The Future is Hybrid Work
After nearly fifteen months of continuous remote work, corporations across the globe have finally begun the return to the office employee migration. Yet, as enterprises roll out their post-lockdown plans, one thing remains clear: the “new normal” will be extremely complex and entirely unprecedented. Instead of a swift and universal return to in-person work, there will be a gradual process in which individual companies and employees decide for themselves what system works best. In the end, it is clear that work life will never exactly return to its pre-pandemic ways. Indeed, a survey by Mckinsey & Company reveals that even after the pandemic ends, enterprises expect a 36% increase in the amount of time spent working outside the office. So, while most workers will eventually return to in-person work, such work will likely be supplemented by varying degrees of Work from Home (WFH) or Work from Anywhere (WFA); this combination of in-person and out-of-office work is called Hybrid Work.
The transition to hybrid work will undoubtedly be a steep challenge for enterprises. Not only are we entering an uncharted structure of work life, but the transition process will differ across companies, verticals, and geographies. Underlying this change, however, will be the need for UC and collaboration platform support to ensure worker productivity in this new hybrid environment. In this blog, we will go over the various phases of moving from remote work to hybrid work, while identifying how UC management and analytics SaaS tools can help along the way.
The Three Phases of the Gradual Transition to Hybrid Work
As enterprises begin bringing back employees to in-person work, the entire work process will need to be reinvented. This will take several months if not numerous years, and corporations will have to learn to adapt to new challenges, many of which they have never faced before. While this transition period may last a long time, it will include the rapid scaling of UCaaS and Collaboration platform capabilities to enable the hybrid work environment.
When it comes to UC, IT teams cannot merely sit back and wait for workers to return. These newly minted hybrid workers will challenge existing infrastructure, with all meetings requiring conferencing and greater video usage than pre-pandemic. Enterprises will need to upgrade their conferencing systems (including their in-office conference rooms), expand their in-office internet bandwidth, and scale their infrastructure to support hybrid work. Even then, IT will face a series of crises as workers return to the office. Given the large swaths of data available and the multitude of surveys currently being conducted, it will be easy to identify the peak of hybrid work – the point at which there is the most aggressive mix of in-office work, WFH, and WFA.
But, while enterprises may know when their hybrid work structure will be most tested, the who, what, and how remains entirely unclear: What specific problems will arise? How they will be solved? Who will help solve them?
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Phase I: Planning & Redefining the Process
On the technical side, corporations should spend several months identifying holes and gaps in their UC/UCaaS environment — for example many companies may have entered the pandemic with a UC on-premises platform and are now “exiting” it with a UCaaS, cloud-based platform. A key step in the set-up phase for IT will be to project and anticipate how much bandwidth will be required to support the anticipated increase in video conferencing. Then, office spaces will have to upgrade bandwidth because, even as employees begin hybrid work, the overall utilization of web conferencing and digital tools will skyrocket. Although this post specifies Phase 3 (below) as the Monitoring & Analytics phase, all of the workplace analytics due diligence is initially best executed using analytics and monitoring tools, deployed in this first stage of the process.
In addition to network adjustments, audio and video capabilities (including hardware) for meeting rooms will have to be upgraded in the office to accommodate the rise of virtual meetings, especially with external clients. Given the rapid nature of this transition from remote to hybrid work, IT deployment often overlooks collaboration security and governance. However, it is essential that these concerns are adequately addressed prior to the peak of hybrid work – if these problems are not preemptively handled, a series of small issues can easily overwhelm a company’s entire IT system, setting them weeks behind.
Phase II: Returning to the Office & Beginning Hybrid Work
The second phase is the implementation and integration of RTO with hybrid work models. Employees will begin a more aggressive combination of hybrid work, leaving enterprises with a lot to handle; at any given point, some employees will be at home, many will be in the office, and others will be dispersed anywhere in the world. This drastically increases the burden for IT when it comes to UC, and further magnifies the importance of software tools that can swiftly identify high-severity UC issues.
IT must ensure that irrespective of where employees are located, everyone has access to high-quality conferencing experiences, frequently on multiple UC platforms. To do so, it will be essential to track conference & call quality and monitor spikes in call failures to ensure experience parity. Similarly, multidimensional troubleshooting tools – those that can identify in-home and in-office crises simultaneously – will become even more valuable.
Furthermore, on different days of the week, there will be fluctuations in the number of employees who come into the office to work in-person. If on a given day, there is an unexpected rise in the quantity of in-office employees, the existing bandwidth will not cut it, which could put video meetings and productivity at a stand-still. In short, throughout the course of hybrid work, there are a series of problematic IT events that could occur. But, with the use of third-party management tools like Unify Square’s PowerSuite, IT teams can establish a more proactive approach to maintaining quality. In doing so, these crises can be either entirely averted or mitigated.
Phase III: Continuous Improvement with Monitoring & Analytics
The final (and arguably most important) phase of the hybrid work rollout is the monitoring and tracking phase. Very few, if any, companies will perfect the hybrid work transition model immediately. Instead, enterprises will be forced to try out different things and, across several iterations, adjust and optimize their UC environment. It will be essential that data is tracked and leveraged to identify areas that need technical reconstruction and reconfiguration. The tracking of data will be beneficial across all three phases of the transition process, but it will be especially essential in Phase III, where the majority of reevaluation and reconsideration will occur. For example, a month into the hybrid mix, a company may identify that their existing meeting rooms are at full capacity during peak hours. Or maybe initial bandwidth estimates were off given varying rates of video usage. IT must be able to identify these issues and adjust quickly to meet end-user needs.
The UC environment must be optimized for both in-person work and WFH or WFA. To learn this information, however, companies will need to be constantly tracking key data such as calls failed, video latency, bandwidth spikes, and other indicators of overutilization. More importantly, this data will have to be sourced from different cities and geographies, especially as workers begin WFA work styles. Enterprises will then have to use this data to assess which platform is best configured for their employees. While Microsoft Teams may be the preferred conferencing tool in one geography, a different office site may be better off using Zoom. This type of benchmarking of platform performance by location helps IT move beyond experience parity to ensure true excellence.
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Looking Towards the Future of Hybrid Work
Unfortunately, the struggles associated with hybrid work are only going to increase in complexity and regularity. As enterprises work to meet the needs of all employees – those working in-person, working from home, or working in a hybrid form in between – the necessity of proactive IT management has never been greater. Stay one step ahead of all your problems by leveraging data from our powerful product offering: PowerSuite, your single pane of glass for UC analytics, troubleshooting, and security, covering the full spectrum of hybrid work.