Founder and Principal Analyst, ZK Research with a focus on emerging technologies that enable organizations to transform digitally.
Much has been written about the sudden shift to remote work. The Covid-19 pandemic forced companies to close their doors and send their employees to work from home. And as companies begin welcoming some of their employees back into the office, the conversation has shifted quickly from remote work to hybrid work.
I couldn’t agree more with Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, who said, “Over the past year, no area has undergone more rapid transformation than the way we work. Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly — inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing… All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work.” Flexibility is the future and how we prepare and support our employees will dictate its success.
It was technology that allowed us to work remotely, and it will be technology that will help us enter hybrid mode. The most important piece of that equation is the collaboration tools we’ll use. When the pandemic hit, many companies chose tools in a panic, quickly trying to find ways for employees to work together from different locations. But now is the time to step back and think about what you and your company need.Find the tools that will support your teams and set you up for ongoing success.
The type of work most people do is reliant on ongoing and consistent collaboration with others. In truth, the best solution for collaboration is everyone sitting in a room together. A close second is if everyone is on products. There is no shortage of vendors to choose from which includes companies such as Avaya, Zoom, RingCentral or Cisco Webex. This is because everyone is using the same medium. But as many companies move to a hybrid workplace, with people both in the office and remote, it’s incredibly important to find a solution so everyone can remain equally represented in meetings and while collaborating. This matters not only because every voice should be heard, but because it encourages and maintains engagement from employees.
There is an innate danger when some employees are in the room and some are on video: inequality of experience, inconsistent participation and low engagement. Lack of engagement can be the silent killer in companies. Those who are passively disengaged end up leaving, and this is a real concern in a hybrid scenario.
There are six keys to keep in mind as you research and test different solutions to find the right tool(s) for your company.
1. Identify solutions that mimic in-person meetings.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of AI technology that makes remote work just as (if not more) effective than being there in person: tools that display someone’s name on the screen, facial recognition, gesturing functionality, transcription tools, and more.
Transcription tools, for instance, can be a game changer, and not only for those in the room. It’s a great tool for those tasked with note taking, as we all know how hard it can be to take notes in real-time without missing some parts of the conversation. But also, if someone misses a meeting, they can quickly catch up afterwards by just reading the transcription. Many vendors, such as Avaya and RingCentral include this as part of the service but there are standalone products such as Otter.ai
Webex and BlueJeans recently added gesturing functionality which captures hand movements so attendees can react to speakers without saying a word. For example, if the CEO asks a question, someone can do a thumbs up with their hand and a “thumbs up” emoticon will pop up on their screen for all to see.
2. Acknowledge and address ‘tool fatigue.’
There are so many tools on the market that solve a specific need, but in many cases, a company ends up using several to meet all needs. There’s a video meeting tool, white boarding tool, project management tool, communication tool－ it just gets to be too much for employees to manage. There are technology companies that have found good ways to merge two or three of the functionalities, but there still isn’t one solution that inherently links everything together.
So as you and your executive team work to identify the right tools to use, keep in mind that employees will reach a limit of tools to manage. Look for solutions that allow for seamless integration and try to minimize the number of tools used.
3. Pick technologies that work for everyone.
The tools you select need to address all levels of workers, not just the tech-savvy. Intuitive, quick-to-implement and easily integratable are must-haves. And make sure the tools are inclusive. Most platforms include accessibility features that help blind or deaf employees participate as well, including closed captioning, screen readers and magnifiers. And if you’re meeting with employees or clients that speak another language, Avaya, Zoom and Webex can translate in real time.
4. Make endpoint hardware part of the decision.
When people are at home, the computer or mobile device is the primary interface but in the office, room systems, desktop units and conference endpoints are used. These have evolved significantly over the past few years and are now usable through speech interfaces, mobile integration and some vendors, such as Mitel have created anti-microbial surfaces to stop the spread of germs. There is a wide range of endpoint options with companies like Cisco, Mitel and Avaya making their own devices for a fully integrated experience where a company like Zoom partners with third parties for broader choice. The only way to determine which is best for your organization is to try them.
5. Digitize everything
In a world where everyone is working in a different place, it’s critical to make sure everything is accessible digitally. Messaging has digitized paper making it easier to share. The one last collaboration tool to be digitized is the white board. This is an area that’s highly misunderstood and has seen tremendous evolution. For example, Cisco’s Webex board allows users to attach virtual “sticky notes” as they would with a physical board. Avaya and Zoom both have virtual white boards integrated into their meeting products for fast access. Another approach is to digitize a physical board the way Kaptivo does (recently acquired by Lifesize). This has the advantage of letting people use something they are comfortable with but the downside is that it’s not interactive.
6. Use the data from your tools!
Almost all of these tools provide data to users. Some provide admin dashboards and others give users their individual data. If you have the data available, use it! Guard against employee burnout by limiting the number of meetings hours a day. “Zoom burnout” is a real thing and managers can use this information to help keep meetings to a minimum. There is so much data generated from these meetings, including engagement. Keeping an eye on these statistics can help gauge and improve overall productivity. Just remember to keep it all on the up and up. That last thing you want is for employees to think you’re spying on them.
Collaboration leads to success, and we all want to provide our employees with the tools to communicate and succeed. Take the time to find the right tools and implement the right processes to make hybrid work as productive as possible.