Adapting the digital workplace for efficient hybrid work
In the wake of the pandemic, many companies and organizations are deliberating whether and how their workplaces should be transformed. After one-and-a-half years of mainly remote work and online meetings, much has changed in terms of working methods as well as employers’ and employees’ workplace requirements. The function and design of the digital workplace, in particular, is being subjected to re-evaluation when many people return to their physical workplaces. How can it be revamped to better support hybrid work?
Now that the opportunity to go back to the physical workplace has opened up for the majority of employees who worked from home during the pandemic, in many cases they’ll be meeting a new workplace on their return. New in the sense that many companies and organizations have recognized the advantages of remote and flexible work and consequently encourage employees to continue working from home even after the pandemic. Factors such as greater freedom and better work-life balance for the individual, lower resource consumption, reduced commuting, and improved efficiency are obvious and well-known benefits of remote work. According to the news service Bloomberg, a US study with 30,000 respondents shows that remote and hybrid work after COVID-19 leads to at least 5% higher productivity.
However, most organizations that encourage continued remote work are of the opinion that time should be reserved for physical meetings and work in the office. Although you can set up vibrant and efficient meetings using digital tools, face-to-face encounters do more for camaraderie and corporate culture. A common hybrid work pattern characterizing many workplaces today is spending two to three days a week in the office and the rest at home. Time will tell which hybrid work model best benefits both employee and employer.
Among organizations for which hybrid work is now the norm, it’s generally recognized that both the physical and the digital workplaces need to be revamped to better support the new way of working.
Some of the most important support functions for successful hybrid work, which should be reviewed and possibly strengthened in your digital workplace, are:
- Tools and processes for hybrid-adapted leadership.
- Solutions for efficient and inclusive hybrid meetings.
- Applications supporting good employee health and experience.
- Applications boosting creativity and innovative power.
- Mobile-adapted user interface for all types of devices, via responsive design or app.
Leadership in the hybrid workplace
According to Gartner, 51% of the world's knowledge workers were projected to be working remotely at the end of 2021, which is an increase of 89% from 2019 (when the figure was 27%). Gartner also notes that 75% of knowledge workers expect even better distance and flex work opportunities and that 39% would apply for a new job if forced to return to the office full time. Similar surveys across the world come to the same conclusions. Employees have new demands on the workplace and increasingly want to work remotely and with flexible hours. This also means that leadership needs to change.
For example, there must be a stronger focus on the stimulation of innovation and engagement as well as on the prevention of alienation and exclusion. Unless new hybrid-adapted leadership processes are introduced, it’s all too easy for leaders to focus on those who are physically close and neglect those who are currently working from home.
Successful leadership in the hybrid workplace requires systems and processes that support, develop and include employees no matter where they are. Read the blog post New leadership in the hybrid workplace for advice on how to lead in the hybrid work environment.
Conditions for efficient hybrid meetings
For a hybrid meeting to be successful, it’s important that participants can hear and see each other clearly, that everyone feels involved, and that the technology works. Another basic requirement is that you use an application, for example, Teams or Zoom, with rich meeting functionalities such as chat, whiteboard, recording, notes, Raise Hand feature, etc. In addition, it must be an application that all participants are familiar with and know how it works.
The main difference between a hybrid and an online meeting, in which everyone is participating remotely, is that in the former case those who are not on-site risk feeling excluded. There’s also a risk that creativity is inhibited by the remote participants holding back their input and ideas. For most people, it’s a lot easier to be spontaneous in a face-to-face meeting.
To encourage inclusion and fuel creativity, you should make certain that you:
- Create conditions ensuring that everyone takes part on the same terms, regardless of how they participate. It’s therefore important to make sure that everyone is clearly visible and can be distinctly heard online, including the physical participants. Establishing eye-to-eye contact between participants stimulates creativity and strengthens trust and a sense of unity. When something is to be drawn, always use the digital whiteboard and not the one in the conference room. Furthermore, use the chat and note function as much as possible to document everything said and decided at the meeting and to make it easier for remote participants to follow what’s going on.
- Give everyone the same opportunities to prepare for the meeting and to influence the agenda. Create a routine in which the agenda is always included in the invitation to the meeting. Never add new meeting topics, which you may have talked about in the office, just before the meeting starts, leaving remote participants totally unprepared.
- Pass the mike around as fairly as possible. Always start the meeting by explaining to participants how they can request to speak, using the application's Raise Hand function. Your objective should be to have all participants make some kind of contribution. It may simply be enough for the chair to ask those who have been silent if they would like to add something before the meeting ends, a gesture that can turn a feeling of exclusion into one of inclusion.
Digital tools for health and employee experience
Although most studies indicate that hybrid work generally leads to a better employee experience, there’s good reason to be observant and to actively contribute towards helping your employees enjoy improved well-being, work-life balance and health. For example, as mentioned in the section Leadership in the hybrid workplace above, the risk of alienation is potentially greater in a hybrid environment compared with traditional onsite work. There is also an increased risk of burnout if employees find it difficult to lay down clear boundaries between work and leisure or feel that they have to over-perform when they’re not in the office. Omnia and comparable intranet platforms offer smart survey solutions and quick poll tools to create and conduct employee well-being and health surveys. There are also many dedicated applications, such as Microsoft Viva Insights, for better employee experience and health follow-ups. Read the blog post Omnia and Microsoft Viva working hand in hand to see how Omnia and Viva work together.
Boost innovation in a hybrid environment
There are plenty of theories about the best conditions for innovation and fresh thinking in the workplace. Many leaders believe that physical encounters provide the best innovative climate. This might certainly be true in some organizations, but studies also show that with the right management, tools and methodology, innovation can thrive in a hybrid environment. Read the blog post Using the intranet to unleash creativity on how innovation can be stimulated.