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Equal employee experience in hybrid work and how to achieve it

Leon Gilbert, SVP and General Manager - Unisys Digital Workplace Solutions

By now, many companies have formalised their adoption of fully in-office, fully remote, or hybrid forms of working. Latest research shows the hybrid model is certainly looking like the new normal for the majority. But enterprises going down a hybrid route may have the added challenge of integrating remote, in-person, and hybrid employees into a system designed to work in the long term, not just as a temporary pandemic-driven solution.

Success in the new digital workplace will be when employees have an equitable quality of experience, no matter their mode of working. We call this “experience parity,” and it is something that HR and IT managers will need to come together to create in the hybrid working environment.

So, what is “experience parity”?
How can you ensure everyone gets the same out of a meeting when half of your team is together in a meeting room, and the other half are joining via Zoom or Teams?

Many of us remember hybrid meetings in their infancy: joining a meeting remotely and being unable to hear the discussion in the room, those in the room not being able to hear you, or presentations not being directed toward remote joiners. This scenario is an example of an experience disparity, where remote employees are at a significant disadvantage.

Those were natural teething problems, but with hybrid here to stay, companies must ensure this disparity of experience doesn’t continue, given it can make remote employees feel less engaged and valued. Technology can play a role in connecting remote employees with those in the office and facilitating collaboration. Companies need to adapt their cultures to be relevant and inclusive for all types of work.

How can HR and IT managers design workplaces that offer experience parity, regardless of location?
To build a system that works for everyone, HR and IT leaders need to collaborate in designing hybrid working arrangements that take individual concerns and needs into consideration, not just institutional objectives. The following steps provide a good place to start:

1. Lean into flexibility
The flexibility offered by a hybrid model can empower employees to work to their strengths, boosting productivity. But for employees to be flexible, IT teams need to be, too.

IT teams need to be willing and able to help employees with technical issues remotely – using over-the-air provisioning to help set up devices and onboard new employees, and to help existing employees troubleshoot any problems.

That said, some employees won’t be comfortable with remote technological assistance. Availability of in-person connections is essential if we are to ensure experience parity for all. Consider a tech café in the office, where less technologically confident employees can go to speak to the IT team.

For a hybrid working model to be truly effective, each of its components needs to be adaptable to remote and in-person use, which extends to IT support.

2. Foster collaboration
Fully remote working reduces human interaction to the point that, for some employees, it can adversely affect their mental health. They may also miss out on opportunities for group brainstorming and gaining access to other perspectives, affecting their work output. So, it is vital that we use technology to optimise communication and facilitate collaboration in the hybrid workplace, giving employees at home the interaction they need to feel valued and engaged, while supporting business outcomes.

Investing in hardware like webcams and headsets and video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Teams, is the first step here — but not the last. IT managers need to focus on end-to-end collaboration experiences, from the moment a call or meeting begins to when it concludes. IT must monitor and improve the quality of video and audio experiences for those in-office and colleagues joining remotely. Whether teammates in the office can hear or see those at home clearly – and vice versa – significantly affects the end-user experience for all.

Instilling the opportunity for collaboration and the right IT tools to facilitate it within your workplace will increase productivity and strengthen the necessary connections to make teams thrive.

3. Reflect the change in your mode of working in your company’s culture
Hybrid working is fundamentally incompatible with a typical, pre-pandemic work culture, where employees would regularly report to the office in person.

Reports early in the pandemic suggested that those working from home worked up to 40% longer than those in the office. Whilst this may seem like a positive thing, recent studies question the sustainability of this increased work time, and whether it translates into increased productivity.

This increase in working time likely contributed to higher employee burnout during the pandemic, exacerbated by the blurred boundary between work and home. For the hybrid workplace to succeed, organizations must embed respect for the time and health of employees within company culture, which often falls under HR’s ownership.

Culture can play a role in offering equitable experiences to all. For example, office perks such as catered lunches or free drinks on Fridays can reinforce disparities and make remote employees feel excluded. Instead, HR teams ought to consider strategies that are not tied to the office and offer employees perks that they can use anywhere.

In the example above, for everyone to benefit, the company could offer lunch on-site for those who want to come into the office and send food delivery gift cards to those working from home. Offering the same perks across the board will help all employees, in person or remote, feel equally recognised and valued.

4. Support organizational and personal goals
The flexibility offered by a hybrid model can encourage employees to work to their strengths, boosting their productivity and preventing burnout. If you’re most productive at 5 am or 8 pm, a hybrid model will empower you to get your work done at that time (meetings permitting), rather than forcing you to complete your projects within a suboptimal, arbitrary timeframe like 9 to 5.

But the goals of a hybrid workplace should not only focus on increasing productivity and outputs for the organization; a key component is supporting staff with a great working environment, too. The option to work remotely is quickly becoming one of the most requested benefits an employer can offer, often prioritised above holidays, pay raises, or retirement offerings. Many people have adjusted their lives to a hybrid way of working and don’t want to go back to a traditional office setting. Offering this flexibility will help HR attract and retain talent and ensure that employees are content.

When the correct systems and practices are not in place, hybrid work environments can harm productivity, effectiveness, and culture. But with a solid technology infrastructure underpinning a company-wide culture that embraces the flexibility of a hybrid working structure, experience parity for all can be achieved and hybrid working can benefit everyone.

Ultimately, this symbiosis of technology and culture can only be achieved through close collaboration between HR and IT leaders. So, companies intending to be hybrid for the foreseeable future should take a step back and re-examine their IT systems and company culture within the new context of hybrid working. By looking inward, leaders may find easily actionable changes that can quickly improve company productivity and employee well-being.

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