Vaccination is now allowing offices to reopen. But a return to the pre-COVID-19 status quo is not an option. Most employers are preparing to adopt “hybrid” work arrangements permanently—with some employees working remotely all the time, some working in the office all the time, and many coming into the office a couple of days a week. Both employers and employees have benefited from the forced use of collaboration technologies that improve ways of working. To sustain the momentum of the past year and build future success, however, companies must embrace organization-wide digital transformation even more actively than before.
When the coronavirus outbreak hit, companies shifted to remote work almost overnight. They handed out laptops to everyone, rolled out virtual private networks (VPN) and started using the latest online workspace technologies for video conferencing, messaging, etc. But even the best online collaboration tools have proven inadequate for teams that rely heavily on in-person interaction for brainstorming and idea generation; the challenge remains that available virtual tools poorly replicate the real office environment.
Yet remote work is here to stay, at least sometimes and for some employees—giving rise to a hybrid workforce. As they contemplate a future that includes a large share of remote employees, companies need to think about the ongoing risks. Remote work may undermine employees’ identification with companies, trust in leadership, as well as provoke dissatisfaction from colleagues working in the office. It also challenges the hierarchical structure of traditional organizations.
For all companies and functions, the evolution of a hybrid workforce can be part of a wider digitization/transformation effort to improve efficiency, agility and creativity. Companies need to transform the operating model and governance, focusing on doing a better job evaluating their employees’ capabilities and figuring out the best ways to help fulfil them.
Technology, technology, technology
Above all, companies need to choose the right remote technologies to more seamlessly connect workers to each other online. Which one works best in a particular organization or function depends on the main task at hand. For example, programs such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and WebEx provide basic video conferencing and messaging. For more cutting-edge features such as “whiteboarding,” interactive brainstorming, and integration with other tools and technology, Limnu, Mural, Miro and Stormboard are available. For companies that require heavy collaboration and lengthy ideation sessions, they may find that 3D options, such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), can enhance teamwork by simulating the physical presence of in-person meetings.
It is important that companies understand what the ‘must have’ features are, and select based on existing technological and operational infrastructures to ensure that the tool is the right fit. Companies should have proper solution selection process in place, conduct prototype and pilot testing, and then think about and decide the functions that would benefit most from the solution implementation and create an enterprise-level roll-out plan to make it happen.
As the technology evolves, the choices will improve. But for now, we recommend that companies investigate, prototype and pilot emerging remote technologies. We believe that as the technologies mature—especially the VR/AR technologies—they will play a big part in the remote workforce. But at this time, it’s better to tread lightly in adopting these technologies and wait for their capabilities to mature.
The future of remote working technology relies on concurrent advances in hardware and software, and a seamless integration of hardware and software to create an environment that works in harmony with human body, brain, and emotion. Facing a number of solutions yet technology constraints, companies should explore and adopt technology that allows team members to feel closer to one another, boosts employees’ productivity and helps generate a healthy and sustainable working environment.
To learn more, please download and read our full report, From remote to hybrid work.