We are on our way back to the office, or at least thinking about it.
What it will look like and how it will work is a bit of trial and error but there are several aspects that companies will need to take into consideration to ensure success. This week we have been attending several events and meetings with a wide range of presenters and contributors discussing what the office will look like, how it will operate when we return and what the impact will be on hybrid working.
At Unified Support we have taken a number of the key points we have picked up, and are delivering them here for your digestion, pleasure and take away.
There is lots of talk of hybrid and it will be , some people are in the office and others will be remote. I know this sounds obvious and over simplified but if we start there, we can begin to create a vision of what the office will be like.
Firstly, managers need to understand that their staff will all have different ways of working, different needs or even distractions at home, and meetings will be different dependent on the outcome we desire. Group meetings for sharing or working on ideas and giving updates are fine utilizing technology but the overriding impression is that one to one meetings still need to take place face to face. Do not forget that there are people involved, we are complex individuals, all with different needs and its easy not to feel part of a team or a group.
Secondly, with conferencing technology not everyone likes looking at themselves on screen whilst in a video call, it can be very distracting. If you imagine a face to face meeting with a live video feed of your face opposite its very unnatural. That is the challenge some people just do not like; we have heard that this has made people want to lose weight or even to the extreme of considering plastic surgery! We should understand that not everyone will want their camera on all the time and, in this situation make sure you keep them engaged even though you cannot see them. It’s often good practice to switch off the self-view function after setting up a call and to show others how to do this – it soon becomes best practice, and the distractions disappear.
Thirdly, beware screen fatigue. Just because people are working at home and you know they are in the study, spare bedroom, kitchen etc does not mean that they should be on meetings all day. Looking at screens and knowing people are looking at you all day can be tiring and unproductive preventing real tasks from being completed, people can feel that their company is checking up on what they are doing so a feeling of mistrust can creep in. I have certainly noticed how tiring it can be sitting in front of multiple screens for several hours of the day.
Fourthly, on a positive note, the change in working means that you can recruit the best staff anywhere, not just the best staff in your area or local to the office.
The key point to take away from all of this is the one size does not fit all. When I say that I mean one size does not fit every organisation and one size does not fit every member of that organisation. It is important to consult and collaborate with every member of your organisation to understand how they see working with or for you going forward and to accommodate their needs wherever possible.
Meetings will now be a mix of local people and remote attendees. I don’t know if you’ve ever been a remote attendee on a call of mostly local people sitting in a meeting room, being on a screen at the far end of the room doing your best to be noticed whilst everyone focuses on the chairperson or the most senior person in the room. It is infuriating and delivers a frustrating experience for the remote attendees of the meeting, now we have all got used to this with home working it is an experience we should not repeat in a hybrid office. One of the suggestions we have is if you have a hybrid meeting always make sure the chairperson of the meeting is remote if you have remote people. This ensures that all the attendees give as much attention to their remote attendees as they do to the people in the room and the chair structures the meeting and participants with equal engagement in mind.
At Unified Support we believe there are four cornerstones to a successful hybrid office.
I will outline these in the coming paragraphs.
Enable a collaborative compassionate and empathetic culture.
Remember that leadership drives culture, without this, meetings will descend into anarchy and miss structure because the staff will not understand their positions and the boundaries within a hybrid office. The leaders of all organisations should start by truly understanding and listening to their employees, finding out what makes them tick, what motivates them and most importantly what demotivates them, and then create a culture around the results of that survey.
Ditch legacy practices that have been begging for an overhaul. We have all experienced the Monday 8:00 AM meeting that was put in place by a boss many years ago to understand what staff are doing, we have just always done it that way. Little consideration being taken to commuting time, family needs and just the fact that some people are not 8:00 AM Monday morning people. Remove the death by PowerPoint or reviewing Excel sheets from last week that not everyone in the meeting is interested in or can show individual participants negatively, you need to create an environment that has people attending meetings and offices with the sort of excitement that they had when they first worked at your organisation.
Create an amazing employee experience that translates to an amazing customer experience. I know from experience that when I have delivered my best to a client it is because I have received the backing of my colleagues and the enthusiasm to go and show what I can do as part of a bigger team. This does not always have to cost money, it can just be making someone feel valued, it can be providing feedback, and in fact it is mostly just understanding the pressures and stresses that people find in their day to day lives.
A high number of companies have reported that up to 85% of staff are suffering from video fatigue. People are saying that they are growing tired of people seeing them at their desks for long periods whilst their at home, now this manifests itself in several ways but for the more introverted staff they tend to just turn their video off. There is not much evidence to show that people who do not have their video on are not as productive in meetings as people who have video on, again for the leadership it is a point to take on board when considering meetings.
FOMO or the fear of missing out is a driving factor for people remote to the office, joining meetings. They are just concerned that if they do not attend the meeting, they will not find out something that everybody else finds out. It may sound ridiculous but it is a reported problem among staff, so we must address it. With all the negativity that has surrounded COVID-19, the FOMO often manifests itself in people turning up to meetings with a negative head space, because they are expecting bad news, be it redundancy, pay cuts, furlough, even a colleague being taken out. S
So, to get the best out of people when scheduling hybrid meetings, it is recommended to publish an agenda as soon as you can to prevent people worrying about what the outcome of the meeting or news being delivered will be.
