The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on the global workforce, destroying millions of jobs and seeing unemployment rates 14 times greater than the financial crisis of 2008.
The pandemic also fuelled innovation as technology quickly evolved, ensuring organizations could continue to operate while the workforce rapidly shifted to working remotely. As a result, organizations have had to enter a new era of work, where the only way to move forward and remain resilient is to embrace new, flexible ways of doing things.
The hybrid work environment is here to stay. It’s not just a trend that will disappear into the ether once the pandemic eases. Why? Because organizations (and employees) realize it’s simply a better way of doing things.
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The term ‘hybrid working’ has become firmly embedded into our workplace vernacular. Business leaders have had no choice but to allow employees to work partly from home, from a remote location, and partly from an established workplace.
Still, there is no roadmap for a universal hybrid workplace. Every organization, every industry and its workforce has different requirements and a different definition of success. However, there are vital considerations all organizations need to address:
- How will IT and UC teams keep up with constantly evolving workplace requirements?
- How will business leaders address the needs of employees and customers/clients?
- How will CIOs ensure the performance of the systems they have in place?
Organizations are busy establishing flexible working situations while tackling the logistics of enabling a safe return to the office. This is no easy task, and in many cases, requires an overhaul or even a complete replacement of legacy infrastructures. But the benefits and rewards to be gained from the hybrid workplace prove to outweigh the challenges, costs and effort.
The foundation of a hybrid workplace is to equip all users with feature-rich, intuitive collaboration tools to message, meet, voice and video call, share content, and communicate from any space.
By addressing the strategies in this guide, any organization can achieve success and thrive in a hybrid working world.
Let’s delve into how the foundation can be implemented and kept rock-solid while remaining flexible enough to harness new ways to bring people together.
Download a PDF copy of Your Ultimate Guide to Future-Proofing the Hybrid Workplace
01 | Innovation: Making the hybrid workplace work better
Hybrid work is not a one-size-fits-all undertaking, but at the same time, it’s not a new concept. For years, organizations such as professional services, software companies, and creative service companies have adopted a hybrid model. As a result, many employees in core functions work entirely remotely without much disruption.
The challenge in today’s workplace is to ensure a seamless strategy where those who work from the office and those who work remotely can be well-equipped to take advantage of all avenues of collaboration at any time. This includes keeping on top of evolving technology and staying flexible enough to change business models if needed.
Let’s look at why innovation in the workplace is a critical factor in making the hybrid workplace work better.
Innovation is driven by three key factors:
Flexibility and agility
According to McKinsey, agility can be defined as ‘the ability of an organization to renew itself, and adapt quickly to change in a rapidly evolving, ambiguous and turbulent environment’.
“Agility is the ability of an organization to renew itself, and adapt quickly to change in a rapidly evolving, ambiguous and turbulent environment.”
The key for enterprises to achieve business agility is a willingness to redesign organizational structure, change operating models, create new capabilities, and alter how their business works.
The old business model or ‘machine’ structure will not cut it in today’s working world. Those businesses still clinging to a top-down hierarchy, silos, bureaucracies, and legacy approaches to every tier of operation will be left behind.
Today, agility depends on a company's flexibility, with leadership that shows direction, enables proactive policies, motivates and builds its teams around accountability.
Benefits of an agile business
- Enabling an organization to adapt to any situation
- Responding quickly to changes
- Finding and eliminating problems and errors
- The ability to adjust to sudden market changes or crises
Flexibility and agility are the digital age’s competitive advantage, allowing increased collaboration and learning. This creates a ripple effect that helps a business concentrate on its customers/clients/ employees.
In the hybrid workplace, employees are dispersed in various locations, and collaboration is often asynchronous. Digital communication is the only way to carry on, and it has become a solid part of our working life. The way we do things these days is:
- Video conferencing or chatting on platforms like Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom and other communication vehicles.
- Collaborating on a shared document
- Brainstorming with your team on a shared whiteboard
- Instant messaging (IM) or chat
- Email (used most effectively alongside these other methods)
Working digitally underscores the importance of a reliable network. A poorly maintained network can not only slow things down but compromise valuable data.
As organizations transition into adopting hybrid working models, IT teams are dealing with the challenges of adapting complex in-house technology infrastructures to the new models.
