How to strike a happy medium 

Jonathan Sharp is the Sales & Marketing Director at Britannic Technologies The workplace is currently going through a revolution after 40% of the global workforce has been working from home for the last year during lockdown in the COVID pandemic. People have experienced the benefits of home working and want to continue working in this way in some capacity. Employees now want to hybrid work; sometimes at home and sometimes in the office, they have experienced working at home and in the office and now want the best of both worlds. Companies need to accept and embrace the change in employees’ expectations and implement a hybrid working plan to meet the new employee’s demands and to grow their business. The transformation of the re-imagined workplace will no doubt come with its challenges but now is the time to welcome the change and re-design your office, culture, and enable flexible working to attract and retain top talent and meet employees’ expectations. Best of both worlds In 2020 employees have enjoyed working at home and spending more time with their family, saving money on commuting and lunch, having the flexibility to do some chores, take the dog for a walk and working hours that are suited around their schedule opposed to the traditional 9-5. However, to work at home full time can be tough, it can be isolating, you can miss out on face-to-face contact with colleagues to bounce ideas off each other, collaborate on projects in person or just to have an informal on a coffee break. The answer is hybrid working, the best of both worlds. Microsoft research revealed that 73% want flexible remote working to continue but at the same time 67% desired more in person time with their teams. Gartner forecasts that nearly two thirds of the global workforce will be able to work remotely for some time to come. Time for a rethink Businesses will have to re-think their strategies after the last year in order to meet the change in employees’ expectations; the world has changed since COVID and lockdown and the way we used to do things may not work anymore. Research from IDC revealed that 64% of business leaders said they would have to implement a different operating model than they had before the COVID pandemic to create a better employee experience and to increase productivity. Business leaders today need to devise a hybrid working plan for flexible working, and this will impact how they recruit and retain talent and respond to the changing world. The plan will need to be fluid and have the flexibility to change accordingly. No one can make and implement a definite plan at present, we don’t know how exactly the workplace is going to change, how successful hybrid working will be and how our customers’ expectations will change also. What we do know, is that everyone must accept and embrace the change and agree to do things differently. How to do hybrid The plan for hybrid working ultimately needs to focus on people first, and businesses should ask the following questions: What roles can hybrid work? How many days do the hybrid workers need to be in the office? How many days does the business want them to be in the office from a space perspective? When an employee comes into the office should they come with their immediate team too? Who can remote work full time? Where do people work from in the office for focused work? Where do people work from for collaboration meetings? Do the employees have the correct technology to support remote and hybrid working? Should we financially assist remote and hybrid workers? The objective of the plan is to provide hybrid flexible working arrangements to empower your employees and meet their new expectations and provide guidelines on the process. It is also important to be honest with them and state that this is ‘work in progress’, this is new to everyone, but we are open to change if it doesn’t work and want to learn as we go. Optimising your hybrid workforce Over the last year companies will have used remote solutions such as Google Hangouts, Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Now, it is about optimising your remote and hybrid workforce, and ensuring that they have the right technology to enable them to perform their job to the optimum. Your company may want to ensure that everyone has a reliable broadband connection, mobile or desk phone, and maybe move their telephony infrastructure into the cloud to enable cost-savings, increase business continuity and have to flexibility to add on technology and applications when required. IDC revealed in their 2020 survey that more than 35% said that their organisation would accelerate the use of cloud. They agreed that cloud increased efficiencies, ease of deployment, facilitated collaboration and enabled remote working. It is also key that your unified communications conferencing and collaboration solutions enable people to work from home and integrate with your front and back-office systems, so all operations, processes and customer service continues to run smoothly. Cloud based conferencing and collaboration solutions such as Mitel’s MiTeam Meetings or MiCollab and Avaya’s Spaces empowers employees to hold audio and video conference calls together over their desktop or via a mobile. Send instant messages, collaborate on documents and presentations together. It is important to use intuitive technology that is easy to use, set up and to keep your documents secure to protect data and privacy. Other technologies such as AI and automated digital solutions can assist in optimising your workforce. For example, if you have a contact centre then a digital interactions solution can be used to handle enquiries providing them with the ability to self-serve and free up your agents to focus on other areas. Digital interaction solutions help reduce the cost to serve from £4.00 a phone call to £0.20 using AI. Digital parity is vital Digital parity ensures that everyone must have access to the latest technology to enable them to do their job effectively and efficiently from home, another location and the office. Companies may have to take the decision to assist remote/hybrid employees with contributing to their home broadband or technology set up. Tired of it! Many of us have spent the last year sitting at our home desks working, communicating, and having video conference meetings all day long. Although employees have enjoyed working at home, they have missed the office and face to face interactions and it is clear that the effects of digital exhaustion are now being felt. Microsoft revealed in their research that 54% of employees felt overworked and 39% were exhausted. Since working in isolation and sitting in front of a computer all day, we are feeling overwhelmed with the number