By Bertrandt Delport, Country Host, BT South Africa
In the wake of the pandemic, which pushed remote working to the forefront, today‘s organisations are carefully considering how to enable their workers to maximise their productivity securely, whether they are working from home or returning to a centralised office location. And how organisations can create a successful hybrid workplace that caters to both modalities has become a significant focus in this emerging new world of work.
Even as hybrid working is firmly on the radar of employees and businesses, we’ve yet to see how far it will permanently change the workplace, and organisations need strategies to make it sustainable in the long term.
According to the most recent global research from BT and Cisco, organisations are challenged by the need to balance hybrid working in one area of the business with full-time office working in another. Furthermore, organisations must consider how hybrid working could impact their workplace culture, employee retention and productivity.
Compared to traditional benefits like a company car or more financially based incentives, our research found that these days employees look first for the ability to work flexibly or in a hybrid setup when appraising a potential employer. Amongst executives, the majority consider hybrid working – and the ability to work from home one or two days a week – as the most prized benefit an enterprise can offer them.
This indicates how strongly employees across the board feel about hybrid working. It is not entirely surprising, given the renewed focus on wellbeing following the pandemic. As noted by McKinsey, the better work-life balance that hybrid working affords can lead to better physical, mental and financial wellbeing – and especially with the rising cost of living, cost of petrol and traffic downtime and interruptions to home routines due to loadshedding.
However, at the same time, many employers are promoting a return to the office; currently, one in three organisations want their workforce in the office five days a week.
The answer to this quandary can be found in turning to cloud-based collaboration tools and apps, and how these can best serve employees and organisations alike.
According to the research, IT and business executives in global organisations perceive cloud-based collaboration tools and apps as central to the evolving hybrid workplace. They’re also receptive to expanding their collaboration capabilities, and many believe having effective collaboration tools are key to productivity.
Furthermore, while the pandemic is considered by the World Health Organisation to be largely over, the use of collaboration tools is rising, with 85% of executives spending more time using them compared to 2020. Executives see a link to better productivity, with 75% believing that colleagues are more productive when using collaboration tools rather than travelling to face-to-face meetings, and 95% cited greater productivity when working from home.
There are other reasons why collaboration tools are growing in importance from a business point of view.
Collaboration is seen as a key business driver, with 76% agreeing that better collaboration would make a big contribution to the organisation’s success. Most executives (78%) want the latest collaboration tools with the best usability and built-in features, and 84% agree today’s collaboration tools will continue to improve.
Add to this the fact that global executives’ collaboration requirements are specialised and wide-ranging, with these professionals looking increasingly to AI to power new functionality and placing the onus on the supplier to deliver user-friendly experiences that are secure and cost effective.
High-quality video was also found to be of increasing importance, with 74% of IT executives currently updating their networks to deal with the demands of using video conferencing and HD video.
For their part, organisations are looking for collaboration solutions that offer global scale, commercial flexibility, and competitive costs. The research indicates that they would prefer to build on an existing supplier relationship and look for solutions that need limited input from in-house IT teams.
Then there is the critical matter of sustainability, particularly from an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) point of view.
As sustainability rises up the agenda and working cultures evolve, business and IT executives are highly aware of how hybrid working can benefit the environment, with 80% believing a reduction in commuting is the leading positive.
The pandemic, and the hybrid world has also delivered a lasting reduction in business travel.
There’s an expectation amongst 59% of business executives that the organisation will ‘do the right thing’ and improve sustainability by better deploying collaboration tools and apps to reduce carbon emissions.
With the above in mind, we have compiled a nine-step strategy to assist organisations in future-proofing their hybrid working environment:
- Explore your colleagues’ preferences for hybrid working, looking at team, sector and individual needs.
- Map organisational strategic needs for employee work location, including the requirement for offices and business travel.
- Design a hybrid work strategy, including new metrics for productivity and sustainability.
- Build an organisational cultural development plan for new working practices and provide support and guidance to managers.
- Develop an employee wellbeing plan, including for the onboarding of new team members wherever they are located.
- Audit your collaboration and network technology, for working at the office, on the move and at home.
- Implement a strategy for your organisational and employee needs using the cloud to provide agility and flexibility.
- Deploy a data and network security protocol, to ensure regulation and commercial needs are satisfied.
- Innovate for the future, learning from competitors’ experiences and technology developments.