How to set up your infrastructure for hybrid workplace success
- Find out what’s working and what isn’t by auditing your current systems. Growth and transformation are good, but they can also expose your organization to security breaches as employees rely on virtual workflows, networks and collaboration tools to achieve their goals.
- Evaluate your workplace hardware by reassessing what devices you need and what you can do without or upgrade.
- Consider business automation to streamline workflows. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) uses tools, often called bots, to manage applications, gather and analyze data, communicate between systems, and trigger specific actions. This can achieve significant time and cost savings while freeing up employees to focus on higher-value tasks.
- Assess whether a hybrid cloud solution is a good option. A hybrid cloud is the integration of a public cloud with a private cloud or on-premises resources. The idea is to take advantage of both environment
types. (More on that later).
Supporting rapid digital transformation
Digital transformation is no longer a choice but a necessity if companies are to sustain growth and remain fully operational in the future.
New employees are onboarded virtually, customers are being won and serviced remotely, and ever-emerging new technologies are being implemented as part of the new hybrid work model.
Re-shaping business culture
Successful digital transformation also requires a cultural re-shape, an employee support framework and a new leadership style. Having clear rules and best practice guidelines for remote working and virtual meetings is just as important as having the right technology infrastructure in place.
According to Gartner, 46% of businesses cite culture as the most significant barrier to scaling digital transformation. Your entire organization must be aligned, engaged and on board with technology and changing business models to reap the rewards of hybrid working.
Ways to do this include:
- Appointing champions for change
- Regularly communicating the company vision, and purpose for transformation
- Keeping employees updated on progress
- Delivering ongoing training collateral on new communication systems
The cloud initiative
As we’ve already established, the key to creating a successful hybrid workplace is enabling flexibility. The cloud has proven itself in recent years to offer this flexibility, not to mention delivering up-to-date security features.
But the overriding benefit of the cloud is its ease of scalability. With virtually all end-devices now connected to the internet and employees often equipped with company-provided devices or their own personal endpoints, the cloud enables hybrid work.
The need to adapt and change direction quickly is a core principle of a digital business, and this is where the benefits of hybrid cloud shine brightest.
02 | People: Creating a great experience
In the hybrid workplace, the most crucial consideration is your people. A successful hybrid workplace prioritizes the employee and encourages a stronger work-life balance. Steps to achieve this include:
- Providing your employees with the digital means and support to do their job.
- Creating clear rules and best practice guidelines for remote working and virtual meetings.
- Allowing employees to flexibly divide their work week between home and office.
- Changing the parameters for assessing performance.
- Taking steps to ensure that home-based staff don’t feel left out.
- Focusing on employee wellness and mental health.
From a business point of view, organizations with a combination of in-office and remote employees will have a larger talent pool to work with, as they will no longer be confined to hiring employees in specific geographical regions.
A hybrid workplace is also more economical, with less reliance on large scale offices, meaning that organizations can save thousands in real estate and office maintenance costs.
But let’s look at the impact of the hybrid working model on employees and what can be done to create and maintain a great hybrid working experience. We’ve divided this section into three critical areas for consideration.
Meeting employee demands and expectations
For many people, work isn’t just something they do – it’s an intrinsic part of who they are, so the forced changes to our workplace culture have been emotive and unsettling for some.
There are generally three categories into which employees fit when it comes to work expectations.
- Those who wish to work predominantly from home to preserve a better work-life balance.
- Those who are less interested in working remotely 100% of the time, preferring the more flexible hybrid working situation.
- Those who can’t wait to get back to the office full time. Though they are very much in the minority, they miss the workplace's social aspect and want to escape the fatigue they feel from sitting on endless video calls.
A perfect scenario is when an employee’s expectations align with the needs of the organization. Then, companies can move ahead with implementing a hybrid work model that easily fits their strategy. Then, they can begin to put in place the systems, processes and technology needed to benefit from productivity gains and reduced overhead costs.
But those organizations with a near-perfect match are virtually non-existent. So, what happens when employee expectations and those of the organization are not on the same page?
Take Goldman Sachs, for example, whose CEO David Solomon says, “This is not ideal for us, and it’s not a new normal”. He has called remote working “an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible.”
