Yes, we’re smack-dab in the middle of Enterprise Connect 2021
, but it’s never too late to get excited for Enterprise Connect 2022.
Fingers crossed, next year’s event looks different from this week in one major way – more workers return to the office. My fervent hope is that when Enterprise Connect convenes for its planned in-person event in March 2022, much of the discussion at that time will be about the return to the office based on real-life experiences, with people able to share best practices about the new hybrid workforce and workplace.
While workers in some European countries have gradually returned to the workplace, the Delta variant has prevented many U.S. businesses from opening their doors as anticipated. Organizations are currently planning for changes that the new hybrid workplace will bring and how to optimize hybrid work for employees, managers, customers, and the business as a whole—but this is brand new territory for most.
Of late, I’ve participated in several panel discussions about the post-COVID workplace. Frankly, none of us know what to expect, as things keep changing—especially as we learn more about how COVID-19 is and isn’t transmitted and what is or isn’t safe.
For example, in the early days of the pandemic, most of us frantically cleaned and disinfected our groceries before learning that the virus isn’t transmitted through touch. In the workplace, vendors began offering tools for touchless meeting rooms, using voice control to start and end meetings rather than using keypads on physical devices. While these capabilities are practical, the jury is out on whether they’re necessary to ensure worker safety.
The past 18 months have been one big experiment that we all assumed would be temporary. Out of necessity, most organizations rose to the occasion and found ways to accommodate the new remote workforce. Cloud-based unified communications and collaboration tools, and of course videoconferencing, proved their value, and organizations that had already deployed these technologies were one giant step ahead. As we move to the next stage, organizations must think more long-term and strategically, rather than tactically.
Collaborating was easier in many ways when everyone was remote because organizations supported virtual workers with meeting and collaboration tools and technologies designed for remote work. But when a portion of workers are on-site, and others are offsite, collaboration is more challenging.
Based on my research, I expect 33% of workers to be back in the workplace full time, 33% will be remote full time, and 33% will be in the workplace two to three days a week and remote the rest of the time. These in-office days will be used for collaboration and brainstorming, meeting with customers, and performing tasks that aren’t effective when executed remotely.
The future workplace will be hybrid, no doubt. But as noted above, it’s still new territory for most organizations. As mentioned, my hope for Enterprise Connect 2022 is that it covers best practices, case studies, and tips about what works and what doesn’t in the hybrid workplace based on real-life experiences in the following areas:
- Meetings: How have companies successfully democratized meetings to provide an equivalent experience for all users regardless of location? Many vendors use AI and various screen layouts to improve participants’ views of shared content and remote attendees. Meanwhile, meeting room cameras automatically frame attendees and follow the active speaker as they move around the room. I’d like to hear about user experiences and how everyone can feel like equal participants. Many issues revolve around how businesses can (most effectively) use physical or digital whiteboards in hybrid meetings, how remote and onsite meeting participants raise their hands to be seen and noticed equally, in addition to how in-room participants join in the virtual chats. Over time, more issues are sure to come to light.
- Brainstorming and “water cooler” experiences: How are organizations supporting ad-hoc encounters for remote workers? How are they being brought into spontaneous discussions and brainstorming?
- Socialization: Many organizations are still working hard to ensure the well-being of workers by providing ways to socialize with colleagues virtually. Zoom “happy hours” and other virtual team-building activities replaced Friday afternoon pizza and beer at the office. With everyone being virtual, organizations found ways to be creative and enable informal socialization. Socialization will be more difficult in the new hybrid world, in which some people will be able to socialize face to face while remote workers will be at a disadvantage. What ways have organizations found to include both onsite and offsite workers for social and teambuilding activities?
- Physical spaces: How have businesses transformed their physical spaces to enable the new hybrid workforce?
These issues are just a sampling of what companies will deal with as they (hopefully) transition back to the office and settle into hybrid working. In the next few months, there will be many success stories, as well as cautionary tales of good ideas that went awry. Let’s work together to share best practices and learn from each other as we move forward.
This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.