Adopting best practice approaches for hybrid working [Q&A]

home working

More and more businesses are moving to a hybrid work model. But while this approach can offer improved value along with the tools to drive the business forward, it can also present a number of challenges.

So what does it take to succeed with a hybrid approach? We spoke to Cisco Webex's Lorrissa Horton to find out.

BN: Why is hybrid work currently top of mind for businesses?

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LH: Given what's happening in the world and how things have not fully returned to normal with COVID-19, I think many people are looking to hybrid work as a solution. Many businesses are still hesitant to fully return to the office and have even pushed out previously planned return to office dates due to the Delta variant. Even when offices are opened again, there are many who will not want to return, or don't feel safe returning which will lead to a hybrid workforce. With hybrid work, there is the flexibility for employees to work from anywhere while also keeping the workforce safe. Even beyond the pandemic, I think businesses are seeing the value of hybrid work since it provides flexibility and supports the overall well-being of employees. There is realization that people have different workstyles and preferences -- and these preferences can shift. For instance, we surveyed our Cisco workforce before the pandemic and then again in June 2021. We learned that 37 percent of our employees preferred to work outside of the office (remotely) 3-5 days a week prior to the pandemic. We learned that later 77 percent of our employees plans to work outside of the office 3-5 days a week. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to the workforce.

BN: What do businesses need to consider with hybrid work?

LH: The first step is to have a flexible mindset because hybrid work is different from the full in person pre-pandemic environment, and the 100 percent remote pandemic environment. Every day may even look different since employees will likely personally choose where they will work each day. Some employees might choose to be in the office while others might work from their home office, or anywhere in between.

With employees working from different locations, businesses must also take into consideration the cultural shift that occurs. Business conversations are no longer limited to people's desk, the hallway or break rooms -- those conversations are now happening virtually over the phone or on video. People need to be ready to work and engage with their teammates without assumptions of where they will work from -- or how they will engage with them virtually. For managers, they must evolve their thinking about how work is getting done. It's no longer a case of walking down the aisles to see if your employees are working. Instead, it's about trusting employees that the work is getting done and that they are driving outcomes for the business and will be measured accordingly.

To support this fluid way of working, businesses must consider the enablement piece. Hybrid work requires modern technology and the right team collaboration tools in place. Employees must be able to connect, collaborate and have secure business conversations from anywhere, those home or 'traveling' offices need to be as connected and secured as when they were in the physical office. Employees should not be more vulnerable to an attack due to where and how they work. There is also the team collaboration component where employees need to be able to do the exact same things they did in the office like file sharing, collaborating, and ideating over a whiteboard. For employees returning to the office, many people want to feel safe so there is innovative new technology with AI capabilities that limits surface contact through voice commanding. A couple of examples from Webex are digital signage in conference rooms to remind employees of corporate policies, like to stay six feet apart, alerts to let people know a maximum room capacity has been reached, or cleaning notifications to remind people the room needs to be sanitized prior to next use. With hybrid work, it's about keeping your company productive, safe, and secure -- no matter the location.

BN: How can businesses maintain productivity as more work goes remote?

LH: Committing to a hybrid work model means going all in to provide the best work experience for the workforce no matter where they're logging in from. As more work goes remote, it’s even more critical for people to stay connected with their teams. For the workforce, this means providing secure access and collaboration with a work-from-anywhere mindset.

There is also the culture shift which I mentioned before and some of the work behaviors that need to change in support of hybrid work. For example, people will need to reach out to each other more often, over the phone or video, to get work done even outside of scheduled meetings. This will help replace some of the natural conversations that occur in the hallway, breakroom or at people's desks. These types of conversations are critical in productivity and can create separation between the employees who work from home vs. in the office.

Organizations will also have to re-imagine the office workspace. By focusing on the 'work' vs the 'where', businesses have the opportunity to transform office spaces into new areas where teams can innovate, collaborate and connect both in person and virtually. For IT, this means deploying solutions in a cloud-based infrastructure that enable frictionless administration of the entire environment -- software, hardware, and facilities.

BN: Do you really need the cloud to enable hybrid work?

LH: It's not impossible without -- but it's easier to do hybrid work with the cloud. It creates agility for your business since it enables you to deliver the latest innovation and updates to your employees in a fast and consistent way. There is also cloud analytics, which is very attractive for organizations since it provides real-time insights to help ensure the best experience for users, wherever they are. Cloud-driven analytics can also help with device management and troubleshooting issues, both on site and remotely. Overall, the cloud brings many modern capabilities and benefits to your workforce while empowering your business to operate more efficiently and with velocity.

BN: Can you use multiple vendors to support a hybrid work model?

LH: You can -- but this can present different challenges for your workforce and IT. When you use different vendors, your conversations are split across different experiences. End users lose efficiency when context switching between tasks or needing to remember where they had what conversation. There is also maintenance and support of different tools which can become a major headache for IT. Trouble shooting issues across many solutions including hardware and software can be quite costly and less informative than a full stock single vendor solution. Our recommended approach is to use one IT vendor who can provide a seamless work experience for your hybrid workforce while also simplifying the management piece for IT.

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