When COVID-19 struck, some organizations didn’t find government work from home mandates as disruptive to their operations as others. Some companies, like Buffer, who have been fully remote for 9 years, shed their office space and became digital natives long ago.
But for the majority of the global workforce, the coronavirus pandemic rocked the boat. It has been a watershed moment in organizations’ digital transformation and development - a turning point in their digital maturity.
Out of necessity, they’ve undergone a digital evolution that was predicted to take years in the span of mere months. Though 88% of organizations worldwide were made to work remotely, is the longer-term future of work fully digital?
Will we return to the way things were? Or are we looking at a third way, that involves systemic change to the way we work?
According to Microsoft’s Director of Modern Work and Security, Nick Hedderman, at London Tech’s Week virtual ‘Future of Work’ Summit, the future of the workforce is neither as it was (predominantly office-based), or as it recently has been (fully remote). The future of the workforce is hybrid.
Introducing… The hybrid workforce of the future
Why hybrid and not remote?
The main reason for hybridization is that workforces are made of people, and peoples’ performance is directly tied to their experience.
Cooperation and trust, for example, are important pillars of an employee’s experience, and these are derived from relationships with our colleagues. And to foster trust and cooperation in the first place, a degree of proximity is required.
The numbers tell the same story. Hedderman shared that though 72% of employees expressed a desire to continue working from home, 62% reported they felt less connected.
“Amongst all the hype around remote working, there is still a clear need for human connection. Not everything can be done virtually. And indeed, not everyone can work remotely.” - Nick Hedderman, Microsoft
So if the real future of work is neither in the office, nor at home where Hedderman believes we have been “simply replicating the old way in a digital form”, companies need to transform once again to lay the foundations for a hybrid future.
Businesses must reinvent how work is done - both digitally and physically to achieve true success and “create competitive advantage for many years to come”.
Going from fully remote to hybrid
To successfully make the transition to a hybrid workforce, leadership must take the reins and make sure that the processes are in place for “people to work effectively, regardless of their location”.
Flexibility and agility are key to business success in the future. That is, the ability to respond and to flexibly react to the demands of current context (e.g. COVID-19). To survive whatever lies around the corner, companies must be agile.
Culturally, vision is integral to successfully mobilising your people, wherever they are, however they’re working - “a shared purpose will be the key”. Hedderman also notes that this shared purpose is something that your workforce needs to “come from the top, from the CEOs office” - it needs “to be born of the most senior leaders in the organization”.
HR and IT departments will be integral to its implementation, but your mission and vision, which aligns, motivates and builds loyalty in your workforce, is most powerfully communicated and effective coming from C-Suite.
And then we come to the subject of skills - bridging skills gaps, upskilling and reskilling your workforce. How will you make sure your people have the skills they need to perform to their full potential, no matter where they are?
The secret lies in technology. In having the right “platform in place” to facilitate flexible working, seamless communication, effective learning, vision-alignment, and a strong culture in the age of the hybrid workforce.
Technology to the front
“How do we use technology to make processes more efficient, open and collaborative. And how can manual or physical processes be replicated, in digital forms?” - Nick Hedderman, Microsoft
The adoption of Software as a Service (SaaS) tech and solutions by companies since the start of the pandemic has been a huge trend. Every day there are 5 billion meeting minutes on Microsoft Teams.
Over the course of 15 days in March, communication tool Slack’s number of users rose by 2.5 million. Video-conferencing software Zoom’s revenue grew 355% in its first quarter.
This rapid adoption of new technologies has been the case for a range of reasons, such as:
Replicating the human touch
Keeping communication flat, instant and open
Optimising workforce productivity and empowering employees to work just as effectively wherever, whenever and however they are working
But technology hasn’t just been adopted because it’s been the only option given our circumstances. Technology lies at the heart of improving the old way of working.
There are certain things that organizations need to do to succeed, like carry out data-based decision-making. Only with the helping hand of technology can organizations effectively “gather insights” from large swathes of data “to identify trends and to determine the best course of action”.
It’s also only with technology that organizations can successfully “connect workers on the frontline, with those in the back office, or head office”, or “recruit, onboard and manage talent remotely” and “teach people the right skills”.
With a shift to remote work there’s also an emphasis on leveraging technology to protect data, and enable people to not just seamlessly, but “securely work from anywhere”.
And the best part is companies ready to step into the future don’t need to wait around for this software to be created - it already exists.
Our product, eduMe, for example, is a mobile-based training platform that gives your workforce the knowledge they need to succeed, no matter where they are or how they are working.
It empowers you to empower them with accessible, timely and relevant training and information in highly engaging formats - the perfect answer to our impending age of hybridity.