Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a lot of changes in, adjustments to, and acceleration of different technologies as we work from home. As the workforce becomes more adept at using this tech, employers are going to have a difficult time justifying a five day, in-office work week going forward. And while we are all looking forward to seeing our colleagues face to face again, hybrid offices that combine remote and in-office work will be the new norm even after the pandemic.
Recognizing that there will be growing pains, companies nonetheless need to start planning to switch to a hybrid office model as soon as possible. Over the next few years, we’ll be keeping an eye on emerging tech that enhances hybrid offices, simulating in-person experiences and strengthening communication and collaboration throughout companies.
The popularity of hybrid work
The hybrid office was becoming a popular perk even before the pandemic forced many companies to switch to full-time remote work. So it’s no surprise that a hybrid model will be sticking around after the pandemic. Twitter, Facebook and Square, among others, have already announced their plans to allow many employees to work remotely indefinitely. We anticipate seeing many younger startups taking the lead from these already established players.
Furthermore, from an investment perspective, many investors may even see a savings opportunity from eliminating office leases, and push to forgo in-office work altogether. Even executives who have long opposed remote work have begun to have a change of heart. MediCopy CEO Elliott Holt is one of the clearest examples of this. When Holt encouraged his colleagues to continue working from home, he gave up two extra buildings, turned his headquarters into a training center and in the process saved $350,000 in lease expenses.
Yet a total shift to remote work still has some pitfalls, which is why companies like Google are looking to implement a hybrid model going forward rather than full time remote. Google will offer workers a “flexible work week,” three days in the office for “collaboration days” while working from home the other days as they return to the workplace next September. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, claims that a versatile work model would lead to greater employee engagement, teamwork and well-being.
Technology’s role in the hybrid office
Where the majority of the discussion often turns to is how tech can help us collaborate outside of work, business owners are also taking notice of tech that can ease the transition back into offices and help prioritize employee safety in light of COVID-19 during the phasing in of the vacinnes, which will last way into the year. For example, startup Landing AI is developing tech to ensure workers are properly social distancing in the office and enhance in-office contact tracing capabilities.
Despite all the advancements, offices implementing a hybrid model will still face some growing pains at the onset, particularly as they begin to facilitate communication between groups of in-office individuals and their remote counterparts. A group of people looking at each other around a table will no longer be interested in in-office video-conferencing as others watch from a screen on the left without being able to interact efficiently. We anticipate a new wave of technologies aimed at dissolving the boundaries between in and out-of-office workers in order to retain efficiency, collaboration, productivity and learning in addition to other tech aimed at strengthening and defining company culture. Always-on video conferencing, integrated spaces for in-person and remote communication, such as interactive whiteboards, and asynchronous collaboration and working models can move rapidly from futuristic concepts to common reality.
As we continue on with a hybrid work model, employees will continue utilizing services such as Zoom, Google Meet and more for video communication. However, during these video conferences, there’s just one communication channel. There is a need for technologies that better simulate in-office dynamics, such as allowing participants in a video conference to turn to their neighbor and have a private conversation.
There will presumably be a return to in-person meetings once a vaccine is widely available, but occurrences will probably retain a virtual component. We anticipate tech to strengthen collaboration and boost productivity, in addition to tech that will facilitate communication. More and more startups and established companies are coming up with fresh ideas to keep employee productivity at an all-time high as we continue to work from home.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. Companies will need to adapt to new hybrid environments in light of the changes over the last year. Since the transition is all but inevitable, business leaders and investors should be on the lookout for technologies that can ease the transition and simulate in-office experience for remote workers, as well enhance cross-team collaboration.