Just over 18 months ago they were bustling locations full of active workers, but now many sit empty. While some staff are slowly returning in those states and cites not impacted by lockdown, it’s unlikely they will ever revert to a pre-viral ‘normal’.
These radical changes to workplaces have required a rethink in the way staff go about their daily tasks. Everything from workflows to communication and collaboration channels have had to be altered to cope with an extended period of working from home.
One of the biggest changes caused by the outbreak has been the rise of the hybrid worker. Dividing their time between home and office locations, these individuals represent what is likely to be the future for many organisations.
As a result, attention is focusing on the steps that need to be taken to ensure these staff can remain as connected and productive as possible. It’s vital that they are able to effectively collaborate with peers, customers, and partners regardless of the location in which they are operating.
During the lockdowns, video conferencing shifted from being somewhat of a novelty to a must-have business tool. Most office-based workers are now very comfortable in engaging in both one-to-one and group conversations online.
Such channels will remain part of the mix in a hybrid workplace. Office-based staff will connect with remote-working colleagues as readily as they once did face to face.
For this reason, it’s important for office meeting rooms to be suitably equipped to allow for seamless collaboration to take place. Rooms need to have video conferencing facilities that are intuitive to use and can connect via a range of different services including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Skype.
Thought also needs to be given to audio quality. It can be very frustrating for remote workers if they are unable to clearly hear discussion in an office meeting room. Directional microphones or arrays designed to cover a room need to be considered.
As more people begin to spend at least some time in the office, face-to-face collaborations will also need to change. Social distancing requirements will mean that fewer people will be able to occupy a given space and each will need to be cleansed between meetings.
To manage this, organisations should consider deploying meeting room management applications that allow staff to book spaces and determine which have recently been used. These applications can be further enhanced by placing electronic panels outside meeting rooms that display their status and the number of individuals within.
Turn to the cloud
Collaboration in a hybrid workplace can also be enhanced by increasing the use of cloud-based resources and services. Already popular before the pandemic, the cloud has become a must-have component of organisational infrastructures.
The cloud allows staff to share files as easily as they could when everyone was office based. Tools such as Microsoft Office 365 and SharePoint can become the backbone that supports day-to-day activities.
SaaS-based resources can also aid in achieving effective communication. Cloud-based collaboration services can provide a casual channel through which staff can post queries or share knowledge about issues that need to be resolved.
Used in this way, such collaborative tools can go some way to replicating the ‘watercooler moments’ that staff enjoyed when everyone was office based. They may not be as good as casual face-to-face chats, but they can go some way to ensuring that staff feel connected to the colleagues even when working remotely.
It’s clear that office workplaces are unlikely to every fully return to the way they were before the outbreak. However, by adopting appropriate technologies and ensuring everyone is properly equipped, hybrid collaboration can ensure both productivity and motivation are maintained.