“(Remote working) is an aberration that we are going to correct as quickly as possible”,
David Solomon, CEO Goldman Sachs
Other large companies like Microsoft, on the other hand, have every intention of implementing a permanent hybrid work model. Microsoft will allow each employee the option to work from home 50% of the time or less without needing to obtain approval from their manager. Employees who wish to work remotely more than that will give up their desk or office at Microsoft’s headquarters but will have dedicated spots available to them when they need to report in person.
The world’s biggest companies: How much flexibility are they offering employees?
|JP Morgan Chase||little||banking||US|
|Amazon||some||tech & telecoms||US|
|NTT||some||tech & telecoms||Japan|
|Unilever||some||retail & consumer||US|
|Capital One Financial||some||banking||US|
Source: FT research company announcements
In reality, every organization will be challenged to develop a hybrid model that works for both employees and the company’s business strategy. This begins with having the right conversations or risk losing talent, sacrificing productivity, and becoming less able to compete as a result.
Maintaining workplace culture/employee satisfaction
Any successful business will consider its employees’ preferences by listening to feedback, involving workers in decision making and fostering a strong company culture.
Basing your hybrid workplace model on data
As much as possible, any discussion or decision-making around the move to a hybrid model should be based on robust data. This helps foster a shared understanding of a role’s suitability for remote work, enabling all parties to move towards workable solutions.
Understanding whether a role is hybrid-suitable or not entails looking into the granular details of what’s involved on a day-to-day basis, as well as an individual basis.
This will mean accessing and combining data from multiple sources as well as using employee survey responses. This helps to quickly understand who’s doing what in the organization, where those activities are taking place, and how much they cost.
With this level of insight, you can look at which activities create value within the company and whether they have space and time dependencies that limit where and when they can be accomplished. Generally, four main situations can summarize employee roles:
- Those roles and activities not dependent on location.
- Those that are partially dependent on location.
- Those roles that could be made flexible with appropriate investment.
- Those that are entirely dependent on location.
It’s essential for any organization to clarify what’s required from the role for the business to succeed. This means matching objectives and activities with skills and competencies, all within the required working constraints. Additionally, it’s about enabling effective collaboration between employees and their teams, so individuals can thrive in their roles.
Returning to the office - ‘earning the commute’
The push to work fewer days at the office is increasing. Employees are rejecting the personal and financial cost of 5-day-a-week commuting after experiencing the convenience and productivity of working remotely.
According to Lendlease Property CEO Kylie Rampa, ‘It’s no longer enough to simply provide a desk and a chair and call it a workplace. Increasingly, employers will need to ‘earn the commute’ of their people’.
Employers will have to work hard to provide compelling reasons for workers to leave their homes to achieve this. The relentless demand for flexibility and talent is challenging employers to reconsider why people come to the office and ask the question ‘what type of work is best done in the office?’
Get more insight into why user experience is so critical in the hybrid, digital workplace.
The office as the connector
Social interaction is the principal reason why employees want to return to the office. Many employees have had a hard time separating work and home life while being forced to work remotely. Meeting fatigue and isolation are two of the primary areas of concern for employees.
Adjusting to a remote environment is not just about employees and their families or roommates. It’s also a dramatic change for employers or clients who might not have mastered boundaries and feel it's within their rights to contact workers at any time. The hybrid work model, where employees spend specific days in the office, can help to define those boundaries more clearly.
03 | Performance: Hybrid work that works – all the time
It’s clear technology has allowed us to collaborate remotely, and it’s technology that will enable the success of the hybrid work model.
But not all collaboration tools are created equally, and when the pandemic first forced workers to leave their posts at the office, many companies chose tools in somewhat of a panic. To stay operational, they had to find ways for employees to collaborate from different locations – and fast.
But now that organizations have become comfortable with the remote working model and transitioned into hybrid working, it’s imperative to implement solutions that work better for everyone in the longer term.
When it comes to collaboration tools, there are key areas of concern for organizations:
- Employees using their own devices and applications
- Lack of a central collaboration tool strategy
- No feedback from employees on what’s working and what isn’t
- Not implementing success metrics
Hybrid working has also introduced a great many variables that affect the performance of collaboration tools and applications. For example, sub-par home internet connections with insufficient bandwidth, security protocol challenges, call quality issues, device incompatibility, and more.
