In today's rapidly evolving business landscape, the hybrid experience - a combination of in-person and remote work - has become increasingly prevalent. Technology is playing a vital role in facilitating collaboration and communication between in-person and remote employees. According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the use of virtual collaboration tools increased from 42% in 2019 to 66% in 2020, with the shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic driving the adoption of these tools (SHRM, 2020).
As companies adapt to this shift, the role of technology in facilitating a smooth transition cannot be underestimated. With many types of meetings and structures, it is important that a company's technology stack can accommodate the needs of a geographically distributed workforce and accommodate attendees joining from anywhere, at any time, in a secure environment. Video conferencing tools, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, have become essential for facilitating real-time communication and collaboration. In addition to video conferencing, other tools like project management software and virtual whiteboards allow remote teams to work together seamlessly and efficiently.
Accessibility in the Workplace
One important aspect of the hybrid workplace is the ability for employees to connect and collaborate regardless of their location. According to a Gartner report, by 2025, more than 80% of organizations will use accessibility as a key benchmark for digital workplace technology investments. However, in 2021, only 20% of companies considered accessibility as they chose their workplace technology. This highlights the importance of considering accessibility as a key factor in technology investments, particularly in a hybrid setting where employees may be joining meetings from various locations and devices.
Also, another important aspect of the hybrid workplace is employees' ability to access resources and information remotely. Cloud-based storage solutions, such as Google Drive and Dropbox, allow for easy access to documents and files from any device, while virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are being utilized to enable remote teams to work on projects together as if they were in the same physical location (Forbes, 2020).
To create optimal formats for all meetings in a hybrid environment, organizations are leveraging a range of technologies including in-room audio/visual with high-quality two-way audio arrangements, multiple integrated cameras, USB-based sound and display for external attendees to plug-and-play, closed captioning technology for those with auditory impairments or sub-par audio connections, native meeting rooms, multiple digital displays, spatial audio capabilities, AI-based speaker identification, and room design with furniture that allows for maximum viewing for remote members. All these technologies can be expensive and difficult to prioritize, and organizations may consider the buying vs. leasing model. According to Gartner, "upfront capital investment is one of the primary disadvantages for [the buying] model, because the organization must allocate a budget for the initial purchase. Organizations with a limited budget in a given year or quarter that require video conferencing equipment should explore leasing as an option."
The Digital Nomad
The adoption of these technologies has also led to the rise of the "digital nomad" - individuals who can work remotely from anywhere in the world with technology. According to a report by Upwork, the number of digital nomads is expected to reach 1 billion by 2035 (Upwork, 2020). This trend is likely to continue as more companies adopt flexible work policies and the technology to support remote work improves.
However, the shift to the hybrid workplace has not been without its challenges. One issue that has arisen is the potential for remote employees to feel left out or disconnected from their in-person counterparts. To address this issue, it is important for organizations to prioritize communication and ensure that remote employees have the necessary tools and resources to effectively collaborate. In addition, companies should consider implementing strategies such as virtual coffee breaks and team building activities to promote a sense of connection and community among remote employees (Forbes, 2020).