Over the last year, we’ve seen organizations of all sizes suddenly shift from offices to remote work, leaving leadership, managers and employees to quickly digitize their workflows. While people successfully adapted digital tools to shift to working at home, it didn't always translate into the most productive or seamless of processes at the organizational level.
For example, chat doesn’t mimic the speed and fluidity of in-person ideation or strategic discussions. No one with relevant information can overhear a video meeting to which they are not invited and contribute as they might in an office setting.
Instead, success is contingent on a culture of effective collaboration that starts with leadership, and trickles down to all employees. Organizations must offer not only the right tools, but also processes and guidelines so everyone in the company is capable of doing collaborative, seamless and engaging work.
This summer, people will begin the transition to the hybrid office. When we asked our LinkedIn followers where they would be working in the third quarter of this year, one-third of more than 300 respondents reported they would be engaged in a hybrid workplace.
Here are five ways organizations can ensure collaboration is seamless in the hybrid office world.
Hybrid Office Does Not Mean Hybrid IT Systems
For a true hybrid workplace, employees should have complementary tools and systems to get their work done, whether they are in the office or at home. If people are eager to head back to the office because they'll have more access to files and tools than when working from home, it’s not a true hybrid workplace. The hybrid workplace sets everyone up to collaborate on equal footing.
Moving systems and files to the cloud helps to create a central place that employees can access what they need to get their work done regardless of where they are located.
IT becomes a critical enabler of productivity by putting in place tools that augment collaboration like Microsoft Teams and SharePoint. This is essential to cultivate a work from anywhere system which allows all employees to succeed.
Related Article: Microsoft Workplace Stats Give a Glimpse Into the Future of Work
Empower Asynchronous Collaboration
As employee needs and preferences shift and work environments continue to transform, organizations must set clear expectations for workplace collaboration around asynchronous and synchronous workflows.
The hybrid office means that asynchronous workflows will be on the rise and your collaboration environment should be built not only to handle but facilitate this shift. Communications tools like intranets and enterprise social networks can help everyone feel involved and able to contribute their voices no matter where they are located and no matter when they are contributing.
Related Article: Synchronous or Asynchronous? That Is the Collaboration Question
Encourage Serendipitous Collision
Companies and HR departments should work to enable serendipitous collision. In other words, create purposeful ways for people to interact, brainstorm, ideate and have informal discussions.
For instance, if employees from different departments are sitting next to each other in the physical office, they may pick up on a tidbit of information, and get to talking about a creative solution. This type of engagement often is referred to colloquially as “water cooler” conversations.
By guiding managers with intentional frameworks for collaborating in and out of the office, more serendipitous collision will take place so employees can share ideas, learn from each other and be more effective in their work.
When employees can safely meet in person, teams can schedule more informal workshops, lunches and other experiences that are conducive to creativity and collaboration.
Unfortunately, serendipitous collision is more difficult online where digital workspace members, meeting invitations and chat groups are chosen very deliberately and for distinct purposes.
“Planned serendipity” online can be awkward, it's true. But it can be made less so via thoughtful approaches for informal collaboration and brainstorming in designated spaces (like a specific channel in a Microsoft Team or Slack) or designated times (Q&A during weekly town halls). HR needs to be deliberate in how they use these tools to generate and drive informal conversations like photos of employee pets, latest Netflix series or interesting industry news.
Related Article: Home or Office? With a Digital-First Approach It Doesn't Matter
Bring IT Into the Talent Strategy
IT has historically been the department that provided digital tools for onboarding new hires, introducing new protocols and innovations, or in response to technical problems and security needs. However, IT is becoming a more strategic partner helping companies be more productive and protected from security threats in our increasingly digital world.
Similarly, as a partner in People Ops, IT can provide all employees with digital tools that help them work effectively, while ensuring security and enablement across adopted services such as digital collaboration tools, conferencing technology and file sharing and management. Lastly, IT must help educate staff to ensure flexibility in a hybrid workplace, so that teams can continue working together, whether in a physical meeting, using intelligent video conferencing or collaborating in a shared Microsoft Word document in SharePoint.
Related Article: How the CIO and CHRO Will Rethink Employee Experience Together
Focus on the Employee Experience
The hybrid office is an unprecedented experiment. Leadership teams will need to survey and assess organizational morale at a higher frequency during this time.
Surveys are a great way to get a pulse on the employee experience and harness real-time feedback — whether they are conducted quarterly or even administered via Teams during a Town Hall. Focusing on employee engagement will be critical to encourage productivity, organizational alignment and culture.
The potential for the hybrid workplace, if done right, is happier employees, more innovation, less risk and greater competitive edge.