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Hybrid work: disruptive or dynamic?

By Becky Trevino, Vice President of Product Marketing and Operations at Snow Software

 In the sudden migration to remote working at the onset of the pandemic, companies were put to test. How quickly and successfully could organisations shift to an all-remote way of working that most had dabbled with but few had ever scaled before? Some passed with flying colours, while others endured challenging times due to culture, digital infrastructure, security, and operations. Now that remote working has largely passed the productivity and employee satisfaction test, the business world faces a new, hybrid, norm. A norm where employees are demanding flexibility of choice in where and how they work. Once again, this subtle tweak on the new landscape will test the organisation’s ability to remain dynamic and manage disruption.

Looking back, it is understandable that 2020 posed so many difficulties. For most companies, remote work had been the exception rather than the norm. As organisations scaled all-remote workforces, the most common COVID pain points experienced by employees included screen fatigue, disconnection, and the lack of technology in place to substitute essential in-person team experiences like brainstorming on a whiteboard. But while setbacks occurred for nearly everyone in the transition to all-remote work, most employees still found enough positive to outweigh the downsides.

And this is why the impending hybrid work proposition poses the biggest challenge yet for companies. Organisational leadership must rethink how their teams will work and what technology they need to make this transition successful. For most, the first path is simply getting employees back in the office – even for a couple of days a week. This means companies will need to provide enough incentive to make it worthwhile for teams to come back to the office without a mandate requiring their return. This will involve individual team leaders taking on a bigger role coordinating individuals and divisions to establish who works where and when. Underpinning this all is the need for technological infrastructure that can facilitate such a dispersed and mobile workforce.

If businesses do not ensure their teams find value when they come into the office, hybrid working models cannot be successful.

Championing mobility

As we emerge from national lockdowns, companies have put together their reopening plans, and come to terms with this new ‘grey zone’ in front of them. For Google, a tech giant renowned for its on-premises company culture – where employees can eat, sleep, train, and even do their laundry at work – a hybrid-return-to-work plan has been at the top of the agenda allowing both remote and in office options. Employees now have more power, and it will be important to keep the company proposition attractive when geography is no longer an inhibitor to ‘dream jobs’ elsewhere. But there are also questions being posed to decision makers. Office downsizing or repurposing are very clear options, but more broadly, businesses will also need to decide who they are, what their company culture looks like, and who they want to be moving forward. It is a chance for reinvention for the company, as well as its employees.

But it is the interchangeability of hybrid working that makes this tough to plan for. It will not always be the same patterns and people working in the office on the same days each week. Some tasks, activities, meetings, training, onboarding or maintenance will require a physical presence.

Those who are perhaps unable to return to the office due to location may feel at a disadvantage against colleagues who have a physical presence in the office – even if a couple of days – whether because they are perceived to be more committed due to staying close or are considered for more opportunities because of the advantages of in-person interactions. This is where technology will act as a key lifeline connecting employees to the office – those tools that embrace, enable and champion mobility. In fact, according to 451 Research, almost 60% of organisations have either begun implementing or are planning to implement hybrid IT environments to this end. The aim is to create an infrastructure that integrates on-premises, public cloud and hosted resources. Only 18% are planning to opt for an all-in public cloud approach, as a positive early sign of a more dynamic strategy.

A holistic strategy

However, as companies no doubt discovered during the early-2020 upheaval, simply adopting new solutions and clicking ‘go’ is not enough. Despite employees’ own learning curves over the past year, there will still be technology blind spots that need addressing as part of any digital transformation, to ensure operability and security in the new structure.

The past year has also taught us that no matter how stable an infrastructure seems to be, there are always outside influences that can upset the applecart, which highlights the need for greater agility and adaptability when implementing hybrid IT. Teams have to be able to plan for the knowns while managing the unknown disruptions that can occur in a more fragmented network.

And that is why companies, when making this transition, must treat their hybrid strategy holistically. This is not a fork in the road where some people take one road, others take another, and you chase them down both with digital solutions. The entire environment – the office, and every possible location that an employee may call ‘home’ by proxy of where they log in – must be seen as one whole. Instead of cloud and SaaS versus legacy software or hardware, or IT-procured versus user-procured; businesses must treat the entire new remote world as if it were their office.

A bird’s-eye view of the new world office

For that to be achieved, the key word is ‘visibility.’ As investments are made and new tools are introduced, businesses will still need a unified view into all their technology even if they have numerous sources of data flow. Employees will not be able to work effectively unless they are able to access the same information and resources regardless of location. And to this end, the unification of data is critical to the successful management of hybrid IT.

Organisations could do worse than to consider collaboration software to meet this need. If you want people to be aligned in what they see and how they work, then being provided the same tools to work with would serve as an automatic enabler. Doing so across different departments and disciplines will not only create company cohesion despite the physical distance, but will ensure that the visible data is accurate and consistent for everyone.

With this in mind, and with investments into the new hybrid landscape already being planned for, organisations should focus on tools and partnerships that will provide visibility and cohesion, before adopting tools that simply facilitate the in-office/remote balance. By having a bird’s-eye view across applications, security, SaaS solutions, software assets, the cloud and – most importantly – the people using them, the office just becomes another satellite location in a newly global footprint.