There are lots of questions facing business leaders these days, but the over-arching question is: what does “back to work” really look like? The answer is, there is no simple answer.
What do we mean by “back to work”
The concept of going back to work is actually a misnomer. First and foremost, people didn’t stop working. Overnight, some companies were forced to change where and how their teams worked, but their teams never actually stopped working. Video conferencing and collaboration tools became the primary means of maintaining productivity. As a result of these tools and their increased acceptance by the corporate landscape, many companies have even reported seeing an increase in worker productivity, with some reporting a 47% increase.*
A second, and maybe even more impactful consideration is, there is no true “back to work.” As recent events evolve, and local, and state authorities continue to respond accordingly (a phenomenon referred to as “the hammer and the dance”), companies are forced to make plans for a flexible, balanced work environment. There is no clear path for when, where, and how people are going to work. That means it is much like schools and the education system, companies are also coming to terms with flexible schedules and continuing remote or distance working. This is the hybrid approach.
Considerations for a hybrid working model
Companies are beginning to offer hybrid working plans. But what does this look like going forward? For some employees who are deemed essential, they will return to the office full time. Others may opt for full-time remote work. And some may blend the two and operate under a flexible location model. In all cases, tools like video conferencing have to be enabled for all employees because of the changing landscape. You cannot just offer video conferencing to remote workers – everyone will need these tools, as team collaboration will happen across both in-office and remote workers. These hybrid models have now proven to be as effective (if not more) than office-based teams, plus companies realize they no longer need to hold onto and maintain such expensive real estate costs.
In some cases, you will see office space move from traditional headquarters in big cities to smaller offices located where their employees want to be or are already located. Why maintain class-A space in San Francisco or New York when you see your employees flocking to places like Truckee, California, or Rochester, New York? Office space in those areas is less expensive, easier to maintain, and is more efficient for your employees to access. You can build remote outposts to give a headquarters-feel to those remote-teams.
The “return to the office” concept represents the real evolution of going “back to work.” What I find interesting is that the concept of the “office,” no matter the size of the company, will no longer be defined by a singular building, but by a combination of a headquarters, remote offices, and home offices. The connection between the variety of offices is crucial, which is why I foresee companies investing in video conferencing and always-on devices that enable virtual huddle rooms and stand-ups for people in an inter-connected office environment. I also predict people will still balance home and remote office time in perpetuity, allowing for more flexibility as the needs of family and things like distance learning and homeschooling compete with the needs of the workplace. Virtual collaboration tools like document sharing, screen sharing, and more also become valuable because they enable that flexible engagement model for the workplace while ensuring productivity is maintained at a high level.
Tips for maintaining an effective hybrid approach
To sustain an effective hybrid approach, your company should also consider these factors:
- Are you offering flexible hours to families and people with children?
- How is IT accessible to remote workers when they have issues with internet connections and VPN?
- If you offer devices like desktop videoconferencing units, will IT be available to help manage them?
- Do your managers have regularly scheduled check-ins with team members that go beyond deliverables and allow for inter-personal connections?
These questions are important to ask so that your remote and hybrid workers feel supported, connected, and part of the larger whole. After all, you want the whole to be more than just the sum of its parts.
Make sure you are your teams are communicating with one another about these types of questions so they can adequately embrace this new hybrid work model and be successful in the years to come.
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