The COVID-19 pandemic forced most organizations to fast-track digital transformation initiatives, and no concept shot to the top of the priority list quite like video communication and digital collaboration. As leaders reevaluate their employees’ work environments, they have to account for how much more revenue-generating business is happening digitally. At the same time, they have to respect the fact that the social fabric of their organizations has changed due to reduced in-person interaction.
We call this intersection of professional and personal digital interaction the Human Enterprise — a subject we’re exploring in this series from CMO Josh Kivenko. In our first installment, Josh explores the many lines of communication that have blurred in our workspaces, and how we need to rethink the ways we collaborate to adapt to a world of hybrid work.
Near-universal remote work as a result of the pandemic has been a reality for more than a year, and even with easing restrictions and mitigation measures, it no longer looks like a total return to “normal” is in the cards.
Many of us have transformed our living spaces into places of work. It took some time and effort, but we’ve all developed mechanisms to cope with a different way of working. Even those that remain in an office or other less traditional workplace have changed their behaviors — many customers and clients are still remote, and the challenge for them has been to keep business and revenue-generating activities efficient and effective over video.
But now that we’ve built these “digital comfort zones” at home and in our altered workplaces, is it smart to just flip the switch back to what was once “normal?” No. Hybrid work — or giving employees the option of where, how, when and with which tools they work — is how most smart companies will approach the post-pandemic work paradigm. There’s plenty of evidence to back this strategy:
- On average, employers save $22,000 per employee that works remotely full-time, and $7,000 on average avoiding costs like parking, mileage and food.
- Employees are happier, too — remote workers surveyed during the pandemic were more satisfied with their pay, advancement opportunities and how they are recognized for contributions. Overall, 57 percent of remote workers said they were “very satisfied” with their job, compared to 50 percent of non-remote workers.
- Even if you’re returning to the workplace, many clients, customers and patients won’t be. It’s estimated that 25 to 30 percent of employees will work from home multiple days per week by the end of 2021 — up from less than 4 percent before COVID-19.
- Service delivery has also changed. Telehealth appointments have boomed in the last year, and 45 million Americans used food delivery services in 2020, up 25 percent from the previous year. Alternate delivery models of goods and services will continue to be a prudent investment.
But implementing effective hybrid work models means much more than simply extending current work-from-home rules and models into the future. Hybrid work will require rethinking personal and professional boundaries, strategic focus on how revenue-generating activities are conducted virtually, and a close examination of how to incorporate physical and digital workspaces together.
Making effective (hybrid) work a reality
While the concept of hybrid work isn’t new, it will be new to nearly a quarter of employees who will be working from home multiple times per week by year’s end. The pandemic has pushed many organizations to a place where remote or hybrid work is possible, but far fewer have made the work effective, efficient, within the realms of human capacity and profitable.
Everyone’s journey toward hybrid work will be different, but there will be some common challenges almost every organization will encounter in their transition. Here are the biggest themes we see emerging for customers as they make hybrid work permanent within their organizations:
Grappling with virtual vs. physical
So what about the traditional office? As hybrid work becomes more prevalent, our physical offices won’t go away, but many workstations might. Many predict the phasing out of giant headquarters in favor of smaller, regional offices closer to workers’ homes as people spread out geographically with hybrid work, or eliminating rows of cubes and desks in favor of an expansive network of meeting rooms. There will also need to be a reimagining of non-traditional workspaces. Medical labs, R&D departments and manufacturing floors that typically aren’t equipped with cameras and other collaboration infrastructure may have to be retrofitted and adjusted so their team functions can be brought online.
Piling on the mountain of mission-critical apps and platforms
While most organizations have implemented the technical backbone and processes to make remote work function, many haven’t considered the long-term impact these changes have on employees. At the moment, hybrid work means working across a variety of tools and platforms (like FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, Lifesize, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx and more for video alone, for example). Without a purposeful implementation of hybrid work constructs and policy, organizations risk overwhelming employees with the number of apps, platforms and technologies they need to use to do their jobs. As we look to the future of hybrid work, organizations have to address the human capacity of their employees to manage this new way of working.
Continued blurring of personal and professional
Hybrid work has changed a lot about our personal lives. More clients and coworkers have virtually visited our homes over the past year than ever before. And many of us now keep atypical hours. In lieu of watercooler chats or deskside banter, we’re connecting with colleagues and customers on apps that we’ve traditionally only shared with friends and family. Again, we have to ask ourselves if employees have the human capacity to manage this many platforms and relationships, and if not, what can be done to make it less overbearing.
Critical service dependency on digital tools
No matter what policy organizations pursue for their own hybrid work structure, adapting to what customers, patients and partners expect will be critical. As much as workers might be comfortable pitching, presenting or doing product demos in-person, clients may not be or may be located so disparately that this becomes impossible. Employees need to be capable of doing every function of their job remotely, but also within the virtual spaces their stakeholders may prefer.
Necessitating tools that are intuitive and tunable by nature
Hybrid work demands we learn new tools — in some cases, very quickly. That’s why organizations should favor collaboration and communications tools that have an inviting “front door” for everyday users. Tools with full feature sets and complex configurations are great for experienced users — the doctors, engineers and designers who master them — but the “guest” users like patients, clients and customers just want to be able to connect seamlessly. Extra bells and whistles, in this scenario, can be a hindrance instead of helpful. Ideally, applications that can be more “tuned” to provide specifically curated environments and interactions will win the day and create a more accessible communication experience for all.
Fostering a healthy hybrid work environment starts with leadership
Hybrid work requires that leadership and managers consider how technology plays into their relationships as well. Do employees have enough connection points? Are there virtual hangouts that have replaced in-person events, and can they be improved to mimic the spontaneous and energetic nature of being physically present? Leadership needs to lead by example, keeping their cameras on and their ears firmly planted to the ground, listening to feedback and supporting improvements to the employee work experience.
No one has found the perfect recipe for hybrid work, but keeping these challenges and considerations in mind as you examine your own organization’s unique needs will be beneficial. Through all of this, considering your employees’ capacity to handle the influx of apps, relationship retention and new service delivery or revenue generation models is imperative. Hybrid work is a natural extension of the Human Enterprise, but only if our expectations, policies, tools and processes make it work for everyone.