The hybrid workplace environment—where employees continue to work from home but also regularly go into the office—is emerging as the “new normal” as companies rethink what the workplace looks like post-pandemic.
“Hybrid will be the go-to for many, many businesses, and software tools are what make it possible,” says Bruce Hogan, CEO of New York City-based SoftwarePundit.
In a May survey, 77% of corporate leaders said they expect to have a hybrid model in place a year from now. Are you thinking about creating a hybrid model for your small business? Here’s what tech experts say you should do to make that model hum:
1. Choose “seamless” solutions
During the pandemic, tech tools have played a huge role in allowing businesses to operate efficiently by enabling virtual meetings, facilitating the sharing of critical data instantly and monitoring employee performance. A well-considered hybrid model will build on that.
Hogan says tech tools can support the hybrid workplace by streamlining business workflows. Examples include document-sharing software such as Google Docs or DropBox, which allow employees to share files and access team content from their cellphones, computers or other web browsers. But they also include video conferencing tools, team messaging apps (think Slack) and project-management tools such as Asana or Trello.
Hogan points out that there are software solutions specific to certain industries. As an example, SimplePractice, with 90,000 customers, handles client management, treatment planning, notes and assessments, online booking and scheduling, payroll and insurance for therapists, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists. Jobber, with 100,000 customers, does a similar job for “field service” businesses like electricians, plumbers, lawn care services, pest control firms and roofers.
2. Provide the tools—and the know-how
Business owners should consider giving employees a dedicated laptop, cellphone and compensation for getting high-speed internet at home, according to Diane Gayeski, an Ithaca College professor who leads Gayeski Analytics, which helps organizations assess and adopt new technologies and policies for high-performance workplaces.
“Some organizations will provide a monitor, printer or ergonomic chair,” she says. “At a minimum, provide a laptop. What you don’t want is to tell people to use their own. That’s inviting security issues and all kinds of inconsistencies.”
Another key component: training.
A workplace study of 1,000 employees early this year commissioned by Paycom noted that the majority of those working from home said they could save three hours of productivity a week if they didn’t have to resolve tech- and software-related issues. Even after months of working from home, 80% said technology and access to information continued to be a problem.
“You can institute tools, but if people don’t know how to use them, they will become frustrated or use them poorly,” says Gayeski. “You need to set everything up correctly from the beginning.”
3. Establish rules for the tools
It’s important to set policy and standards that spell out exactly where employees are allowed to work, flexibility as to the hours employees are “at work,” and security and privacy measures like virtual private networks and two-factor authentication software, according to Gayeski.
“A lot of this is about efficiencies and expectations,” she says. As examples: What is the acceptable response time to an email? If working on something at home that’s privacy sensitive, what protocols should be followed? Which tools should be used for which purpose?
“A lot of this is about efficiencies and expectations.”
The policy should also define what “work hours” look like.“Are there days and times when everyone is expected to be in the office or on call? Younger workers, especially, want flexibility and they expect to use the best tool for the task,” Gayeski says. “Don’t impose unreasonable constraints on them but do let them know what you expect. It’s important to be upfront about what the culture and expectations are.”
4. Make cybersecurity a priority
A hybrid workplace calls for due diligence when it comes to keeping data and devices secure from cybercriminals.
Remote work increases a business’ vulnerability to being hacked because in many instances, businesses and their employees are using weakly protected computers in vulnerable networks and locations, says Chase Norlin, CEO of Phoenix-based cybersecurity workforce developer Transmosis.
“It’s common for employees to unknowingly put the entire business’ data at risk, using weak passwords and at-risk home networks, falling for phishing schemes and working from personal devices that aren’t protected,” he says.
The solution? Budgeting for appropriate cybersecurity and cyber liability coverage. “This could very well save a business from closing, keeping it operating effectively and efficiently,” Norlin adds.
While a hybrid workplace can offer businesses the best of both worlds—remote working and in-office interaction—moving to such a model needs to be planned carefully.
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