Hybrid work: The employee experience is king

We’re all still in that ‘sorting it out’ stage of hybrid work, and it’s giving many enterprise employers a splitting headache. But, with collaboration still a challenge for many organizations, a greater emphasis on EX will be reflected in IT spending going forward.

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The hybrid work trend is giving me some serious BYOD déjà vu.

Although BYOD broke out about a decade ago, I think it shares some similarities with the hybrid work stuff we’re grappling with during this pandemic.

Like BYOD before it, hybrid work is:

  • about working remotely
  • enabled by mobile technology
  • rife with challenges around security, integration and workplace culture
  • something employers have been forced to adopt vs. something they’ve proactively chosen en masse
  • a multifaceted trend that will take a long time to sort out

We’re all still in that ‘sorting it out’ stage of hybrid work, and it’s giving many enterprise employers a splitting headache.

Analysts from IDC’s Future of Work team recently tackled the hybrid work conundrum in a virtual presentation of their latest research. Here are the top takeaways of their findings.

‘Back to the office’ is so 2020

Vaccines have sparked renewed hope over the past nine months that some sort of normalcy could return to the workplace. Many employers have defined that normalcy as ‘going back to the office.’ Since this pandemic is still hanging on, however, a complete return to the office for all employees 40 hours per week looks unrealistic for most employers at this point.

IDC says enterprises need to recognize this new reality and shift their goalposts from ‘back to the office’ to ‘back to work’ – wherever ‘work’ may be on a given day. It’s about being productive anywhere rather than being physically present in a particular space.

“It’s not ‘going back to the office,’ it’s reinventing the office and the ways we work,” Amy Loomis, research director for IDC’s Future of Work practice, told the audience during her virtual presentation.

Hence IDC’s definition of hybrid work: “A dynamic model in which workers conduct business at diverse locations – on-premise, in the field or at a remote location.”

EX is everything

The days of the customer being king (or queen) are over, at least momentarily. EX (as in employee experience) now trumps CX.

As Loomis put it, “this employee journey is very much front and centre.”

The thing is, she added, enterprises must think about EX on two fronts: WFH and in-office.

For WFH, EX is about retaining quality workers at a time when the prolonged duration of this pandemic is giving many remote employees WFH burnout. For in-office work, EX means recognizing that health and safety tools and policies are paramount.

IDC’s growing list of employee-centric IT requirements and solutions includes:

  • remote team enablement
  • smart buildings
  • workplace task automation
  • upskilling tools
  • recruitment systems
  • staff performance evaluation and management

IDC believes the greater emphasis on EX will be reflected in IT spending. In the Americas region, for example, IDC expects investment in technologies for hiring, paying and tracking employees to see 14 per cent CAGR between 2019 and 2024.

UCaaS to see an uptick

hybrid work

Collaboration is still a significant obstacle during this pandemic. When IDC asked enterprises to name their biggest organizational challenge right now, the top answer (garnering 40 per cent of the votes) was “enabling teams to work together effectively.”

This pain point is poised to give UCaaS a big boost. In IDC’s survey, UCaaS was named as the top priority among enterprises who plan to increase their IT spending in 2021; 56 per cent say they intend to devote more of their IT budget to UCaaS this year. 

Automation gains acceptance 

Employee attitudes about automation are gradually shifting from fear to acceptance as: 1) remote work continues; 2) access to overworked IT support teams makes DIY solutions seem all that more desirable.

“I think it’s clear we’ve gone from ‘the robots are coming to take our jobs’ to ‘oh, I can automate my work and focus on higher value tasks,’” Loomis said.

IDC says enterprises are investing in technology to automate functions such as:

  • submitting expenses
  • office wayfinding
  • office space planning
  • contact tracing
  • work space hoteling
  • smart white board usage
  • conference management
  • office visit management and health screening

Employers are taking steps to automate more worker tasks accordingly, as suggested by these IDC figures:

  • 84% of companies are enabling their workforce to be directly involved in automation aspects of their own work
  • 61% see automation as having a “very or somewhat positive impact” on business resilience
  • 35% say they know how their organization’s jobs will be affected by automation and are prepared to meet the new skill demands

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A decade ago, it took time for most organizations to recognize BYOD as an inevitability rather than a choice. Today, a new global study makes me wonder if hybrid work is inevitable, too. The recent survey of 10,000 workers in five countries discovered:

  • 76% of employees want flexibility in where they work
  • 93% of employees want flexibility in when they work

Those numbers prove that employees overwhelmingly prefer one type of experience: a hybrid work experience. Not just WFH, not just in-office, but a hybrid of both.

If, as IDC argues, employee experience really does trump everything else right now, the key question about adopting hybrid work isn’t ‘if.’ Almost two years into a global pandemic, the most sensible question left to ask might be ‘how?

Images: AleksandarNakic/iStock; AndreyPopov/iStock

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