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Navigating challenges for collaboration tech with hybrid remote and in-office teams

(Image credit: Image Credit: / Pixabay)

As a result of Covid-19 and the following compulsory lockdown measures across the UK, the majority of offices closed and people began working from home full-time. This brought a whole set of challenges to a workforce that was not prepared to communicate entirely virtually, with the change happening for many overnight. In fact, a recent survey stated that half of UK businesses were unprepared for remote working during lockdown, with more than 70 percent of companies purchasing new hardware to enable workers to do their jobs from home.

In more recent months, as lockdown measures have eased and tiers systems have been introduced, people are beginning to work in offices again which means that companies are now facing the challenges of hybrid working. To avoid exposure to Covid-19 and to manage office capacity levels, many offices have implemented hybrid working so that employees can work at home and in the office in a more flexible manner. Whilst this type of working offers more versatile options for companies, especially in such a fast-changing environment caused by evolving lockdown measures, this new way of working presents additional difficulties that business leaders must now navigate.

Challenges of full-time remote or office working

Working from home or in the office full-time both present a variety of different challenges, which mainly center around a lack of flexibility. As a result of lockdown, a lot of people have been able to experience both sides of the coin, and business therefore have much more insight into how employees react to and work best in these different environments.

Working from home every day means that employees have significantly limited interaction with their peers and must successfully utilize technology in order to maintain effective collaboration and regular communication. Virtual meeting media offers significantly more benefits than simple video or messaging platforms, by offering a more immersive and interactive experience through replicating an in-office, natural environment.

On the other hand, being in the office full-time causes employees to have much less flexibility around their personal lives, such as with childcare. Not only this, being in a busy office environment can be difficult for tasks that require more thought or concentration, and can mean employees are easily pulled into last-minute meetings.

Why go hybrid?

Offering hybrid working means that employees have the best of both worlds and can work wherever they need to be. In a turbulent, Covid-19 environment, this is particularly important as it offers employees the flexibility that they require. With many employees also experiencing ‘remote working fatigue’, offering the option to have a few days in the office can provide a much-needed change of scenery in a more social environment. When it comes to individual employees, hybrid working offers the opportunity to take control of their schedule and find the work-life balance that suits them.

Hybrid working also means that employees can have access to the technology and tools in the office that they might need for certain meetings or tasks. With many employees only having access to a laptop at home, being able to go into the office if needed can ensure that business can perform as usual and companies will not be required to find quick-fix solutions for problems caused by remote working.

With the right technology and software in place, hybrid working models can help businesses to stay agile and give them the ability to quickly adapt to unforeseen situations to keep their operations running.

Tools for the best hybrid working model

In order to provide the optimum hybrid working model for employees, business leaders need to ensure that they have access to the right tools. Simple video conferencing platforms are not enough to allow employees to collaborate effectively and produce the best results. Due to millions of years of evolution, our bodies and minds have evolved in a certain way; current desktop media fails to understand these factors, making meetings feel unnatural with documentation passed back and forth between colleagues over a long period of time. There is now an urgent need for tools that enable virtual meetings that can simulate face-to-face interactions, rather than just showing faces on a screen which can be slow, rigid and often unproductive. These media are now becoming available and their effect is to create a very wide ‘cognitive bandwidth’, close to that achieved by face to face meetings with artifacts.

By emulating the ‘round the table’ face to face meeting environment in the most natural way, employees are brought together to coordinate project goals, leading to team-wide support, increased productivity and greater innovation for breakthrough solutions. In these richer, virtual meeting environments, team members can sit over the asynchronous collaboration tools when there is a project problem and find a suitable solution with ease. In such meetings, the quantity of information that they can hold mentally and through visual stimuli hugely influences how much they understand and contribute to a meeting. Similarly body language, eye gaze, and especially facial expression - some of the many benefits of face-to-face meetings - can deliver major clues toward building consensual agreements at virtual meetings.

What's more, these richer meeting environments allow for cross-team consensus and input, bringing people together from various departments to combine their knowledge, experience and expertise to deliver real-time innovative solutions. By managing knowledge properly, employees can gain access to valuable information and deliver better results in the longer term. Ultimately, if a team understands its end goal, it can tackle any situation that arises.

If companies implement these richer virtual meetings, they also have the opportunity to create a ‘global village’ where employees can collaborate from home, the office or any other location in the best possible way. This type of platform goes further than simply sharing a screen and hearing voices of colleagues, which is especially important during these unprecedented times and beyond.

Employees can no longer rely on traditional meeting room technologies. The constraints of technology need to overcome the challenges of today’s hybrid workforce to drive maximum productivity. Enabling a ‘natural’ virtual meeting environment will allow everyone across all locations to be on screen and involved. This will improve efficiency, increase the speed of global decision making and allow for knowledge sharing without any constraints.

Jocelyn Lomer, Chief Executive, nuVa Enterprises (opens in new tab)

Jocelyn Lomer is a Chartered Engineer (MIET) with over forty years’ experience in telecommunications and software. Since 2000, he has owned and run SMEs specialising in virtual meetings, including nuVa Enterprises, becoming an expert in digital transformation and collaboration.