With more and more older workers preferring remote and hybrid working, Lucie Mitchell reports on the importance of implementing the best technology to get the most out of modern ways of working.
Four years on from the start of lockdown restrictions, and hybrid working has become well embedded into many organisations, as employers seek to offer flexibility and choice to employees while ensuring they remain productive and engaged.
Implementing the right technology is crucial to the success of a hybrid working model, yet advances in modern technology mean employers must ensure they keep up so they can harness the benefits it has to offer and provide employees with the tools they need to collaborate effectively and seamlessly, wherever they are based.
According to a 2023 employee experience report by NTT Data, 90% of organisations view hybrid and remote work as having a positive impact on their bottom line, yet less than half agree their employees have access to the technology they need when working from an office or from home; while 86% admit their organisation has yet to optimise a hybrid/remote working model, which has led to a decline in employee wellbeing.
The first step for employers looking to enhance hybrid working in their organisation is to understand exactly how technology can support this model.
“Technology acts as the backbone of hybrid working by fostering communication, collaboration, and productivity across a distributed workforce,” remarks Claire Williams, chief people and operations officer at HR software provider Ciphr. “To do this well, employers should invest in appropriate communications channels and meeting platforms, project management software, and cloud services, so all team members have access to the same resources and information, regardless of their location.”
Recent research by Ciphr found that 56% of employees selected the hybrid model as their preferred way of working, but only 40% said their current jobs enabled them to work in that way.
“Hybrid work will only continue to grow, so organisations need to ensure that their technology and management strategies support these changing workplace dynamics,” advises Williams.
According to Barbara Matthews, chief people officer at HR solutions company Remote, there are three basic categories of technology that can support hybrid teams – connection, collaboration and access.
“Video conferencing software connects employees from any place; collaboration platforms such as Slack allow for easier communication and organisation; and digital cloud-based workspaces like Notion allow remote employees to access necessary information, files, and applications from anywhere, just as they would in the office, whilst empowering them to work within these documents together in real-time.”
One area where employers can really benefit from investing in modern tech is meetings. It’s crucial that all employees can connect and collaborate with each other, regardless of their location, and employers must ensure that all employees are treated equally.
According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend report, 44% of hybrid workers don’t feel included in meetings, yet just 27% of organisations have established new hybrid work meeting etiquette.
To help ensure remote participants don’t feel at a disadvantage in meetings, technology can be utilised here to optimise the work environment. It’s important that leaders therefore consider accessibility and inclusivity when investing in hybrid workplace tech.
For instance, ‘meeting equality’ can be achieved through modern technology that enables all participants – whether they are remote or in the office – to be heard and seen better, using AI-driven camera arrays that can separate people in meeting rooms and make everyone appear individually on screen – with the aim of enabling remote workers to feel equal and included.
“Investing in advanced video conferencing systems that feature high-quality audio and video is essential for ensuring that remote participants are clearly seen and heard,” says Williams. “Employing collaboration tools, with features such as real-time document editing and digital whiteboards, can really add value and help facilitate an inclusive and interactive meeting environment for all.”
She adds: “Having effective meeting etiquette rules in place – reminding people of the importance of clear agendas, being respectful of everyone’s time and practising active listening – also helps ensure that participants are equally involved in the session.”
Katy Thorpe, global people director at AV technology provider Kinly, believes there are advantages to be had by using virtual meeting rooms. “By virtual meeting room, we don’t mean just video conferencing software, but highly resourced virtual meeting rooms, which produce a seamless meeting experience.
“Though a virtual meeting room occupies no one physical space, it offers a central meeting point for participants to come together. And, with the right technology, remote workers can join from anywhere, from any device, using multiple platforms, and essentially have the same quality of experience as people physically in the room — they can see and hear the reactions and body language of the people in the room in real-time and feel included.”
Of course, using technology in a hybrid workplace is not without its challenges, such as technical issues, cybersecurity threats, and the potential for reduced interpersonal interaction.
“Employers can mitigate these by providing IT support, implementing comprehensive cybersecurity measures, and encouraging regular check-ins and virtual social interactions to maintain team cohesion,” says Williams.
One of the biggest issues with hybrid working tends to be on an interpersonal level, adds Thorpe. “Managers are finding the employer/employee relationship has largely been reduced to video interactions, with less opportunity to support their teams face-to-face. As such, managers need to be supported by enhanced HR information systems, which can help better understand the growing needs of a workforce.”
Technology is going to continue transforming the way we work, concludes Williams. “As these technologies mature, the distinction between onsite and remote work will continue to blur, leading to a more flexible and integrated work environment – which will bring huge benefits to organisational efficiencies. Employers who stay ahead of these trends and are open to adapting to the evolving tech landscape will be well-positioned to thrive in the future.”