups.”
To ensure certain groups don’t feel isolated, business leaders must take steps to ensure everyone feels invested in, he adds. “Technology plays an essential role in this. Armed with the right tools and data, leaders can take effective steps to include staff members in this new way of working.”