The next normal: Preparing for the hybrid workplace

As organizations get ready to go back to the office, the trends toward flexibility, virtual collaboration and intelligent office spaces all point toward a new hybrid workplace. But what does this mean for the traditional office and how can IT pros better support workers?

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Hybrid workplace

As workers prepare to go back to the office — in some form or another — a Cisco survey confirms what many of us already know: work from home is here to stay, but the video call experience needs improvement. So what’s next for the ‘next’ normal?

The Rise of the Hybrid Workplace, a global survey of executives, managers and frontline workers conducted by Dimensional Research on behalf of Cisco, found that WFH will be part of the next normal as organizations adopt a hybrid work environment.

Few respondents (only nine per cent) believe they’ll return to working exclusively from the office, while the majority (58 per cent) expect to work from home at least eight days or more each month.

That means we can expect big changes to the workplace: Decision-makers expect to see increased use of video meetings (66 per cent), collaboration applications (59 per cent) and collaboration devices (47 per cent) in a post-pandemic world.

Video meetings are here to stay

It also means video meetings are here to stay — the survey found that 98 per cent of respondents expect meetings in the office will include participants joining from home.

But, as many of us have experienced over the past year, this remote meeting experience still leaves much to be desired. Virtually everyone surveyed (98 per cent) say they’ve experienced frustration during video meetings, with poor audio being the top complaint.

Perhaps some of this frustration arises from the fact that most attendees are using a laptop or mobile phone for both audio and video, without dedicated equipment. Only a small number of respondents use a dedicated video device such as Cisco Webex DX80 for video (12 per cent) and audio (four per cent).

“Most people have no idea of the impact a purpose-built video device on their desk can have until they’ve tried one. It’s a force multiplier for an engaging, anti-fatiguing, ‘I can do this all day’ experience. Now, you don’t have to be crouched over your laptop at home,” says Javed Khan, senior VP and general manager of Cisco Collaboration, in a blog.

The hybrid workplace after COVID

hybrid workplace

In a companion report to the survey, Embracing the hybrid workplace: Your guide to the new era of work, Cisco contends that the home office will act as an extension of the corporate office. And the trends toward flexibility, virtual collaboration and intelligent office spaces all point toward a hybrid workplace.

The office will still exist, of course, but it will serve a unique purpose: as a place for collaboration, building rapport and creating culture and community. Employees will rotate through this ‘place of collaboration,’ which will have a smaller footprint and more technology-driven intelligent experiences than traditional (aka pre-pandemic) offices.

The building must pivot to meet the needs of employees. Interestingly, though, the use of space will become more unpredictable, according to a blog by Cisco’s Arnaud Caigniet, who leads the Webex Intelligence Workplace initiative at Cisco.

“Employees will now oscillate between the convenience of working from home and the need to meet their colleagues at the coffee machine,” says Caigniet. “What if many employees suddenly turn up at the office on the same day and at the same time? If people already found it challenging to find a place to meet before restrictions were enforced, then reducing the square footage of real estate would only make it worse.”

If your organization is making this transition — or trying to figure out how to make this transition — Cisco outlines a three-phase blueprint for the hybrid workplace: support remote employees, plan a safe return to the office and deliver intelligent workplace experiences.

Transitioning to a hybrid workplace

In a hybrid workplace, employees will be able to easily switch between messaging, calling and meetings. Dedicated collaboration devices will untether the meeting experience from the laptop, according to Cisco, and AI capabilities will capture action items, reduce distractions and even suppress noise.

According to Cisco, “the most important choice for powering remote teams is choosing the right collaboration platform.” And using AI to help with virtual collaboration could lead to an experience that’s even better than in-person meetings. Yes, really.

Imagine walking into a boardroom at the office, for example, and the room ‘recognizes’ you and queues up your video meeting, without the need to login or even touch a button.

Read more:

How hybrid work will change the post-pandemic office
Reshaping the network for a post-COVID world
How UC can create an in-office experience anywhere

The move to the hybrid workplace is already happening — and inevitable. But as the model matures, new technology solutions can ensure seamless collaboration between remote workers and the office.

Images: asbe/iStock; PeopleImages/iStock

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