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Through the turbulence of the past two years, one of the more frequent topics to emerge regarding the future of work, is how to acclimatise to new cultures and new working patterns. According to new research from TDM Group, most businesses are not getting the right IT support or advice to provide employees with the technology they need to transition to hybrid working. Meanwhile, Gartner’s recent report also stresses the importance of hybrid work policies to attract talent and improve business outcomes. It is also evident that the pandemic has changed office culture forever, according to 64% of employees.
While some employees have returned to the office full-time, offices in many cities around the world are operating well below their regular capacity. Businesses opting for a hybrid approach are responding to individual employee needs, as well as taking advantage of the benefits of flexibility and talent acquisition that home working brings. Undoubtedly, the way people are living and working today is opening up many new questions -- as well as new opportunities -- around what great employee engagement and support truly looks like.
Business leaders understand that the question of boosting employee engagement starts with daily interactions and points of connection between the people they work with. Without constant, in-person meetings or gatherings, how can employers really be sure how their workforce is doing? And how can IT help with that question?
The importance of engagement
Employee engagement is crucial for the health and success of any business. 2020 and early 2021 saw a whole host of methods and tactics for business leaders to engage their employees – from virtual happy hours to online trivia nights. But Zoom fatigue took hold fairly quickly, and events like these often don’t feel particularly personal, even with the best intentions.
So how can businesses be empathetic and attuned to colleague needs? And how can technology help with this?
Here are some tips to successfully raising the bar for employee engagement - regardless of the physical environment where the work gets done.
1. Invest in the right tools
Technology will make or break company success, but it can also have a huge effect on company culture. The right collaboration and communication enabling technologies can make all the difference to how engaged employees are.
Unfortunately, effective communication can prove to be a huge challenge in hybrid environments. Many employees who are onsite can often receive crucial information in person, which remote workers won’t always be privy to. It can be difficult to communicate small problems or provide quick information and opportunities to workers at home. As a result, the digital channels of communication have to be well set up, fast, effective and convenient. With faster and more efficient ways of communicating, remote workers will be able to feel more integrated with the team as a whole and also stay engaged with the work. Tools such as Microsoft teams, Slack, Zoom, and Egnyte can help boost productivity and collaboration, which means better results all around. The importance of such investments can’t be overstated.
2. Invest in the right hardware
Ultimately, the equipment that employees have at home needs to be just as effective as what they would normally have in the office. This means laptops and accessories that are built to be as efficient as they are reliable. Naturally, portability is important too. Employees that regularly have to carry their laptops between home and work will benefit from lighter machines, with a slimmer design and enhanced battery life. Business laptops must also come with heightened security features, such as biometrics, and two-factor authentication to make sure that information remains secure as employees shift from space to space.
Of course, accessories for convenience, comfort and security are crucially important too. An ergonomic keyboard and mouse, headsets for video calls, and docks with multiple ports to turn any desk into a clutter-free workstation, can all go a long way in helping employees feeling better connected, and more engaged with their work.
3. Invest in Unified Communications
Hybrid working requires a unified communications (UC) approach and collaboration platforms to enable it. Simply the reality of having half of your workforce onsite, and half remote drastically increases the IT burden for UC and magnifies the importance of software tools that can swiftly identify any UC issues before they arise. For example, fluctuations in the number of employees on any given site means that bandwidth needs to be large enough to deal with unexpected spikes, to avert a standstill.
Employees need access to high-quality conferencing experiences, frequently on multiple UC platforms. This will mean call quality needs to be tracked and spikes need to be monitored to ensure experience parity. Troubleshooting tools that can identify in-home and in-office crises simultaneously will also be extremely valuable.
While it is unlikely that any transition to hybrid working will be seamless and perfect immediately, IT teams can track and leverage their data to identify areas that need reconfiguration or adjustment. The number of calls failed, video latency, bandwidth spikes need to be regularly assessed and benchmarked to ensure that IT teams can move beyond experience to excellence and engagement.
4. The four-day working week?
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in a shorter working week had been gaining momentum. Microsoft trialled a four-day working week across its Japanese offices in 2019, with positive results that included more efficient meetings, happier workers and a 40% increase in productivity. Similarly, 86% of Iceland's workforce has now either moved to a shorter working week, or gained the right to do so without reduction in pay, thanks to a number of positive trial results. According to a recent report by the Financial Times, more UK employers are also now exploring the feasibility of a four-day working week.
It isn’t really any wonder that a four day working week can dramatically improve employee engagement. An additional day off dramatically helps to shift the work/life balance. Andrew Barnes, CEO of Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand-based company that ran a trial run of the four-day workweek, implemented the shorter workweek at his company. They found that not only did the sense of work-life balance shoot up from 54% to 78%, but that team engagement increased by 20% on average too. Fewer hours in the office may help some workers to focus more intently than they would in a longer five day week.
In addition, a four-day week may also lead to more company pride, less stress, and better morale. It’s estimated that the annual cost of workplace stress to the global economy is somewhere around $300 billion. So giving your workforce more time to relax, and decompress can go a long way in ameliorating this issue. And indeed, the results in multiple studies speak for themselves. One study, which polled 1,989 UK office workers, found that workers are productive for only 2 hours and 53 minutes each work day on average. Cutting the available work week may lead to fewer opportunities to be distracted, fewer unnecessary meetings and better overall engagement.
Keeping employees engaged, completely and consistently, is a big enough task when everybody is in the same place. The growing demand for hybrid working may not make this easier – but with the right communication and collaborative tools, the best equipment, and a tailored approach to show business understanding of individual needs, this can help any company get on top of the challenge.