As the global workforce was pushed out of the office and into their homes 18 months ago, new ways of working and collaborating were adopted. These new ways of working led to the call of workplace revolution – why must employees be based full-time in an office if a flexible approach offers more convenience and improved well-being for workers without it impacting work to be completed.
As workplaces re-open, and employees look to retain this newfound flexibility, organisations must now learn to manage businesses with fewer physical boundaries and more digital ones. In the recent Work Trend Index, over 70% of 30,000 responders stated they wanted to retain the flexibility they’d achieved during the pandemic, and over 60% of responders stated they wanted more in-person working opportunities. Paired with the 40% of the global workforce who are looking to change roles this year, offering an attractive working environment will be essential to attracting and retaining talent. Hybrid working looks to meet both needs, pairing at-home (or out of the office) working with some time spent in-office as well.
This blog will look at ways to implement long-term hybrid working and measure its effectiveness, along with new technologies that will impact hybrid working in future.
Traditionally, office-based employees have had a clear working structure, with hours and location stipulated by the employer. With this in mind, businesses have not needed to examine what their operational goals are for their employees and how their working environment could help or hinder these goals being achieved. Hybrid working has given organisations an opportunity to examine which parts of their operational decisions support flexibility in working approach, and which parts require an in-office presence.
In order to understand how hybrid working may affect an organisation, it is first essential to understand how success in operations is measured i.e. is it through measuring productivity, which is typically measured using number of outputs completed or emails opened/sent, or through a range of metrics including staff engagement surveys, number of cross-staff collaborations or range of integration across workflows. By using a range of metrics, businesses can better understand not only how to structure the approach but also how to amend it where needed to ensure the right balance is reached. For example, if employees are unable to retain focus when in-office, due to interruptions, arranging time more effectively to focus on collaborative work and meetings when in the office and completion of non-collaborative work when working outside the main office space. Considering how best to structure time and team routines will ensure both well-being and productivity levels maintained.
Microsoft's WorkLab is a new initiative that builds on research conducted by hundreds of researchers from Microsoft, Github and LinkedIn, to offer new methods for workplace and operational planning that enable effective hybrid working.
Creating and maintaining a secure “digital office” space can be a significant challenge. Typically, offices take a castle and moat approach to security: everything within the office, from devices to networks are secure. Beyond the “moat”, or outside the office, nothing can be taken as secure. Employees will need to understand the risks associated with working remotely, whether it’s in their homes or another location. Whilst many organisations will have implemented training and increased security throughout the past 18 months, how organisations will protect themselves over in the long-term will need additional thought. The threat landscape for each organisation will require assessment, with a specific focus on policies in place for:
- At home networks;
- Working on-the-go; and,
- Device security.
Developing a business culture for maintaining cyber security, with individual responsibility at its heart, will take time to create. Several guides are available for businesses via the National Cyber Security Centre, which offer businesses tools and recommendations on ways to keep systems secure when employees are working remotely.
Throughout the pandemic, many businesses have seen at-home working as a temporary measure and as such, may have set up the bare minimum or adopted the easiest solution in order to keep teams and tasks moving forward. Setting up a virtual office for long-term use may sound intimidating, but there are several tools available that can offer a range of support. Hundreds, if not thousands, of options are available and in some cases available for free. When considering how to set up a virtual office space, in advance of testing and trialling options, businesses should consider:
- What the purpose of each tool is. Is it to support task or project management, collaborative meeting sessions or casual conversations?
- The volume of users. Some planning tools can become messy to manage and understand with high volumes of users. Splitting teams across different tools can be beneficial (particularly if you have technical and non-technical teams), but a lack of integration across tools can make reporting progress more challenging
- How tools can be used to create a vibrant working environment and business culture. It can be easy to view tools as being focused only supporting task completion and productivity. However, with a portion of the workforce working outside the office on any day, maintaining team morale and energy is as important. Tools are available that support more casual interactions and team activities. Understanding how to engage with employees and drive participation in these tools will be different for each organisation and will likely require employee engagement before a tool is chosen.
- How the tool can be leveraged to maximise outputs. Typically, people will interact with several tools in a superficial way and sometimes only when prompted or reminded. Ensuring tools are recognised as being both useful for time management, easy to use for employees and essential for recording task progress, will take training and possibly a shift in business culture.
In recognition that hybrid working is here to stay, some organisations are going a step further and developing tools for more interaction even across digital workspaces. Using Virtual Reality (VR), some organisations are looking to create online workspaces which support a complete digital presence of employees, allowing them to engage beyond screen-to-screen calls and instant messaging. One example of this is Accenture’s Nth Floor. The Nth Floor is aiming to be a mixed reality space that offers employees the ability to network and mix “in person”. Whilst these examples are still few and far between, many are anticipating a rise in similar options as hybrid working becomes the norm moving forwards.
If you’re interested in innovations relating to Virtual Office spaces or how innovation can support your team as it transitions out of fully at-home working, get in touch with your Innovation Advisor today to learn more about the support available for your business.