Science & Technology

The future of work is hybrid or bust

When it comes to working, much has happened over the course of the pandemic. Employees have demonstrated their ability to work from anywhere and embraced the opportunity to cut out long commutes and add more personal time to their day.

Many are not ready to give these benefits up, at least not entirely. But there is isolation when working alone, and the lack of collaboration that existed in the office, along with the blurred lines of home life and work life, are increasing worker burnout.

Ultimately, the answer to the future of work is a hybrid model, which requires a holistic strategy centered around people, culture and technology, plus collaborative tools and platforms to support it.

Cisco Systems Inc.’s new Hybrid Work Index or HWI, derived from a global survey of almost 40,000 chief information officers, information technology decision-makers and office workers in 34 global markets, examines how people’s habits and technology interactions a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic have permanently reshaped work. The HWI provides a roadmap for human resources professionals and technology leaders to meet the needs of both their employees and their technological infrastructure and security protocols.

HR and people leaders need to manage differently

Two words that are key for anyone managing people: flexibility and engagement. With competition for sourcing and attracting talent on the rise, it’s more important than ever to retain your employees. Some 64% of workers surveyed agree that working remotely directly affects whether they remain at their company. However, only 47% think that their company will provide the flexibility to work from anywhere versus in-office over the next six to 12 months.

This will create employee churn and put a significant number of talented people in the market. In fact, this has already started: Bankrate is predicting that a whopping 55% of Americans will change jobs in the next 12 months. The right strategy can minimize churn, while forcing people to come to the office will drive them away.

Access is critical both in terms of connectivity and in the tools that enable remote access. This not only opens the door for employees to work more flexibly, but it also allows companies to source talent from all over the world since they are no longer constrained by the proximity of an office.

Beyond access to talent, the HWI shows 82% of survey respondents agree that access to connectivity is critical to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s important to ensure that everyone has equal access to jobs, education and healthcare opportunities. I’ve talked with many business leaders who are salivating over the opportunity to poach top talent from their competitors now that geographic limitations have been removed.

Engagement is key. Nearly a third of professionals say their connection to company culture has suffered during the pandemic. And yet, meetings are at an all-time high: More than 61 million meetings take place globally every month. Despite this increase, only 48% of participants are likely to speak in any one of them.

It’s worth noting that participation does change dramatically depending on meeting size. This raises questions about engagement, meeting efficacy and alternate avenues for participation – a sign that leaders can create opportunities for more engagement in meetings where people are remote.

Here is where business leaders need to take note. I’ve often referred to a lack of engagement as the “silent killer” of companies. Employees often do not engage because of technology limitations and that makes them feel like they can’t contribute. When this happens, they look for opportunities elsewhere. Modernized collaboration tools provide a wealth of data regarding participation in meetings and other data points that can be used to manage people better. People Insights from Webex is an excellent example.

Tech leaders need to modernize collaboration and security to adapt to hybrid work

Technology exists, and leaders need to invest in their workers by investing in collaborative tools. Mobile meetings are gaining popularity, increasing from 9% pre-pandemic to 27% today. Underlying the need for a more engaging meeting experience, Cisco has seen over 200% growth in the use of artificial intelligence capabilities in meeting tools from July through September 2021. These tools include features such as noise reduction, automatic translation and transcriptions, polling and gesture recognition – making it easier for people to converse, whether they’re virtual or in-room.

Of course, organizations must also ensure their infrastructure is protected against security threats. In September, the hybrid workforce was targeted with more than 100 million email threats daily, and there is no evidence of this slowing down. More than two-thirds of IT administrators surveyed are concerned about their ability to scale collaboration solutions for their hybrid workforce.

Enterprises view collaboration apps as the most critical application type for hybrid work success, which have surpassed secure access and productivity application monitoring. Additionally, there’s a move toward cloud provider networks, which demonstrate more stability than ISPs, accounting for just 5% of outages from January 2020 through August 2021.

Businesses need to embrace hybrid and give workers the tools for success

The how and where we work no longer resembles what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. But as we look forward, the pendulum has stopped swinging between in-person and fully remote and landed directly on a hybrid solution.

Hybrid enables companies to offer the opportunity to bring people together while also giving their workers work-life balance. Although hybrid can be a model to attract talent, businesses need to provide workers with the right tools to be successful. No one wants to work for a company where they are being set up to fail because the legacy applications are holding them back.

Modernizing the way workers access applications, the collaboration tools they use and the security infrastructure in a hybrid model can attract the best talent and ensure they stick with the organization.

Zeus Kerravala is a principal analyst at ZK Research, a division of Kerravala Consulting. He wrote this article for SiliconANGLE.

Image: Jagrit Parajuli/Pixabay

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