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Guide to best tech tools to boost productivity in hybrid working

This article will delve into the top technology solutions that can be leveraged to enhance employee engagement in a hybrid working environment or when working remotely all the time. We’ll look at the significance of using consistent, digitally advanced software with automated processes and the role employee monitoring software can play in ensuring both productivity and work/life balance.

For many employees it is no longer an option to work at home five days a week. 

Increasingly employers, believing working in an office can help to increase productivity, are demanding their workers return to their desks as the health threat of the Covid-19 pandemic subsides.

Global recruitment company Hays plc found that 43% of UK employees worked entirely from the office in August and September, up from 36% in 2022. And according to Resume Builder, in the US 90% of companies are planning to implement return-to-the-office policies by the end of 2024. Goldman Sachs has said it wants employees in the office five days a week, Google is factoring in-office attendance into its performance reviews. 

Yet despite this pivot back to the office, employees still have a preference for hybrid working. Hays’ survey revealed that when searching for new roles, the flexibility of hybrid work is a top priority for almost half of the respondents.

Indeed HR directors and senior HR managers increasingly need to adapt to new flexible ways of working to ensure their employees are able to maintain a work-life balance as well as remain engaged and productive wherever they are carrying out their duties. 

Below we’ll delve into the top technology solutions that can be leveraged to enhance employee engagement in a hybrid working environment or when working remotely all the time. We’ll look at the significance of using consistent, digitally advanced software with automated processes and the role employee monitoring software can play in ensuring both productivity and work/life balance.

Communication

Video conferencing tools
Undoubtedly video conferencing has become one of the most important technologies for enabling hybrid working, especially with the increased availability of high-speed full fibre broadband in the home (just over half of UK homes now have full fibre, says Ofcom). 

According to Statista, the global market for video conferencing reached $10.6 billion in 2022 and is expected to hit $19.1 billion by 2027. And while Zoom is the video conferencing platform most commonly associated with hybrid working during the Covid-19 pandemic, there are several alternatives including Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Cisco WebEx. 

Generally speaking, hybrid workers can use existing devices for video conferencing (computer, tablet or smartphone). However, performance can be enhanced with a separate webcam and a headset with built in noise-cancelling microphone for those working in noisy environments. 

Team Chat and Messaging apps
Like video conferencing, chatting with and messaging colleagues is an important aspect of hybrid working. Not only can messaging apps help communication on specific projects, they can – if used properly – also help to improve team bonding and encourage a sense of belonging. Most video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, have a messaging facility within them that is useful for sharing materials during video calls. 

Alternatively, services like Slack offer a variety of services that are specifically designed for hybrid teams, such as threaded conversations, file sharing as well as video conferencing.  Importantly, organisations need to be clear about how messaging apps are used to ensure employees stay focused on work-related issues while users need to be careful of their tone and language to avoid misunderstandings.

Cloud-based intranet and employee portals
In addition to the increased availability of high-speed broadband, one of the key tech developments that has enabled hybrid working is the move towards cloud-based technology solutions. Rather than work files being stored on systems within the office, they are increasingly being hosted by third party via platforms such as Google Workspace and Microsoft 365.

For employers, the benefit of a cloud-based solution include reduced IT costs and better operational efficiency while for hybrid workers it generally makes accessing the files they need to work much easier than if they were stored on premises. However, businesses need to ensure the cloud-based platform they choose offers the features that their organisation needs, such as file sharing, communication tools, and project management tools. They also need to ensure it integrates with existing applications, such as ESP (Email Service Provider) software.

Finally, any cloud-based system needs to be fully cyber secure, with employers working outside of the office having the same antivirus software on their devices and access to technical support as those working within an office environment. 

Performance management
Inevitably one of the concerns of many companies, particularly that of HR directors, is just how productive workers are when they are out of the office. Are they using their time productively or not? Thankfully there is a wide selection of employee monitoring software available that can measure this. 

For example, Time Doctor is a time tracking and productivity software that can be used to track the time hybrid workers spend on different tasks and projects. It also provides features such as real-time time tracking, website and application blocking, and screenshot capturing. Harvest is another useful technology tool that not only provides time tracking, but also includes invoicing software.

Importantly, HR directors and managers should always let hybrid workers know that they are using a time tracking tool and why. And rather than using the data to punish them if they are not spending their time wisely, instead they should be using it to identify areas where they can improve and provide them with the support they need.

Employee welfare 

Employee engagement platforms
It’s important that employees, especially those working regularly from home, feel engaged within an organisation. Platforms such as CultureAmp, Glint (now part of Microsoft Viva) and Qualtrics enable HR directors to measure and track employee engagement as well as identify areas within a company can be improved. They work by taking data from various sources including interviews with staff, focus groups and public surveys. 

Alternatively, these platforms enable employees to provide data anonymously, thereby encouraging honest and candid feedback without fear of identification or retribution. Employers are provided with an online dashboard that measures employee satisfaction over time as well as tools that enable them to recognise and reward employees for their contribution. In turn, it’s hoped these tools will help to improve employee engagement and also increase staff retention. 

Creating a virtual office
One of the issues for people working from home or away from a main office is a sense of isolation and lack of belonging. Some organisations have even become virtual companies with everyone working from home all of the time.

However, according to Erica Orange, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at consulting firm The Future Hunters ‘proximity to others is key to success’.’ She adds: “Interacting with people and objects in both physical and virtual spaces is deeply encoded in the structure of our brains.”

Obviously, video collaboration tools, such as those outlined above, can help to some extent. However, one of the latest ways hybrid workers can feel like they belong is by creating an office environment using VR (Virtual Reality) tools. For example, Horizon Workrooms is a VR collaboration platform developed by Meta (the owner of Facebook). This allows users to create virtual offices and meeting rooms where they can collaborate with colleagues, regardless of their physical location. Other VR platforms are also available, including Immerse and vSpatial. 

Wellbeing and mental health apps
Apps are available that can help hybrid workers who are struggling mentally with working remotely. These include popular meditation and mindfulness apps such as Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer. In addition, for those who are struggling to find a work-life balance there are other tools worth considering. These include a white-noise machine or noise cancelling headphones to block out any distractions. 

Inspired by the Pomodoro Technique – a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo – there’s also Pomofocus, a customisable pomodoro timer that works on both a desktop and mobile browser. The aim of this app is to help people focus more effectively on any task they are working on, such as studying, writing, or even coding. 

Technology tools as a business asset
Despite a recent push by organisations to get employees back to the office, the days of everyone having to work together in the same building five days a week are over. Instead what we are seeing is the emergence of more flexible working patterns where employees need to be supported by HR to work from anywhere.

Here technology is key to boosting engagement and improving productivity. The latest tools enable workers to collaborate with one another via text, email, video or voice wherever they are in the world – in the office, at home or in a remote location. 

However, managing a disparate workforce isn’t without its challenges. HR directors and senior HR managers need to foster a sense of connection and belonging among workers regardless of their physical location, as well as monitor the performance of those who are working flexibly and who may not be keeping regular 9-5 hours. 

Importantly, hybrid workers need to look after their own mental health and ensure they feel a sense of belonging to an organisation. Technology tools can help remote workers with work/life balance and mental health issues while employee engagement platforms can ensure they are contributing positively to an organisation. 

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