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Creating Hybrid Workplace Of Future

You cannot go from decades of being office-centric to being location-agnostic simply by throwing technology at the problem. It will not work until you become human-centric.

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There is tremendous anxiety over how the cards will fall in the hybrid workplace game. Is it a temporary phenomenon that will gently fade away as the threat from the pandemic recedes? Because, in addition to a vaccine, we will soon have a reliable course of medical treatment available for the COVID-19 virus. An infection will then be treated as the common flu. Does this mean investments in a hybrid workplace are overkill? The answer is, “No. Embrace the hybrid workplace.” 

Research on the topic is clear. Webex, which knows a thing or two about hybrid work, says that 57% expect to be in office fewer than 10 days in a month. Personally, I would like to work from wherever I am productive and if it means using a combination of home and office, that is fine. I do understand that working remotely has its downside—one that no enterprise would want. It isolates employees, even alienates them, hinders collaboration, makes loyalty an elusive goal and makes managing support and security a nightmare. These are diverse challenges, each with solutions of its own. For the moment, let me try to address the challenge of keeping employees engaged, ensuring collaboration and making sure the winds of the Great Resignation and the Great Reshuffle do not affect the organization. 

Technology to find a balance… 

Common sense says that not all employees will want to return to work. Many have health-related anxieties associated with an office environment while others have become accustomed to working from home (WFH). But we know that WFH is difficult for practically everyone. Studies have shown that the stress of WFH can lead to depression, anxiety and job insecurity. This means you will lose employees if you go back to the old office-only model or risk fatigue and anxiety if you insist on a WFH-only model. The balance is somewhere between. We need to use technology to bridge office and home—bringing employees together, ensuring they can work as a team, whether or not they are working from office or home (and can switch between the two easily). 

There are many ways to look at the solution. One of them is to look up the Gartner 2021-2023 Emerging Technology Roadmap for the Digital Workplace. The roadmap looks at 111 technologies around Security, Digital Workplace, IT Automation, Storage and Database, Computer Infrastructure and Platform Services, and Networks. The Digital Workplace slice lists 17 technologies of which six—Enterprise Productivity and Application Platform as a Service, Citizen Integration Tools, Natural Language Processing, Virtual Reality, Team Collaboration Devices, and Unified Endpoint Management—are shown as low-risk. Of the six, the last two are expected to see deployment completion by the end of 2021 while the other four are in pilot mode. Of the remaining 11 technologies, Workstream Collaboration Tools are shown as a medium risk but deployment is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Map your organization’s strategy against this and you will get a broad sense of where your organization is in relation to the scenario that is unfolding. 

Regardless of which technologies (from those mentioned above), you are placing your bets on the key is to back it with the cloud. This delivers scalability and resilience and guarantees availability from the office or any remote location. While technology is central, I am convinced that thinking single-mindedly about technology will not work. 

…but technology alone is not enough… 

You cannot go from decades of being office-centric to being location-agnostic simply by throwing technology at the problem. It will not work until you become human-centric. 

By human-centric I mean a design mindset that addresses and solves the everyday problems of employees in a hybrid construct. Here are two quick examples to explain. One, teams working on a project, product, service or problem should be allowed to decide when they would like to work together on-site in an office and when they can work remotely. They should be allowed to take the responsibility of their routine for creating a balance that makes a hybrid model more productive than either fully back-to-office or remote-only. Once this system is agreed to, the organization must equip the team with time management tools, reminder systems, NLP-based apps and immersive video platforms for those who are not physically present. This means in-office employees cannot have side discussions or share physical notes that cut remote employees out of the discussion. Everything must be 100% digital and always-on to ensure flawless sharing and eliminate the accidental prioritization of ideas and actions of those who are physically present. Two, the strategy should allow employees to begin work in one place and end it in another. There should be a natural and seamless flow of work across the hybrid environment. The organization cannot afford a situation where certain tools, applications, networks, data, learning opportunities and support are available in the office but not elsewhere in the hybrid workspace. 

I find these two aspects to be the building blocks of a successful hybrid model and which have the power to multiply your technology investment in the space. When employees gain control over their schedules, they can address the needs of their personal lives without getting stressed; and when there is 100 per cent transparency, no one suffers job insecurity. 

…and a lesson from Squid Game 

I have one last suggestion to make: Encourage employees to interact with members of teams other than their own. This is not simple, but it can be done by using tools like Donut Slack. I do not mean to be prescriptive here—find your own way of creating a digital watercooler that allows employees to connect for a virtual coffee to discuss anything, from how debt determines decision-making in Squid Game to a discussion on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). By the way, if you have been following Squid Game (is there anyone who is not?), you have already recognized the importance of communication, teamwork, sharing and the incredible power of diversity to solve problems. That is what the technology in your hybrid work strategy should aim for. 

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Pradeep Kar

The author is Microland's Founder, Chairman and Managing Director, setting the foundation for excellence as Microland guides enterprises in adopting nextGen technologies to achieve the highest possible levels of reliability, stability, and predictability.

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