Collaborative technology is just one part of a successful hybrid-working strategy
- Easy access to the right platforms will help people stay connected but business leaders also need to focus on culture and wellbeing.
Collaborative technology might have kept everyone productive at home during COVID-19 lockdowns, but business leaders now need to focus their efforts on supporting staff in a hybrid age where people will split their working time across a range of locations.
That was the conclusion of a panel that discussed the future of work at the DTX Tech Predictions Mini Summit. They recognized that the coronavirus pandemic brought significant challenges. However, the effective use of collaboration technologies and a continuing focus on wellbeing allowed employees to continue contributing from afar.
Philip Simpson, head of application support and development at legal firm Horwich Farrelly, explained how his organization implemented flexible-working arrangements during the past two years. While there was little appetite for working from home prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the firm's lawyers are now more productive than they've ever been:
It really did force our hand and accelerated our move to the cloud. And that's provided many opportunities. So, we went down the Microsoft route and moved the data centres to Azure. There's a lot of opportunities for integration. We've gone for an API-first strategy in the development space. And this has become more and more important for us.
In terms of collaboration and communication - and trying to replicate some of the face-to-face elements of work - Horwich Farrelly has been using a product called Miro, which is a digital whiteboarding tool. The firm is also using a range of Microsoft tools, including Teams and Power BI. Simpson said the move to cloud-based collaboration and communication has worked well:
Obviously, you then need to put a whole layer of governance and rules around it. But there's so much opportunity and, as awful as the past two years have been, I believe we're actually coming out of there in a better place than where we started.
Tom Kegode, future of work strategy lead at Lloyds Bank, explained how his organization introduced Microsoft Teams just before the start of the pandemic. That proved to be an astute decision, as they subsequently pushed the technology across the business to support remote working from March 2020. Lloyds then went through the process of adopting and using the technology. While Teams has helped support collaborative working, it's important to recognize that fresh, perhaps unanticipated, gaps can appear:
One of the things that we have seen over the past two years is that our teams have gotten much closer as a result of the technology that we've got. This enables them to connect and be together, but our broader networks have got more distant - the people that you'd be sitting around the desk with that you might go to the pub with, or you might go out for lunch and go to the shop with during your breaks. Those are the networks that we found have been less close.
It's all about balance and connection
Kegode explained how Lloyds is using a range of techniques to bring its disparate workforce together. One team within the organization is piloting a scheme called ‘coffee with a random', where two people who have never met before can get together for a 15-minute chat:
We've seen positive outcomes from that in terms of developing a feeling of connection to others across the organization. So it's small experiments, but there could be some good opportunities for us to look at that as we start to move forwards.
Mary O'Callaghan, director of technology engagement at British Heart Foundation (BHF), said her organization also runs "random coffee chats". In addition, the charity has set up online book clubs to try and get people connecting across BHF. While platforms like Teams can support collaboration, she said it's crucial to recognize that some people can feel like they need to be in back-to-back video calls to prove their productivity. O'Callaghan said finding the right balance is crucial for people's mental health:
We are trying to double down on wellbeing. We have had feedback from our surveys that people are tired, feeling burnt out, and they've lost the sense of connection to cause, which is crucial to us as a charity. So, we're spending a lot of time talking to our people about how they want to work and how we can help them.
O'Callaghan said the charity is now moving into "listening mode", which means talking with staff to support their health and wellbeing, and using a range of tools that can help, including mentorships and counselling sessions:
That's all set up to look after our people. We found the productivity was very high when people worked from home. People were working extraordinarily hard and achieving a lot. People were very motivated. But we can't sustain this pace forever, so the focus on wellbeing is crucial.
That's an approach that chimed with Horwich Farrelly's Simpson, who said that the onus is on senior managers to do the right things and establish model behaviours. To this end, he recognized that he over-worked during the first lockdown - and all business leaders must be careful not to expect too much of themselves or their staff:
It was my first experience of working from home for any length of time, so you almost feel like a fraud if you're not doing silly hours. And you do burnout. There's a fear of missing out. Because you're not there in person, it's very difficult to know what's going on sometimes and burnout has very real risks - not just to people's psychological wellbeing, but to their motivation.
Simpson said Horwich Farrelly is working hard to establish a supportive culture that makes all people feel as if their contribution is valued, no matter where or how they're working. That's something that resonated with Lloyds Bank's Kegode, who said it's important to rethink the concept of productivity in the hybrid age. People have got used to working from home, but offices still create an opportunity for people to engage in-person, which is important for supporting wellbeing and long-term productivity:
People have said to me, ‘I'm in the office, and I'm not very productive'. Well, no, you are productive, you're just productive in a different kind of way. Because you're speaking to people, you're having those human interactions. So, we need to value the productivity of human interactions as much as we value the productivity of widgets.