Is COVID-19 a Catalyst for Hybrid Working Model?

Photo credit: iStockphoto/dorian2013

Businesses around the world were forced to adopt remote working almost overnight as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the planet. Technology provided the vital link between business leaders, employees, customers, and supply chains as the world adjusted to the new ‘normal’.

Remote working has been a well-established trend, even before the pandemic. Many businesses — particularly larger global organizations that need to empower their employees to operate in the same way wherever they are in the world — have invested heavily in the technologies and working practices needed to deliver truly flexible working.

Now, the lockdown has seen businesses worldwide forced to suddenly follow suit. Some have thrived, finding new ways to work with technology to improve productivity and enable real-time collaboration. Others, particularly those in sectors dependent on physical meetings and where the right technologies are not in place, have struggled to cope.

Regardless of responses, the opportunities and challenges organizations have discovered in the shift to remote working made clear that there is a new normal. As we begin consolidating the experiences of the past weeks and thinking about how the pandemic has changed future business processes, here are five key workplace trends. 

  1. People have changed how they feel about collaboration and communication

The reaction to the lockdown among employees has been varied. Those used to travel extensively for business may reconsider the need and want their company to facilitate more virtual engagement. Others will have realized that they can work just as effectively from home and want hybridized office and home-based working. There will also be many who want to return to the office full-time, craving human interaction.

As lockdowns ease, we expect to see more companies considering a ‘hybrid’ approach where employees’ time is split between the office and working remotely from home. Seeing that remote working does not necessarily hit productivity levels while delivering the added benefits of reducing travel hours, business expenses and carbon footprint, most companies are now looking at embracing this model more comprehensively.

  1. Technology will define success or failure in the new ‘normal’

Before the crisis hit, virtual meetings were rising exponentially. Gartner recently forecast that the proportion of enterprise meetings conducted face-to-face will drop from 60% to 25% by 2024, driven by remote work and changing workforce demographics.  There is much to suggest COVID-19 would have accelerated this trend in a post-pandemic world.

Getting the technology right will be crucial for companies to navigate this new workplace environment. During the lockdown, enterprises relied on conferencing solutions to connect their teams. With a phased return to the office expected in the coming months, companies will be searching for solutions that can enable effective collaboration and communication, both physically and virtually.

Those hosting conferences from office meeting rooms, for example, are looking at how they can connect a wireless peripheral camera and microphone equipment to their own screens and stream that rich, audio-visual content to enhance the virtual experience.

There is a crucial scalability aspect to this. Building a workforce around a hybrid approach, balancing a mix of physical and virtual interaction, provides the flexibility to manage resourcing according to organizational requirements. Businesses can react swiftly to market shifts and customize digital capacity with minimal investment or disruption.

Security is another key consideration here. Businesses will need to ensure their cybersecurity measures are robust, as ever-increasing amounts of sensitive content travel across internal networks and the cloud via multiple devices and software solutions.  Systems can be protected from cyberattacks, both on-premise and remotely with the right device management software, authorization steps and by using data encryption methods. Combined with employee training and a clear understanding of the security systems in place, risks can be mitigated.

  1. Employees want to be trusted to use whatever technology solution with which they feel comfortable

The pandemic has seen a jump in the use of employee personal devices for collaboration and joining conference calls and virtual meetings. This was trending before lockdown but has exponentially accelerated during this period.

This trend is now evolving, what has been dubbed ‘Bring Your Own Meeting’ (BYOM). Employees to use their own laptops or devices and, their own preferred video conferencing software. Employees do not want to use ‘official’ company solutions but want the freedom to choose the tool that empowers them to perform at their best.

  1. Companies need to invest in more dynamic technologies

Digital collaboration can be just as productive as physical meetings; however, it often lacks a human touch. It can be harder to engage remote participants compared to those physically attending because of practical constraints. Meeting room designs of the future must enable virtual participants to feel immersed and engaged, as if they are there in the room, facilitated by technology.

Employees have discovered novel tools in virtual meetings. From webinars and digital whiteboards to virtual breakout groups, a host of creative and collaborative digital assets have become mainstream and will become more prominent in future face-to-face meetings. Collaborative tools and features facilitate more creative and productive sessions that can be more inclusive of employees whether they are physically present or otherwise.

  1. The way businesses structure themselves may change

Companies have learned that they can rely on digital tools to connect their employees effectively, but offices will always be crucial to a company's operation. However, companies are rethinking their investments in office space and where virtual interaction can be integrated.

Instead of operating out of a major city-center headquarters, with enormous resource wastage,  many companies are considering multiple smaller ‘hubs’ where teams of workers can network and interact with other hubs virtually. The model would provide a more efficient solution for companies that need a localized, national, and international presence. This would help to strike that balance between physical and remote working to suit enterprise bottom lines and their employees.

Reactions to the circuit breaker and feelings about returning to the office have varied greatly, depending on a myriad of factors.

Regardless of sentiment, businesses have already noticed that remote working can bring about real benefits, especially during times of crisis. Post-circuit breaker, a significant shift towards a more balanced hybrid approach is expected, where employees have much more freedom to choose how they want to work and flexible working methods to meet their and the business’ needs. There will always be a need for face-to-face interaction, we just need to strike a balance, facilitated by the right technologies.

Marc Remond, vice president for meeting and learning experience at Barco APAC, a company that provides visualisation and collaboration solutions to help people work together and share insights, authored this article. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/dorian2013