Labor Day marks the kick off for many companies of their hybrid workplaces. To prepare, everyone will need to learn how to work together in this dynamic digital and in-person workplace. A vital part of this is for companies to collaborate in a productive and secure manner, to ensure employee and business health alike. Here are five guiding principles on how to achieve a seamless transition to and optimization of the hybrid office.
1. Reimagine the Purpose of Meetings
Organizations quickly adopted processes over the last year to enable remote work. Many will remain. However, the process by which teams decide how and when they collaborate with digital tools will be critical to fostering innovation. For example, while many employees are eager to host in-person meetings again, not all Teams chats and video calls should be replaced with a trip to the office conference room. In-person meetings should be used for collaborative ideation. Think: whiteboard sessions and free-flowing conversation. On the flip side, deep, individual work may still be done best in the remote setting, where employees can leverage digital collaboration tools for routine transmission of information during the day. The hybrid environment, powered by SaaS applications, enables the flexibility to do both.
Importantly, not everyone will be in-person at the same time. Company leaders need to ask themselves: when conversations happen in-person should they be documented in Teams to keep broader, relevant groups in the loop? If so, which conversations, considering it may be difficult to share them all?
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2. Align on Collaboration Tools and Platforms
Especially as companies embark on their hybrid journeys, they need to ensure shadow IT is non-existent — and that means making sure employees know how to use digital collaboration tools to their full potential so they don’t go searching elsewhere.
SWOOP Analytics' 2021 Microsoft Teams Benchmarking Report found most businesses use telephony as their primary remote-work tool — even organizations that used Microsoft Teams. Over the past year and a half, Teams telephony functions like chats, calls and meetings were used in collaborative work. Features like channels, file sharing and notes were used less frequently, with more than 97% of teams underutilizing digital teaming features of Microsoft Teams.
With employees set to experience both in-person and remote days, it's paramount they use everything their digital collaboration tools have to offer — even if it requires reskilling. In fact, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently affirmed why the company is prioritizing collaborative apps this year: to power an effectual hybrid ecosystem that maximizes the potential of Microsoft 365.
3. Establish Security
Coupled with increased usage, though, is the need for prioritizing security — and ensuring employees know how to safely use the agreed-upon collaboration tools. For example, my firm, AvePoint recently found 75% of companies deployed Microsoft Teams without proper governance or security in place, leaving them vulnerable to internal and external threats. To mitigate risk, companies must provide clarity around who creates team channels, when they should be deleted, where sensitive discussions can take place if not in the Teams environment, and more.
Additionally, as employees work from home, commute to work and work in the office, security and data management will need a multi-pronged strategy depending on where and how employees work. This added complexity creates new risks and challenges to keep the workforce securely connected and collaborating with the appropriate governance and protection of data.
4. Practice Radical Transparency
In addition to outlining how, why and which collaboration tools to use, companies need to enhance internal communications strategies for this transition period. Especially since employees will be expected to change working habits they’ve developed over the past year and a half, providing clarity on hybrid office logistics and, more importantly, the reasons behind new company policies is critical. Bringing employees into the conversation via thoughtful programs like crowdsourced feedback loops and company town halls generates transparency and facilitates opportunities for learning, adaptation and alignment.
Many companies have also started investing in employee experience platforms, which are designed to capture holistic employee feedback via surveys, sentiment analysis, and workplace application monitoring. Ultimately, to elevate the employee experience, leaders need to hear from folks, learn from their experiences and ultimately show employees they are being heard and considered.
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5. Prioritize Well-Being for Employee Success
Data integrity and collaboration aren't the only areas deserving of attention. Ensuring employees are productive, safe and empowered to succeed in this evolving workplace is paramount. Employee preferences are also shifting, with employees wanting flexibility, balance and purpose in their work. A survey by Citrix found 86% of employees want their employer to prioritize outcomes and the impact they have over output. Whether at home or in the office, employees should have the processes, HR protocol and digital tools to excel in their careers, support their teams and add value to the organization.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) are also growing in importance and are arguably critical for employee success. Eighty-six percent of employees from the same Citrix survey believe a diverse workforce will become even more important. Organizations should also consider supporting employees beyond the tools and platforms they use to help them produce their best work. Leadership can create groups centered on empowering minority groups and provide opportunities to reengage in philanthropic efforts, now that businesses can safely do more in-person activities. Of late, employees also expect more accountability and leadership from the organizations at which they work. About 80% of people expect their company to act on key national and global issues like climate change, misinformation and racism, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.
The Dynamic Workplace of the Near Future
These principles are just a few of the ways to shape an effective workplace that is ever-changing by the week, month and year. Organizations will need to quickly shift and meet their unique organizational challenges head-on to ensure teams continue work without any bottlenecks to the productivity, creativity and innovation critical to effective collaboration and overall success. Having a toolkit of best practices that can be quickly implemented, refined to meet unique organizational needs, flexible and scalable will be integral to the future of work.