of video conferencing meetings, number of emails and instant messages, being bombarded by communications that are often unplanned and unnecessary. As a result, employees are feeling pressurised and tired. The speed and urgency of responding and interacting with digital communications regardless of the time of day is a definite contributor. There is now a need to re-engage with employees, keep them motivated and re-build the social capital that has been lost during these trying times. How to combat digital exhaustion Ask your employees what areas they have struggled with in the last year and how their lives can be made easier to do their job more effectively. This may mean changes in staff, processes or deploying AI or automated technology to assist. As the world has changed and we must do things differently it is an opportune time to evaluate what works and what doesn’t and make changes that will make a difference and produce results. We are hearing that one of the gripes of the last year is the constant stream of video conferencing meetings. Ask yourself – are they necessary all the time? Can we use another medium, for example only hold video conferencing meetings when required or reduce their frequency and enable people to focus on their work? Maybe declare Fridays as a none meeting day. Publish guidelines on how to use digital communications and what for and stress that these are guidelines only to assist your employees to provide some relief. For example, you may hold a working video conference meeting where you all discuss a topic but it may be easier to edit a document and send to your employees over email rather than hold a video conferencing call to discuss it. The aim is to increase and cultivate seamless collaboration not to overwhelm your employees with digital interactions and video conference calls that will end up being unproductive. The idea is to suggest or provide more structure to people’s workday therefore giving them more flexibility to get work done and allow for downtime and breaks too. Doing things differently Part of the process of reducing digital exhaustion and looking at how to increase efficiencies and productivity is to study how we work. Managers now have to give employees more choice and control, employees have experienced freedom that they may have never experienced before. The days of being tied to your desk in an office from 9.00-17.00 are gone forever, and businesses need to accept that employees should be given the autonomy to get on with their jobs within their own schedules if possible. Of course, employees need to still deliver results and managers can use software solutions that measure their performance and KPIs. Redesigning the office After more than a year of video conference calls people are yearning for face to face contact with employees and want to connect informally and socially. Microsoft research revealed that 66% of business decision makers are considering re-designing their physical offices to accommodate hybrid working environments and create a better employee experience. Offices will be re-designed with collaboration in mind, so when employees come into the office there will be dedicated spaces for teams to work and collaborate in, rather than for individual working. However, they will also have to provide rooms for focused work and communal areas for socialising in during lunch breaks. Businesses will also have to consider how hybrid and remote workers will be included in meetings when some employees are in the physical office, and some are not. Here you could appoint a mediator to manage the meeting or decide that all the team must be present in the office on a chosen day. To re-develop social connections and motivate employees, managers should work with HR on new team building and well-being initiatives. It is not just the physical space of the office that is important but its culture, a new culture of transparency, creativity and empathy needs to be cultivated to produce energy, positivity and motivation to attract and retain talent. Creativity has been severely hindered over the last few months as we have all been working in isolation, but managers need to re-start the creative juices and encourage innovation amongst their teams. This maybe by introducing innovation hubs where employees are encouraged to share ideas and by implementing a growth mindset culture, one where they are not scared to fail, will reap the benefits and add to a creative, energetic and motivated workforce. Talent revolution In 2020, 40% of the global workforce considered leaving their employer and on Linkedin remote job postings increased more than five times during the pandemic. This is because people have had a taste or remote working and flexibility and want more. Employees have realised that they don’t have to move locations, or even leave their house to get a new job. It is critical that businesses implement a hybrid and flexible working approach to attract and retain talent. Generation Z on hold Generation Z is the generation that has suffered the most during lockdown, they are between 18–25 and for many it is their first job, they are not financially secure, often sharing accommodation with little space for home working, so it has been tough for them. They have missed out on the important social connections at work, the face-to-face contact where they will learn so much through socialising and ad hoc conversations. They have not experienced the traditional start at work where you make contacts and network, and you are mentored. To attract young talent, companies will need to offer flexible working arrangements but also ensure that they have a vibrant culture that is energetic, creative, and transparent with training, learning and career opportunities. Keep moving The global COVID pandemic has been unthinkable, but it has also given us the time to reflect, evaluate and change, use this opportunity to change your workplace for the better and introduce an effective hybrid working plan that is underpinned by a creative, energetic culture where you supply training and development and above all put your people first. The pandemic has also humanised work, over the last year we have had an insight into our employees’ personal lives whether that’s children popping up on conference calls, partners or flat mates passing cups of tea or the dog barking when the Amazon delivery arrives. Demonstrate to your employees just how important they are and devise and implement a flexible hybrid work plan that creates an improved experience for both employees and the business.
Demonstrate to your employees just how important they are and devise and implement a flexible hybrid work plan that creates an improved experience for both employees and the business