It’s been said by social scientists that one could never envision an experiment involving all 7.8 billion people except for an event like our recent pandemic. As such, for the past 14 months, we’ve all been part of a grand experiment to see if remote work/school/life would bridge us until we could get to the other side of the pandemic through vaccines and herd immunity. The good news from this crash test in remote everything is that, at least from a pure technology standpoint, remote collaboration tools like Zoom, Teams, and Webex largely delivered.
We were mostly able to stay connected and get through this pandemic such that now we are at a point where the sun is rising on the oft-imagined “new normal.” But what exactly will that new normal look like? And how will we navigate this next phase of the experiment? Get ready: it may be time to create your own hybrid workplace strategy.
Well, if “pivot” was the word for 2020, “hybrid” will surely be the word for 2021. However, we should be careful in believing our hard-earned victories from the “fully remote” period will directly correlate to mastery of the coming “hybrid workplace strategy phase” wherein some of us will be together in a room and some of us will be remote from separate locations. To paraphrase Tom Petty, the hybrid is the hardest part. Here’s why.
We’ve built reliable tools for communicating when we’re all in the same room. AV presentation and sound reinforcement technologies have been around for decades and are reliable and stable. Easy, Check.
And, yes, when we were all remote, many of us had to learn these new unified communications (UC) platforms, but once we got our cameras set up, figured out where the mute button was and learned how to share our screens in every platform, we could participate meaningfully from pretty much anywhere. In fact, we even learned that, within these virtual settings, there was an equality of participation that was somewhat new and empowering. We were all on the same level with this new hybrid workplace strategy. There was no front row or backbench.
Now, with recent announcements regarding the loosening of masking guidelines, there will be an epic resurgence of people back to the workplace, and that’s a good thing. However, there’s also an abundance of data suggesting that many people expect to work remotely for at least part of their workweek. In fact, many seized the opportunity to relocate during the pandemic and might not come back to the office at all. Thus, we can and should assume that nearly all meetings in the future will be… yes, hybrid. The hybrid workplace strategy may be here to stay.
The problem won’t be the platforms; they work pretty well, as we’ve all just experienced. The problem will be all those meeting rooms that were designed in the
“before times” which might passively conspire to nullify the gains in equity we’ve made this past year. In improperly designed spaces, it will be easy for remote participants to revert back to forgotten-people status if we are meeting in spaces that don’t allow us to see their smiling (or not smiling) faces when we’re presenting.
Also, to the people working remotely, all of us in the meeting room will be relegated to being small dots sitting around a table if the room system doesn’t allow us to spotlight the person talking. Case in point, for one of our law firm clients who has just come back to the office, we had to set up 14 laptops with webcams–one in front of each person seated in a boardroom–so we could transmit their cameras separately to the remote participants. In these situations, echo could run amuck without a skilled technician managing the call. It will be important in the future to create a hybrid workplace strategy that works for everyone. Fortunately, we had that covered too.
We’ve built 360 Work Made Easy to be an end-to-end service from planning and design through daily operations to help you navigate this hybrid future whether it’s creating a new hybrid workplace strategy, redesigning your workplace for equitable meetings, or operating them every day to deal with last-minute changes to meetings that require quick thinking. However, we also appreciate that the user experience in the workplace needs to change in light of what we learned while being remote. See The Hybrid is the Hardest Part (part 2) for more on that.