Sooner or later workers will begin trickling back to the office in much bigger numbers. The workplace of the future won’t look like it did in pre-pandemic times, though. Most business executives say they expect to operate under a hybrid model with employees spending part of the week in the office and part of the week working from home. What the split will look like will vary, but in PwC’s recent Remote Work Survey, 68% of executives said they felt workers should spend at least three days a week in the office to maintain their distinct company culture.
While managers may be cheering a return to in-person operations, questions remain about the best methods for doing so. How does corporate culture translate when half of the staff is working at the office and the other half working from home? And critically, what is the role of the CIO in making this transition succeed? The pandemic changed many of the underlying technologies that are important to being productive, collaborative and safe while working. As a result, there are new leadership priorities, new ways of working, as well as vendor relationships to manage, adding more complexity for the tech organization.
Solutions for the hybrid workplace will run alongside the wider strategy to accelerate ways of operating and improve customer engagements with cloud technologies, a leading priority for CEOs globally. Nearly half of CEOs plan increases of 10% or more in their long-term investment in digital transformation.
As the office itself evolves, so do the demands on everyday work technology and ultimately on CIOs to simplify the tech environment. Their expertise will be called upon as company leaders seek to upgrade the technology experience so that employee interactions with one another and with customers are seamless and relevant across all types of access environments.
The early days of the pandemic saw a mad scramble of hastily provisioned laptops and money thrown at a variety of collaboration platforms. Many of these tools turned out to be redundant, duplicating various features while imposing more than one learning curve on the employees tasked with using them. Today, many businesses are paying double or triple for effectively the same tool. How do we standardize our technology platforms onto a single platform that works for both in-office and remote workers?
The good news is that today’s CIO is increasingly armed with the tools that are relevant in a hybrid world. Here are some of the most compelling solutions we’re seeing:
Productivity analytics can help improve the experience, giving insights on where companies may need to redesign work processes. Take, for example, determining if employees are taking care of themselves during the workday. Six hours of back-to-back meetings is unhealthy whether you’re in the office or at home, and an overloaded schedule leaves no time for employees to do their actual jobs. These tools can analyze your employees’ digital activities (in the aggregate, as personal data is anonymized) and identify patterns that are affecting productivity and engagement. Over time this can help managers encourage healthy workplace habits to reduce the risk of burnout. One in four employees say their physical and mental wellbeing has declined during the pandemic, according to our Workforce Pulse Survey.
Creativity solutions are making it easier for teams to work together whether they’re in the same room or not. Collaborative whiteboards have already been successfully leveraged by work-from-home teams, and many of these tools can integrate well with in-person brainstorming solutions.
Immersive technologies are changing the game when it comes to hands-on collaborations. Rather than putting a dozen people on airplanes so they can convene over a physical model, virtual reality is successfully letting workers get together in a 3D workspace no matter where they happen to be. Virtual events bring together remote attendees and speakers who can share presentations and videos on multiple screens within the environment and people can interact in much the same way that they would at a conference. VR capabilities have evolved rapidly in the past year. If you haven’t seen the power of VR meetings firsthand, it’s time to book a demo.
Workplace technologies (including scheduling and safety) are emerging categories of tech tools that concern commercial real estate. The emphasis on safety is driving new approaches, such as touchless surfaces, which includes automatic doors, turnstiles and buttonless elevators. “PropTech” includes hoteling apps to help employees and visitors find a place to work or tools that monitor for social distancing guideline compliance. By installing sensors that monitor the (aggregated and anonymized) movement of people entering, leaving and moving about the office, for instance, you can build a detailed picture of how your space is being used. Other tools rely on employees’ mobiles, such as apps that allow for contact tracing.
Collaboration suites are emerging as the linchpin of the hybrid workspace. Today’s workers find themselves torn between a half-dozen communications systems, from phone calls to text messages to email to a variety of software systems that allow for discussions, brainstorming and chatting. Collaboration suites allow you to streamline and standardize all of this, getting everyone working in the same environment and helping to avoid an unhealthy “us versus them” culture between people who regularly work in the office and those who work remotely. Better yet, many of the collaboration suites allow employees to build their own custom apps using low-code or no-code tools that can be used within the collaboration space and shared with co-workers, and they integrate with existing back office tools for better workflow. Consider crowdsourcing tools and survey options to quickly and frequently hear from employees on how hybrid work is going. Understanding how employees are handling this shift — what’s working, what isn’t and what leaders need to change — is going to be critical to making hybrid work a success.
A tech audit can indicate where the systems you already own can help to fill these needs and aid you in avoiding excess spending. The return to the workplace is going much more slowly than most people expected, so you have time to think these issues through before making a big decision on a tech platform. Again, you may already have many of these capabilities in place through software and SaaS offerings that you’re already paying for.
In thinking about hybrid work, remember to consider your culture and how your employees have reacted to remote tools to date. As more workers begin returning to the office, careful attention to change management will be essential for bringing everyone through this journey successfully. Even after a year of remote working, hybrid arrangements are new for most companies. For the tools to be really effective, the culture and behavioral shifts have to be there as well. CIOs should work to involve employees in this process, using their experiences throughout the last year to generate ideas about ways to improve hybrid work processes over time. A culture of innovation can thrive in any type of work environment, but it won’t arise overnight. Rather, it’s a long-term process that results from continuous and sustained effort.