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Hybrid Work Support Remains a Moving Target


Photo showing virtual meeting with some people in office others remote
Source: Andrey Popov -

One of the most frustrating things about hybrid work is that it’s been such a moving target: Are workers coming back to the office or not? Are people actually going to heed the CEO’s order to be in the office two/three/five days a week? Can employees really just not do what the CEO decrees? (Apparently so, in some cases.)

But even in a perfect environment for hybrid work—one where the vision and ground rules are clear, employees buy in to the schedule, then actually follow through—you’re still dealing with a moving target when it comes to provisioning communications technology for this new environment. That’s because people’s jobs, and thus their communications needs, may not stay the same for long.

That was one of my big takeaways from the Enterprise Summit at Enterprise Connect 2023 last month, when we brought a panel of top enterprise communications/IT decision-makers to the keynote stage. Our panelists agreed that it’s important to define user personas in order to deliver the right communications services for the right end user. But as panelist Brian Dibrell, vice president, associate technology experience at Humana put it, “For anyone that’s tried to not just define, but manage and keep evergreen your personas, it’s a very difficult challenge.”

Back-end usage data generated by the collaboration platform can help in understanding what’s working for different users, said Julio Pereira, senior director leader at Florida-based energy company World Fuel Services--a point that Dibrell echoed.

“What is the data telling us about whether our hybrid work and in-office strategy is really working or not?” Dibrell said. “It’s at the core of what you should be doing. You’ve got to have measures that are going to prove out what you believe. Data has to be at the core.”

For Shival Seth, chief technology officer at Grand River Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital in Ontario, Canada, analytics data like how many people are turning on their cameras needs to be viewed alongside troubleshooting data that tracks issues like bad audio or connectivity, which naturally erode the effectiveness of communications.

At the same time, enterprises should pair system data with more subjective metrics derived from sources like pulse surveys, noted panelist JoDe Beitler, technical director at the University of Pennsylvania. But even this can be imperfect, since the enterprise may not have collected similar data pre-pandemic, when remote work was rarer. “One of the things we have to be careful about is, some of the questions in the survey have to do with how you are receiving feedback, and are you getting timely feedback from your supervisor in this environment? But the problem is that we don’t have those metrics from before.”

And deploying the technology in the middle of issues around work culture can complicate matters even further. When discussion turned to total cost of ownership for collaboration platforms and how TCO is measured, I asked the panel whether productivity in a hybrid work setting now needs to be considered in the TCO equation. That drew a wry response from Dibrell.

“You hit a trigger, just to be candid,” he said. “I think productivity’s actually the wrong question. It’s really about, are our teams staying as collaborative and as effective as they need to be? There’s a new leadership paradigm emerging very quickly--you’ve got to understand how your teams are being effective at meeting outcomes. When we talk about productivity, were those same leaders looking over the shoulder of their employees two years ago?”

Ultimately, this is about how well the collaboration technologies deliver a hybrid work experience that keeps workers as happy and engaged as possible. Understanding these factors in any given enterprise will likely require IT organizations to develop metrics around what makes for strong employee engagement in the first place: If, say, 50% of the people keep their cameras off 75% of the time, is that a sign of disengagement, an indication bad network performance--or did the latter lead to the former? Or it is this lack of on-camera time actually not a problem at all? How do you collect the data that will tell you the answers to those questions?

So the moving target of employee engagement in hybrid work will continue its journey, albeit along a different trajectory than what characterized the earlier days. Enterprise IT organizations will have a lot to keep up with.

A final note: We hosted a second main-stage session on hybrid work that yielded its own set of insights, which I’ll talk more about in next week’s piece.