This is the second blog in a three-part series on returning to work in a new hybrid environment and how leveraging new technology will transform workplace collaboration.
Are we really returning to the office? Businesses and organizations have begun to reopen in some capacity, but frankly, the future of work and what that actually looks like has been thrown into a state of ambiguity for managers, owners and stakeholders alike. It’s difficult to deny that COVID-19 has taught workers to re-calibrate, whether that means how we remain productive or how we communicate effectively to get the job done.
So, when preparing for getting back to the office, it’s important to gather feedback from employees and seriously re-evaluate whether the traditional office setup and routine is the best pathway forward.
In the first part of our return-to-work series, we examined the foundations and organizational benefits of improving collaboration in this new work environment. In this blog, we zoom out to help companies determine how to execute the design and implementation of a hybrid future.
Here are four important questions to ask on the path to a future-proofed office:
1) In what ways will a hybrid work environment ensure business continuity?
Planning for a hybrid future is kind of a nebulous concept. When throwing around words like “hybrid office” and “remote work model,” it’s hard to grasp the true scope of transformation that’s necessary—but also quite exciting because of one new-found and almost universally embraced goal: flexibility. In every sense of the word, flexibility spans from being able to enhance the strengths and positive work habits of each employee, to establishing a sustainable workplace design with the proper resources whether individuals are operating at home, at the office, out on the field or a combination thereof.
After taking a step back and realizing how quickly and suddenly the workforce needed to adapt to a seemingly never-ending pandemic, one of the primary motives for implementing a hybrid work environment is to become future-proof. Essentially, a hybrid office doesn’t have to be as rigid with the same guardrails as the traditional workplace operated within. That said, the patchwork of the past year is not a successful recipe for future success either. There needs to be a plan that establishes reliable connectivity and communication between internal and external employees, customers and other stakeholders.
Hybrid work means almost every meeting now includes remote participants, and it must enable a versatile working style that ebbs and flows with business needs in a stable way with repetitive user experience. With this in mind, in order to ensure business continuity, meeting spaces in the office should be set up with video conferencing and presentation capabilities that are extremely easy to connect to and offer professional-grade audio and video quality. Business continuity should mean minimizing distractions, including wasted time dealing with technical issues in meeting rooms and poor audio and video quality—all contributing to increasing costs associated with poor meetings.
What will be the next COVID? Businesses may have been able to get by this past year by piecing together resources for remote work. But, by committing to a continuity strategy centered around designing a hybrid workplace with dynamic meeting technology, companies will be able to safeguard operations against what the future may hold while still conducting business as usual and collaborating effectively.
2) How do businesses maximize productivity and collaboration in a hybrid work environment?
A hybrid approach to a refreshed return-to-work will offer the best of both worlds, blending the socialization and palpability of in-office work with the individualized benefits and flexibility of working remotely. Yet, companies need to ensure that their employees still have the ability to collaborate in ways that drive productivity and result in the exchange of innovative ideas; after all, that’s how businesses differentiate and stay competitive in the market.
Some may describe the solution to this by falling back on the buzzwords “unification” and “streamlining,” but I prefer to talk about hybrid collaboration as hassle-free and empowering.
Sharing ideas and content quickly and seamlessly is at the heart of this. Why stick with outdated technology that takes longer to troubleshoot than it does to conduct important meetings and share information without disruption? Staff need to be able to easily connect with their remote colleagues and vice versa, and the use of personal devices and video conferencing will continue to play a fundamental role today in workplace collaboration and productivity. Sometimes this will involve a BYOD (bring your own device) approach or creating a multipurpose meeting space, and companies often may want to enable the use of multiple devices to join a video call and share content wirelessly in one click or a single touch—and leave the hassle of cords behind. Regardless, hunching around a laptop with low quality video and audio is a thing of the past.
When empowered with meeting spaces in the office—from smaller huddle spaces to larger conference rooms—that converge professional-grade audio and video conferencing technology with communication platforms and applications, employees can successfully connect with remote workers in an equitable way. Ensuring that in-person and virtual meeting attendees have similar experiences regardless of where they work will be key to maintaining a productive hybrid work model.
3) What do employees need to be properly equipped for continued remote work?
Here’s another question: why should we take the “professional” out of the office just because it’s at home? In referring to the equipment and at-home technology, this is particularly germane. Think about it. As a business, if you have a fleet of gear in the company ecosystem at the office that is tracked and managed by IT staff, wouldn’t you want to develop the same policy and resources for remote employees?
In a hybrid work environment, individuals working from home at any given time should still have access to professional video conferencing equipment. Although it may seem daunting to manage a new inventory of devices like headsets and cameras or even microphones and speakerphones, it may cut costs in the long run—especially when the right technology is deployed that’s compatible with communications platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Web Ex.
It’s easy to avoid low quality meetings, decreased productivity and poor engagement by simply eliminating the need for staff to supplement equipment gaps on their own by purchasing consumer-level technology just to “get by.” Some recommended considerations when investing in professional home office setups include:
- USB and wireless noise-cancelling headsets
- Acoustic fence microphone technology that cancels out distracting background noise
- High-definition webcams that keep you in focus
- Executive-quality video bar for an all-in-one collaboration solution
A hybrid workplace is one that’s ever-shifting, and professional video conferencing for the home office will support your team to feel like they’re actively participating in the meeting room, even if they’re in the bedroom or at the kitchen table.
4) What capabilities do hybrid meeting spaces need at the office?
The sweet spot is really identified and achieved through close consultation with a technology integrator that’s experienced in designing modern video conferencing and workplace meeting solutions of all sizes. The foundations of a hybrid meeting environment include a variety of technologies, features and capabilities:
- Easy-to-use video conferencing system that natively integrates any communication platform of your choice
- One-touch connectivity and enhanced control on an interface that makes sense for you
- Integration with calendars and contacts for advanced room scheduling
- Large format and seamless high definition display selected purposefully and installed by an integrator partner
- Professional-grade microphones that pick up every word in rooms of any size, even when social distancing
- HD intelligent cameras with a wide field-of-view that can track who’s speaking and even who’s in the room
- Analytics of usage, giving management real-time data to monitor efficiency and improve investment strategy
Hybrid Work by Design
Overall, it’s hard to deny that the workforce will benefit from increased inclusivity and flexibility of a hybrid office. Some employees may simply need to come into the office more than others, some individuals may see increased productivity with a varied work week, and others may just work better from home. Why restrict options? For many organizations, enabling this will require a re-evaluation and intentional refresh of collaboration technology that helps everyone thrive in a hybrid work environment.
You’ve probably been searching for practical answers to the question: what’s your new normal? Let’s work together to find the hybrid work solution that not only helps future-proof your business, but also launches your workforce into the next generation of communication and collaboration.