While many organizations were already planning or implementing digital transformation strategies when COVID-19 hit, the pandemic forced those companies to accelerate their efforts. As working from home became the rule, not the exception, companies rushed to deploy collaboration tools so employees could collaborate and stay productive from different locations.
With return to the office and hybrid work on the rise, companies need to think about what collaboration will look like in the ‘post-pandemic’ world.
In the hybrid workplace, organizations are trying to strike the right balance between giving remote workers the flexibility they need to be productive and ensuring that the technology also meets the needs of employees in the office, said Megha Kumar, research vice president, software and cloud. services at IDC. “So when it comes to collaboration tools, organizations are realizing that they need to establish policies regarding how employees interact effectively with each other,” she said.
Companies need to make sure that no matter where employees are located or what devices they use, they have access to the right information at the right time, Kumar said. And collaboration tool providers seek to expand and improve the capabilities of their products to meet the needs of these organizations. These vendors need to ensure that their customers’ employees can have the same experiences with their collaboration tools on any device, she said.
Hybrid work + collaboration = tension
There’s a tension around collaboration when it comes to hybrid work, said Adam Preset, vice president analyst for employee experience technologies at Gartner. What organizations have learned is that the technology that works when people are completely remote must be adapted or changed when some employees are in the office and some out of the office.
Hybrid meetings are a good example of this. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, WebEx and Microsoft Teams work well when everyone is remote and everyone appears in the same rectangle on a screen – this puts everyone on an equal footing. Companies have developed best practices and etiquette to ensure everyone can participate, such as encouraging people to enter new ideas via chat, Preset said.
But once that remote meeting becomes a hybrid meeting, organizations are back in pre-pandemic dynamics, except there are now only a few employees in the meeting room, while many more are working remotely, he said.
“The host who could lead the meeting in the office needs technology that would allow anyone who is remotely located as close to life-size as possible. [possible]’ said Preset. A meeting host in the office also needs to be able to see the content and the people participating, hear everyone and watch the other digital signals the people are broadcasting remotely, he said.
“That could mean that if they raise their hands, they’re using the hand-raising tool?” Said beforehand. “If someone types something into the chat, is there a way for the host of the meeting in the room to see it on the big screen or get a little notification that a conversation is happening on the side during a call? meeting? And so on.”
New features in video conferencing software can make the meeting experience feel more equal for everyone. For example, Zoom’s Smart Gallery uses artificial intelligence to create an individual feed of each participant in the conference room, allowing remote participants to better see their movements and facial expressions.
And today’s conference room hardware, such as Logitech’s MeetUp camera, offers hybrid-friendly features, such as the ability to automatically find and frame every participant in the room, sound level adjustments for louder and softer voices, and other enhancements to create a create a better experience for remote participants.
These kinds of meeting tech adaptations are necessary for hybrid work to be successful in the long term.
New tools for new times
Organizations also need to implement technology that enables collaboration with “deskless” or “frontline” workers such as field technicians, truck drivers, warehouse workers, store clerks and medical personnel so that they feel connected, said Josh Bersin, founder and CEO of The Josh. Bersin Company, a human resources consultancy.
Deskless employees are often cut off from the company intranet, as are conference calls and training sessions that help team members stay connected. Such employees may not have time to attend a meeting or interrupt their work to find desktop computers with the latest collaboration software. Instead, they mostly use their own mobile devices and apps, which aren’t very secure, to stay connected.
That’s why companies need to focus on improving the ability of deskless workers to collaborate with colleagues, no matter where they are. One way companies can do that is by deploying deskless apps, Bersin said.
“Your company may not want your personal phone to be your education system because it’s not very secure,” Bersin said. “But there are [secure] now applications, such as WorkJam, are designed for end-to-end communication with people who don’t have computers. And the big suppliers are trying to figure out how to build [out those applications] Microsoft, for example, has been adding a slew of frontline worker features to its Teams mobile app in recent years.
To increase the engagement of all types of employees, the vendor also recently launched a new workplace social application in its Microsoft Viva employee experience platform called Viva Engage, a kind of social network for the enterprise, Bersin said. The app is available as an add-on to Microsoft Teams, which positions the company as a collaboration and communication hub.
Built on the foundation of Yammer, Microsoft’s earlier social networking tool, Viva Engage enables employees across an organization to connect with each other and with business leaders “to find answers to questions, tell their unique story.” share and belong at work,” said Microsoft.The goal of Viva Engage is to help employees feel more engaged in the hybrid workplace.
Other tools emerging to foster community among employees in various locations include virtual water cooler apps, online learning platforms, and asynchronous video messaging tools. And several leading technology providers, including Cisco, Meta and Microsoft, are exploring the use of virtual environments for meetings and other events.
“I just spoke to the Microsoft product teams and their plans are impressive,” Bersin said. “Microsoft Mesh for Teams, due out mid next year, will allow you to replace your video presence with an avatar, create virtual rooms, and deploy 3D spaces in Teams. Imagine a trade show, learning conference or onboarding experience in 3D, all based on Teams. I have to believe there will be a tsunami of interest in this technology.”
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.