IT and UC teams need data to make informed decisions as to whether the UCaaS tools they implemented, in the beginning, are going to work in the long term. These teams are under more and more pressure to ensure that call quality and overall functionality remain high.
Source: Blue Jeans
This section will take an in-depth look at simplifying the hybrid workplace and ensuring that all collaboration tools, including devices and applications, work as seamlessly as possible. We’ll look at how employee involvement in creating hybrid strategies can improve the collaborative experience. After all, successful hybrid working can only be possible if all users have a great experience. We’ll cover these key areas:
Creating a unified experience with tools that work
It would be an understatement to say that IT teams are under an enormous amount of pressure.
With many organizations moving to a multi-vendor UC environment and the challenge of disparate devices and locations, technical staff now need to look in more places to track down the cause of quality and performance issues. In a multi-vendor environment, OEM analytics software or out-of-the-box solutions can’t communicate with one another. In other words, Cisco’s solutions can’t communicate with Zoom or Microsoft solutions, so in a multi-vendor/hybrid UC setup, finding the root cause of problems is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, So what’s the solution?
An all-seeing eye
Without the ability to take a precise look at the entire UC environment, it will be next to impossible to identify where problems are occurring. Again, this highlights the critical need for third party performance management software that can see everything in your hybrid UC ecosystem.
You can’t fix what you can’t see, and performance issues like glitchy video, poor quality audio, dropped calls, slow upload, and download speed can derail an entire workday – and that translates into lost revenue and poor user satisfaction.
Your UC tools need to work, not just sometimes but all the time. And more than that, they need to be the right tools and applications for the tasks they’ve been assigned to do.
When working from home, what are the biggest frustrations during video meetings?
Data and analytics - a goldmine for the hybrid workplace
Meeting the needs and preferences of employees requires using data and technology to measure performance and experience. To ensure the hybrid working model can continue seamlessly, the insights gained from collecting data and studying analytics helps organizations to understand where UC systems need attention from a tech point of view.
But data and analytics do much more than that. It can monitor employee performance, identify strengths and weaknesses, levels of satisfaction and engagement with UCaaS applications and much more. These analytics have never been more critical.
Data always tells a story
It’s not enough just to collect data; organizations have to understand it in order to make it work for them.
Harnessing detailed information through analytics gives service providers and enterprises the support and the solutions they need to improve infrastructure, billing, collaboration, and security.
Big data has been around for a long time, but before the advent of cloud services, it meant a significant amount of on-premises computing power was needed in the past to produce necessary analytics. But new capabilities are now possible in UC analytics, thanks to the advent of performance management software and cloud services.
Data is integral to an organization’s successful pivot to hybrid work. Data provides clarity on what is happening, giving leaders crucial insights that result in better, more structured policies.
It reveals customer-support gaps that need closing and guides IT into delivering solutions that materially improve employee experience and maintain productivity and motivation.
Facilitating data literacy in the hybrid workplace
Employees need to evolve with an organization’s data strategy in a hybrid world. A data workplace strategy that supports collaborative processes will allow employees to explore real-time data across their departments more deeply and derive value from it in their role.
Regular and persistent training should be set in place so that employees can read, understand, question and argue with data.
Managing performance and experience
We now know that a hybrid workplace can help build a crisis-resilient culture by allowing increased freedom and autonomy and flexibility within an organization while maintaining structure. But hybrid working comes with some fundamental flaws from a technical point of view:
- Inconsistent quality or remote network connections.
- In-office corporate networks not equipped to handle increased demands of hybrid work, particularly video.
- Incompatible devices.
- Sub-par audio and video.
- Workspaces not optimized for hybrid collaboration – both home workspaces and in-office meeting spaces.
- Security risks when faced with managing multiple devices and networks.
- The absence of immediate on-site technical support.
IT leaders need to simplify complexity and ensure all collaboration tools work seamlessly to succeed in the hybrid workplace. Third-party monitoring solutions can make that happen.
Downtime caused by malfunctioning or underperforming equipment or poor connectivity makes for a frustrating and potentially costly user experience.
