Many organizations are planning for a hybrid workplace, but what hybrid means will vary by organization. For some, it may mean employees go into the office two or three days a week. For others, it means certain teams or departments go to the office on specific days. As organizations address these hybrid workplace challenges, they need to determine the right tools to support employees, regardless of their location.
"There's no single playbook for how people are mapping the return to office," Wainhouse Research analyst Craig Durr said.
While unified communications (UC) tools can help employee collaboration and workflows, employees must be trained on the appropriate use cases to ensure they're using the tools successfully.
"Businesses need to understand there are multiple ways to hold meetings," ZK Research analyst Zeus Kerravala said. "You have to use the right tool for the right job."
Durr, Kerravala and other industry analysts and business leaders spoke at Zoom's Zoomtopia virtual user conference about hybrid workplace challenges and how technology and culture must evolve to achieve hybrid work success.
The COVID-19 delta variant is also forcing organizations to reevaluate or even delay their office reopening plans. But the organizations that will achieve the most success with hybrid work are those that focus on flexibility, Durr said.
Those organizations have built processes and workflows that can adjust to the ebb and flow of COVID-19 restrictions, such as monitoring meeting capacity, monitoring use of meeting spaces and managing connectivity issues that could affect remote workers, he said.
Dave MichelsAnalyst, TalkingPointz
Redesigning the office for collaboration
Another hybrid workplace challenge is justifying the need to go back to the office, TalkingPointz analyst Dave Michels said. Many employees have found they are equally -- or more -- productive when working remotely because they don't have to deal with traditional office issues, like long commutes or noisy open office layouts. For those employees, the benefits of remote work outweigh the drawbacks.
"The office will never die," he said. "The workplace -- the buildings and people in them -- will adapt to a new model."
For some organizations, this means rethinking the office space. While companies won't necessarily tear down office walls to build brand new spaces or completely close up open office layouts, meeting rooms are a key area for redesign.
Many organizations are evaluating adding more meeting spaces and outfitting them with more audiovisual (AV) technology, Frost & Sullivan analyst Roopam Jain said. Improved AV technology will support virtual meetings and logistical factors, such as room occupancy control, people counting and scheduling.
"Scheduling displays outside meeting rooms are becoming a table stake," she said. "They're selling well as an attachment to meeting solutions."
With an increased focus on meeting rooms, the office will become a place where employees go to collaborate with other people. Kerravala likened the new office experience to a college campus, where students will venture onto campus when they need to work on a group project or meet with their professors. But, when they need to work independently, students will stay home.
"If an individual sets up three or four collaboration sessions in one day, they'll go to the office that day," he said. "Workplace flexibility becomes important."
Hybrid work requires changing company culture
Addressing hybrid workplace challenges is a technological issue and cultural issue. Organizations need to ensure remote employees do not experience proximity bias, such as missing watercooler talk or being overlooked for promotions because they're not physically in the office, Jain said.
The issue of disconnect between in-office and remote workers isn't new and existed before the pandemic, said Daisy Auger-Dominguez, chief people officer at Vice Media Group. When planning the future of work, Auger-Dominguez said she still wants remote workers heard in hybrid meetings. For example, she encourages remote meeting attendees to speak before those in the room.
Historically, remote meeting attendees were an afterthought. But acknowledging remote attendees as they join a meeting, getting their input early in a meeting and using meeting capabilities, like built-in chat, can make hybrid meetings feel more inclusive and, ultimately, productive, said Damien Hooper-Campbell, Zoom's chief diversity officer.
Monitor employee productivity, maintain privacy
Organizations can take advantage of technology to support the cultural changes that come with a hybrid workplace. For example, data and analytics can help manage remote workers.
"Zoom dashboards have a wealth of data," Kerravala said. "They're not just measuring productivity, but the types of activities employees are doing -- are they attending meetings, at risk of being burned out?"
But organizations must be transparent about how they use data to monitor and manage employees to ensure they're not encroaching on remote worker privacy, Jain said.
Technology can also help level the playing field for in-office and remote workers. The combination of AI and AV technology can capture in-room attendees and display them in individual boxes in the meeting software so they appear the same as remote attendees.
"The meeting has become virtual, and that conference room and that individual participant have to have equal access," Durr said.