One of the most common points brought up in all the meetings and presentations I have been to about hybrid working is meeting free days. I know it has been in the papers recently and it is a real thing, people being burnt out by constant meetings and not even having time to complete the actions that they have received in these meetings. So I think taking the lead from some of the biggest banking organisations, a meeting free day is a good idea. I would also add that with a high number of people working at home they have different requirements when scheduling lunch breaks, this could be down to family eating habits, kids’ school, or just finding the right time to take a break. So therefore, I think a good idea is to have an hour and a half to two hours in the middle of the day where we encourage meetings not to be scheduled, so everyone has the time to cool down for lunch and ramp up for the afternoon after a morning looking at their screens.
Make hybrid work equitable.
Participate equally. Just because someone is not in the office does not mean that they do not have as valid input as somebody who is in the meeting room. I go back to my earlier point of making the chairperson a remote attendee to give the remote staff an equal chance of contributing and feeling valued.
Breakdown barriers across geography. If you are an international company, consider that the person at the other end of your meeting maybe in a different time zone and most importantly maybe does not have English as a first language. If they could contribute in their native language using translation services (that are becoming more common), then you would see their natural confidence rather than them having to translate in their head before they speak in your native language.
Be free to focus on what matters. Agendas for hybrid meetings will be far more important than four in person meetings. Somebody who is connected remotely to a meeting from their Kitchen or Home Office will want to know that their contribution is valid and how they can contribute and need reassurance that they are not just connecting to be at a meeting that does not really concern them.
Remove distractions. We have all seen the news Reporter having their kids walk in halfway through a live broadcast on the TV now, we can help staff deal with similar distractions whilst they work at home. Green screens are just one good example of how people can focus on their meeting rather than worry about what you can see at the other end or very simply create a corporate backdrop perhaps with personal identifiers that staff can use to instill the confidence and respect of staff and allow them to not switch on the cameras to avoid ‘distraction mode’ if they have a busy surrounding, better still ensure the timing of a call is suitable for most and avoids such issues entirely.
One of the key points that needs to be embraced for the remote worker is that we must agree that there are no limitations. HR and technology teams should work on creating inclusive guidelines to using technology for remote workers, and we ought to think of interesting and innovative ways of including people. One of the techniques I heard this week was named by one company the “Barista twister”. This is a feature they used on Microsoft Teams to get people to sign up and during a social period of the day, much like the water cooler moments that are often fondly discussed they were linked through teams to some random person in the organisation for a chat. If your organisation is large then there will be people that you have never met, and just by having this water cooler virtual meeting it will help people breakdown barriers between departments and people that they do not know, it could even be fun!
There are also social events that can happen with remote people, I have heard them called many things but to try and be inclusive of all the technology that is out there they’ve been called Teams Taverns, Blue Jeans bar, I can’t think of one for zoom but I’m sure somebody will come up with an ingenious idea of a name. Just having half an hour or an hour on a Friday afternoon at the end of a week to talk to your colleagues about anything that is not work helps build the team and allows people to get to know their colleagues. It is also a way of winding down and getting ready for a relaxing weekend and being recharged ready for Monday.
Working at home also needs physical support. People need decent technology to work with and also have the other Health and Safety aspects to consider. A desk, a monitor, a chair that is suitable for siting in for 8 hours a day. Just because your remote worker is out if site their care is still a requirement for your company. An employee in a comfortable environment at home is less likely to look elsewhere and you are less likely to lose days through bad working environments.
Ensure a safe return to the office.
Focus on the people. In the most recent surveys up to 80% of staff across several organisations have said they do not wish to return to the office full time, so when they do return in some way let us make it a place that they can come to feeling safe and productive. It has got to be worth the journey after all and should almost be seen as a special occasion.
We have all become used to seeing digital signage in our offices over the last few years, so now is the time to ramp it up. Fill it with meaningful content that engages and informs the staff, gives them reassurance that our companies care about their well being both physical and mental, even a simple ticker tape of up-to-date useful information can help.
While we have been working at home, we have become more familiar with voice-controlled technology in our houses, these are now becoming available for the office via standard platforms and will be a good addition to keep people safe from viruses. We are used to movement activated sensors in our meeting rooms, and these can be adapted to provide alerts for our staff. As an example, the sensor that tells you how many people are on a VC call can also be used to alert staff about social distancing issues in a meeting room. Simple but effective.
Hot desking will become the new norm and if we can personalise it with our mobile devices be they tablets laptops or phones with easy-to-use technology, login interfaces or simple Wi-Fi accesses, this will make it a comfortable experience for when staff members come into the office. Do not forget to add reassurances around sanitation.
Securely manage and anticipate demands of your hybrid environment.
With more and more of us working remotely from the office never has it been as important as now to ensure that our IT networks are secure. Do not leave it to chance, do not let complacency allow someone onto your network who you do not wish to be there. I would suggest assuming that at any one time 70 to 80% of your staff will be connecting to your network remotely, is your VPN robust and secure enough to keep your data and your network safe? Put in place simple but effective authentication systems. Ensure your technical support is available and armed with suitable tools to give Hybrid staff instant, knowledgeable and personal support that matches or even exceeds previous experience within the office without the reliance of a VPN to allow progress Design fall over systems and empower your staff through simple training that allows work to progress whilst issues are being resolved.