July 12, 2022
(This article was originally published in June 2021)
To say COVID-19 rocked the way we work is an understatement. Since March of 2020, COVID-19 tore through the world, forcing thousands of companies and millions of employees to embrace remote work/school. Today, the availability of vaccines and significantly lower infection rates are facilitating a gradual return to the world of corporate office spaces, real pants, and dependable water-cooler chatter. The “new normal” (insert eyeroll) most certainly includes elements of live pre-pandemic, but with significant changes.
Rather than flocking back to offices full-time, an increasingly popular hybrid model allows workers to spend part of their week at home. At a recent Bloomberg Future of Work seminar, IBM executive officer Arvind Krishna said that 80 percent of the company’s more than 345,000 employees in 175 countries plan to remain hybrid. And in a Zoom Video Communications report, 65 percent of U.S. companies surveyed were leaning toward embracing a more flexible working model.
For lots of employees who’ve grown to appreciate the freedom and flexibility of remote work, that’s great news. When Robert Half conducted a survey in April, one-third of respondents said a forced full-time return to the office would lead them to seek out new jobs. Another survey, by Morning Consult, revealed a similar level of enthusiasm for the hybrid system: 87 percent of respondents wanted to work at least one day from home, and half of them said they’d look elsewhere for work if that’s not possible.
Of course, not everyone’s thrilled about this trend. Clear and effective communication is at the core of every successful business. When that communication is done largely via video, phone, email and chat, critics worry it will break down and have a deleterious ripple effect across the enterprise. A survey by VitalSmarts found that “people are more than twice as likely to avoid speaking up about concerns with colleagues and managers virtually than when they worked together in person. In the past year, this silence has led to more unresolved issues that harm both the employee and the organization’s bottom line.”
The survey also revealed this: “Top frustrations for remote employees include colleagues and managers not following through with commitments, making changes to projects unilaterally or without warning, and giving half-hearted commitment to their priorities.”
But hybrid work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which means effective communication technology is more crucial than ever. Various collaboration tools — like Microsoft Teams* and its add-on service Microsoft Calling, for instance — help employers and employees stay connected and on the same page. Per a description by Gartner, where Microsoft Teams is a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) Magic Quadrant Leader for the second consecutive year, “Microsoft Teams has the most complete set of integrations with Microsoft’s Office 365 services and applications. Microsoft Teams is itself “built” from many Office 365 services and applications, such as Azure Active Directory, SharePoint, OneDrive and Exchange Online. Teams Calling adds another layer of capability that includes features like contact center integration, auto attendant, cloud voicemail, compliance recording, direct routing, call queues, and audio conferencing. Gartner reports “collaboration features for messaging and meetings fully satisfy a significant percentage of the user base in organizations that want to add enterprise telephony at a low additional cost to that of an E1 or E3 license. You can call colleagues, customers, or anyone else with a phone number, and move seamlessly between chat, calling and meetings, depending on your needs in that moment.”
No matter what type or brand of communications technology a business uses, it’s all about closing the gap — making remote communication as effective or at least almost as effective as in-person. And while that may seem fraught with difficulties to some of those in the know — “It could be absolutely chaotic,” as one Dell executive recently put it. “That’s our fear, that actually [companies] haven’t pulled together a hybrid working strategy” — it’s a challenge that must be met soon, if it hasn’t been addressed already.
“The worst thing an organization can do now is to close your eyes, cover your ears and imagine you can try to go back to how it was before,” Peggie Rothe, chief insights and research officer at Leesman told Bloomberg. “Because if you do that, you’re going to go backwards.”
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