In its latest Future Forum Pulse, Slack proclaims the Remote vs. Office debate is over. The Winner? Both! The international survey found 58% of knowledge workers are in hybrid work arrangements.
This surprises exactly no one. If you give 21st-century humans a choice, they’re always going to pick Both/And. More options, more flexibility. And in the work world, there are concrete reasons why hybrid is best. To get work done, people are constantly bouncing between 3 states:
- Together = Sharing physical and/or virtual space, collaborating in real-time
- Connected = Asynchronous collaboration (internet-enabled emails, research, file sharing, etc.)
- Alone = In your head, cranking it out on your own
The traditional, pre-pandemic office was good at 1 & 2, terrible at 3. The last 2 years of work-from-home were made for 3 (well, unless you have kids), got marginally better at 2, and struggled with 1. Hybrid should rock all three and facilitate smooth transitions between them. But doing hybrid right requires a lot more intention and coordination than its predecessor work states. You’re basically curating a unique work experience for each employee.
Getting Hybrid Work Right
Info-Tech’s #1 Tech Trend of 2022 is Hybrid Collaboration. Their survey reports 79% of organizations will have a mix of office and remote workers. So, obviously, you must “provide a digital employee experience that is flexible, contextual, and free from friction . . . enable productive, diverse, and inclusive talent ecosystems.”
“…provide a digital employee experience that is flexible, contextual, and free from friction…enable productive, diverse, and inclusive talent ecosystems.”
They definitely hit all of today’s human resources buzzwords and provide us with a handy chart of what their survey respondents plan to invest in to achieve hybrid collaboration nirvana:
|Document Collaboration and Co-Authoring||39%|
|Project and Task Management Tools||36%|
|Office Meeting Room Solutions||35%|
|Enterprise Social Networking||19%|
But for tactical tips on how to create that productive, diverse and inclusive hybrid workspace, I recommend Hybrid Office: Digital, Smart and Real. In this CMSWire article, our Chief Innovation Officer Tim Kulp says it all starts with presence equity. Assure each team member: “You matter no matter where your matter is.” Building presence equity requires investing in virtual collaboration technology and using it intentionally. For example, have a remote team member lead the meeting to avoid falling into old office-centric habits. Or try buddying up your hybrid employees, accountability partners with a twist: one is remote and the other is in-person. They can fill each other in on what happened around the watercooler and in the Teams chat.
Microsoft Helps with Hybrid
Microsoft has been synonymous with work technology for decades, so of course it is at the forefront of developing software that helps us navigate our new hybrid work reality. Several of these tools were spotlighted at last November’s Ignite conference. I want to focus on 3 in particular, all accessible within business communication platform Microsoft Teams:
- Microsoft Loop: As a product manager, I know a little something about organizing product and project development, that messy time when ideas are flowing and iterating and you’re just trying to keep track of it all. Loop is an organizer’s dream for this phase of work now that it’s happening as hybrid collaboration. Loop pulls all the components of a project from wherever they live across your MS 365 ecosystem into what Microsoft calls a flexible canvas with digital workspaces, pages (links, files, data) and components (lists, tables, notes).
- Microsoft Viva: If Loop helps you organize hybrid work projects, Viva helps you organize your hybrid work self. It is an employee experience platform where your employees can connect with company news, professional development/learning modules, and even their own psyches. Viva Insights offers individualized tips on how to increase productivity and carve out focus time. And now, via a partnership with Headspace, users can access guided meditations to get centered and be present.
- Microsoft Mesh: You knew I’d have to hit the metaverse at some point in this post, and there’s more coming up below. Mesh is Microsoft’s tool for blending our digital and physical realities. People can join Teams meetings as customized avatars, meshing 2D with 3D and even exploring immersive digital spaces. I feel you rolling your eyes, but stay with me here…
MOM in the Metaverse
I appreciate healthy skepticism of Facebook/Meta’s fan fiction demo videos filled with holograms and hipster avatars. Who knows whether these predictions will pan out? But both U.S. News and The Guardian have recently reported on how finance, retail and medicine are already embracing the metaverse as it currently exists.
Avatars are no longer the silly indulgences of gamers living in their parents’ basements. There are real business reasons to use them. In this Forbes piece, David Rose uses quadrants to plot out the various ways your team can present themselves digitally and which representations work best for different business purposes (customer service vs. sales pitch vs. product design workshop). Research finds people better retain and trust information presented with avatars than without. Finally, as Accenture CHRO Ellyn Shook explains here at the 25-minute mark of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s latest Ignite keynote, avatars build presence equity and combat Zoom fatigue. Coworkers and clients feel your presence and read your nonverbal cues without you having to worry about your physical surroundings or what kind of hair day you’re having.
Here at Mind Over Machines, our Innovation Team has been experimenting with meeting in the metaverse. Yes, the VR headsets are cumbersome and WFH bandwidth can be a constraint, but it does open up immersive worlds of possibility. Each VR destination gives you new things to see and explore, rather than the same 4 walls you’ve been staring at for 2 years now. The metaverse enhances our work environment and remote employee interactions, which is exactly what creatives need to spark innovation.
Right now, our team is using the metaverse as a springboard to new ideas, but there are many additional business use cases. Mixed reality provides immersive training experiences, cost-effective ways to develop product prototypes, and lots of new retail spaces. HBR just published a how-to guide for brands entering the metaverse.
Making Hybrid Work for You
Your company’s hybrid work experience should enable and integrate the 3 different work environments your people need to maximize job performance. The right hybrid work tools, used with intention, make every employee feel valued, regardless of where/how they’re getting work done. And when people feel valued, they are free to accomplish great things.
Do you know what else frees people to do great things? Automation as a Service, which just happens to be the topic of our next post. If you are ready to offload all that repetitive busywork, but don’t have the bandwidth to train and maintain the bots, this blog’s for you! Stay tuned.
Amanda Milo learned the value of kindness and empathy from her parents when she was growing up in central Pennsylvania. Now, as a Senior Product Manager, empathy is the superpower she employs every day to understand people’s needs and motivate her team to meet those needs. Before joining MOM, Amanda used her superpower to improve patient and provider experience for over a decade in the health care industry.
In addition to being an empathic problem-solver, Amanda is also a creative who loves to work with her hands and design human-centric solutions to process problems. She believes learning is the greatest form of self-investment, a motto she lived out by earning an MBA to grow her business development skills.
When Amanda isn’t developing solutions, skills and businesses, she’s enjoying the great outdoors with Molly, her 11-year-old shepherd chow mix. She also loves spending time with friends and family, traveling, golfing, biking and skiing.