The disparate nature of hybrid working means that a UC environment could consist of dozens or even hundreds of different applications, devices, networks and locations.
Third-party monitoring solutions allow you to view metrics, collect essential data, and provide valuable insights and analytics in real-time. This information and the resulting ability to respond to problems immediately can make the difference between a hybrid workplace that works and one that doesn’t.
The role of MSPs and technology partners
Rapidly evolving technology, combined with a volatile business environment and the pressure to keep IT costs low, are driving strategic alliances between CIOs and MSPs.
The role of MSPs has changed, and they are no longer simply vendors supplying IT services. Today, and particularly in the hybrid working world, MSPs have emerged as a crucial element in running a lean and effective IT organization.
Operating as strategic technology partners, MSPs are executing, automating, securing and scaling IT infrastructure and operations, leaving CIOs and internal IT teams to concentrate on the specifics of helping companies compete in a digital economy.
"MSPs give CIOs the freedom to focus on their business without worrying about staffing to support IT infrastructure, core application support, data center or security.
Knowing that the MSP has these things under control allows CIOs to attend to dynamic business needs, changes and drive innovation." Joe McKenna, global CIO for Syntax.
"MSPs give CIOs the freedom to focus on their business without worrying about staffing to support IT infrastructure, core application support, data center or security. Knowing that the MSP has that under control allows CIOs to attend to dynamic business needs, changes and drive innovation."
Joe McKenna, global CIO for Syntax
MSP roles and responsibilities: 4 ways MSPs deliver value
CIO and MSP strategic partnerships are formed for many reasons, but in general, an MSP that functions as a strategic partner to the CIO takes on all or some of the following responsibilities:
- Bringing process improvement knowledge. An MSP's core expertise in a specialized area helps CIOs identify ways to improve processes and create further efficiencies.
- Delivering cost-effective service. This allows CIOs to focus on customer needs and innovation without worrying about the day-to-day service operations.
- Aggressively keeping up with technological advances. Modern MSPs constantly identify, test and prove emerging technologies that can introduce incremental and transformational changes.
- Supporting transformation. MSPs draw on their experience with what has worked at other organizations and across industries to advise and support CIOs on digital transformation initiatives.
6 key benefits MSPs bring in a fast-changing IT environment
Technology you can rely on – certainty in an uncertain world
Technology is evolving at an accelerated pace, and many organizations are finding it challenging to keep up. Some are choosing to overhaul existing IT infrastructures. This can lead to outdated applications and systems that aren’t compatible or don’t have the agility for the modern hybrid workplace.
Hybrid working has also encouraged many businesses to streamline legacy systems by modernizing and investing in their IT infrastructure from scratch. It’s essential for companies to take stock and review existing systems to ensure they’re fit for purpose.
The cloud-based approach
While many businesses were quite familiar with working in the cloud before the pandemic, it is now an integral part of the modern workplace.
As data is stored in an online server, employees can access it from anywhere, at any time, allowing them to do their job no matter where they’re based. This provides the smoothest possible user experience as it facilitates an easy transition between the office and any remote location.
The hybrid cloud model
A hybrid cloud model consists of a mix of public cloud and private cloud components. The public cloud providers host workloads and deliver cloud services to multiple organizations. The private cloud model typically uses on-premises architecture, either in a company's local data center or a separate physical infrastructure provided by a third party. Benefits of a hybrid cloud model include:
- Disaster recovery. A hybrid cloud helps organizations fortify their disaster recovery strategy by replicating onpremises workloads and backing up data in the cloud.
- Development and testing. It’s more efficient and cost-effective to develop and test applications in the public cloud.
- Data processing. Hybrid cloud provides the option to use powerful cloud services to run regular analytical queries on locally stored data.
- Changing workloads. Hybrid cloud is particularly valuable for dynamic or highly changeable workloads, for example, a transactional order-entry system that experiences significant seasonal demand spikes.
04 | How the big UC vendors are future-proofing the hybrid workplace
While there is still some uncertainty about the future of the working world, the hybrid workplace is here to stay. But hybrid working would not be possible without the tremendous constant output of new solutions from some of the world’s top collaboration giants.
