COVID-19 IMPACTExpert Speak

Lessons Learned From COVID-19: Will the Pandemic be the Catalyst that Finally Moves us to a Hybrid Working Model?

Written by Ramzi Itani, Vice President, Middle East and Africa, Barco

Remote working has been a well-established trend for some time. Many businesses – particularly larger corporates operating globally – have invested heavily in the technologies and working practices needed to deliver truly flexible working. Now, the lockdown has seen almost every business in the world forced to suddenly follow suit.

Some have thrived, finding new ways to work with technology to improve productivity, enable real-time collaboration and bring anxious, isolated employees together to find solutions to shared challenges. Others, particularly those in sectors where face-to-face physical meetings and where the right technologies are not in place, have struggled to cope and maintain business-as-usual in these highly difficult times.

Regardless of the response, what’s clear is that there will not be a return to the world before COVID-19. As we begin to think about how the pandemic has changed how companies and employees want to do business moving forward, here are five key workplace trends to consider.

Evolved Feelings About Collaboration and Communication
The reaction to lockdown and feelings about returning to the office among employees have been varied. Some, who used to travel extensively for business, may be reconsidering more virtual engagements in a post-pandemic world. Others will have realized that they can work just as effectively from home and want a more balanced mix of office and home-based working.

There will also be many who want to return to the office full-time as soon as possible, craving the human interaction. As lockdowns ease, we expect to see more companies considering a more balanced ‘hybrid’ approach where employees’ time is split between the office and working remotely from home.

Technology Will Define Success or Failure in the New ‘Normal’
Getting the technology right will be crucial for companies looking to navigate this new workplace landscape. During the lockdown, workforces have relied on conferencing solutions such as Zoom, MS Teams and Google Meet, to connect with their teams. With a phased return to the office expected in the coming weeks and months, companies will be searching for solutions that can enable effective collaboration and communication in both the physical and virtual worlds.

Gartner recently forecast that the proportion of enterprise meetings conducted face-to-face will drop from 60% now to 25% by 2024, driven by remote work and changing workforce demographics. Those hosting conferences from office meeting rooms, for example, are looking at how they can wirelessly connect peripheral camera and microphone equipment to their own screens and stream that rich, audio-visual content to remote workers to enhance their virtual experience. We’re now seeing increased interest in solutions like our ClickShare Conference product, which merges in-room collaboration technology with the ability to connect with colleagues anywhere in the world, for precisely this reason.

Employees Will Want to be Trusted to Use Whatever Technology Solution They Feel Comfortable With
While the majority of people do still use company-supplied hardware, the COVID-19 crisis has reinforced the trend of employees wanting to use their own devices to join conference calls and virtual meetings or exchange documents and data with colleagues. We are now seeing the next stage of evolution of this trend – what has been dubbed as ‘Bring Your Own Meeting’ (BYOM) – where employees not only want to use their own laptop or device, but also their own preferred video conferencing software.

Barco’s Future of Meetings research study revealed that employees used six different conferencing solutions in the previous six months, while 72% of people were taking their own laptops into meeting rooms. This employee desire for flexibility was one of the reasons we launched ClickShare Conference – to provide a platform-agnostic solution that gave users the freedom to use any conferencing tool whether they were in the office or working remotely.

More Investments in Dynamic Technologies
The COVID-19 lockdown has shown us that digital collaboration can be just as productive as physical meetings, however, human interaction can often be what’s lacking. In fact, a Forbes Middle East survey revealed that 42% of the participants claimed to be equally productive working at home as they were in the office, while 34.3% said that they were more productive now.

Over the past few weeks, employees have also been discovering things they can do in virtual meetings that they didn’t even know were possible. From webinars to digital white boards to virtual breakout groups, a host of creative and collaborative digital assets have come into mainstream use in virtual meetings, and which are going to become more prevalent in face-to-face meetings going forward. With this in mind, companies will invest in solutions that include moderation tools, audio and screen display control and enriched collaboration via annotation and blackboarding to host a range of virtual webinars and sessions.

The Way Businesses Structure Themselves May Change
Companies have learned that they can rely on digital tools to connect their employees effectively. Offices will always be crucial to the way companies operate and, in that sense, we will return to ‘normal’. But companies are thinking about how and where they invest in office space and where virtual interaction can be better integrated.

The hybrid model would provide a more efficient solution for companies that need a localised, national and international presence and, for many, would help to strike that balance between physical and remote working in a way that suits not just their bottom line, but their employees too.

Whatever happens over the coming weeks, businesses are looking at what’s happened and seeing that remote working can bring real benefits, even in times of crisis. Post-lockdown, we expect to see a significant shift towards a more balanced hybrid approach, where employees have much more freedom to choose how they want to work and work flexibly to meet their and the business’ needs. There will always be a need for face-to-face interaction, we just need to find the right balance, facilitated by the right technologies.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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