Let’s look at how their constantly evolving, innovative offerings are changing the modern workplace.
Webex by Cisco
Much of Cisco’s innovation revolves around what they say are the five key pillars of successful hybrid working:
- Security. Cisco has introduced Zero Trust Security, a collaboration-industry first that protects against passive and active attacks by requiring certification from every meeting participant before gaining access.
- Manageability. Because Webex is built on a modern cloud infrastructure, it can readily handle the media and bandwidth demands of hybrid work where all meetings require video.
- Flexibility. Cisco’s recently unveiled Webex Suite is the industry’s first suite for hybrid work. It will combine best-of-breed calling, messaging, meeting, polling, and events under a single license.
- Inclusiveness. Cisco’s mission statement is ‘to power an inclusive future for all’, so their collaborative approach welcomes people to participate in work and life by removing the barriers to collaboration and connection and enabling people to participate from anywhere, anytime and on any device.
- Supportiveness. As people return to the office, Cisco is rallying a slew of innovations to address the human challenges of hybrid work, including fatigue, anxiety and lack of human connection.
Microsoft’s approach to hybrid working is to develop a clear strategy that adapts to individual and organizational needs both inside and outside the office.
To build a successful hybrid working environment, Microsoft says organizations need to think about three things:
- People. The heart of any business, therefore their wellbeing is critical. A successful hybrid organization combines empathetic leadership with prioritizing individual wellbeing to help people focus and be their best. Microsoft also believes that building employees’ skills is essential, and an organization must implement an ‘always-on’ culture of learning.
- Process. Providing policies and technology that support synchronous collaboration, including meetings, voice and video calls, and asynchronous collaboration, is important. Also important is leaning on your collaboration platform to build variety and encourage connectivity anywhere. For example, encourage non-work-related check-ins, voice-only walking calls to prevent screen fatigue, or even buddy up colleagues from different teams for informal chats.
- Place. With office space no longer limited to one office, leaders must balance virtual and physical workspace to ensure equality and inclusion for everyone. Microsoft surveys employees, looking at data such as social graphs and employee traffic patterns. This helps provide suitable spaces for teams, for example, making sure they have the tools and office supplies they need wherever they are working.
Zoom has experienced unprecedented popularity during the height of the pandemic. To accommodate the hybrid working model, Zoom is rolling out new features to Zoom Rooms which aim to put virtual and remote participants on equal footing. For example, a receptionist working from home can greet visitors to an office through a screen placed on the main desk.
It also announced Zoom Events, an event management platform that will integrate remote and in-person participation.
Meanwhile, Zoom Phone, its VoIP product, now has 1.5 million users - up from 1 million in January of this year - and has also added physical appliances for offices.
Zoom’s top business imperative is making sure that it serves all businesses as they open and return to offices while providing collaboration solutions for the hybrid workplace.
Download a PDF copy of Your Ultimate Guide to Future-Proofing the Hybrid Workplace
To achieve a thriving and successful hybrid workplace, company leaders need to be aware hybrid working is far more complex than just having some employees in the office and some working from home. And it’s not just about the collaboration solutions or devices.
The successful hybrid workplace strategy takes culture into account and calls upon business leaders to rethink management practices and performance expectations.
A hybrid workplace must also embrace digital transformation, including cloud-native and mobile-first solutions – with collaboration tools as an integral part of the initiative. Performance management goes hand-inhand with the success of this initiative.
- There is no one-size-fits-all. Hybrid work is not a onesize-fits-all undertaking. Companies should develop strategies where those who work from the office and those who work remotely can be well-equipped to take advantage of all avenues of collaboration at any time.
- Flexibility and agility are vital. Hybrid work depends on flexibility and agility, with leadership that shows direction, enables proactive policies, motivates and builds teams around accountability.
- Collaboration tools need to work. A hybrid workplace relies on tools that work. Monitoring to ensure that those tools work all the time is crucial to the success of today’s working world.
- Employees are the core of a business. Any successful business will consider its employees’ preferences by listening to feedback, involving workers in decision making and fostering a strong company culture.
- The importance of cloud services and the value of MSPs. Cloud services and MSPs are invaluable to a business building a successful hybrid workplace.