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We Need UCaaS More Than Ever for Hybrid Work: Here’s Why

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As analysts, we track all kinds of trends, and while many only resonate with specific audiences, hybrid work has been pretty universal during 2021. Businesses have had to reinvent themselves on many levels, workers have had to adapt on the fly, and vendors are still trying to figure out what the market truly needs. We have more questions than answers, and it seems like we have a long way to go to find the right balance between returning to the office and working from home.
 
With so much uncertainty about what we think people want, market studies can provide some levity with metrics that quantify the issues, along with how strongly people feel about them. We’ll never get all the answers in one report. But earlier this month, RingCentral published its Return to Work Study, with some telling data about how different workers and employers feel about hybrid work issues. With 9,000 responses across five industrialized markets, it’s a pretty timely snapshot for what lies ahead in 2022. For this post, I’m going to distill the essence of the study into three key themes.
 
Theme One: Hybrid work is about how and where, not what and when
We often hear about how important flexibility is for hybrid work, and this has a lot to do with giving workers agency in choosing where they work from and how their work gets done. Most don’t mind going back to the office—so long as it’s good for them, the environment is safe, and they have a choice about mixing that with home-based work.
 
Rather than focusing on the nature of work and what workers do, the key driver for a successful hybrid work environment is granting workers and employers shared control. A widely cited data point from the RingCentral study is that 52% of workers would “rather wash dishes” than have to commute back to the office. That speaks volumes about the hassle of commuting, which has long been a necessary evil (for many) to stay employed.
 
Perhaps a more telling find is that one-third of employees would leave their job if forced back to the office. While this could turn out to be an empty threat, it speaks to the importance of workers having a choice and being part of the solution for making hybrid work actually work.
 
Going into 2022, most of us — well, knowledge workers anyway — have had plenty of time to acclimatize to work from home, and clearly, many prefer it. The RingCentral data supports that, with 50% saying they are happier now in their work, 60% saying they don’t feel isolated working this way, and 56% saying they would rather work from home than the office. One could dismiss these sentiments as being in a state of mind where the grass is always greener on the other side, but unilaterally turning back the clock to pre-pandemic office-based times will be swimming upstream for employers.
 
Theme two: Workplace needs are multi-layered, not monolithic
The intent of RingCentral’s survey wasn’t to fully define the makeup of the workplace and the workforce, but several data points illustrate how complex these notions are. For example, “The Great Resignation” is a hot topic now, and while the sentiment raises all kinds of existential angst, it’s wildly over-used and over-stated. The dynamics at play are highly nuanced, where broad generalizations over-simplify the realities.
 
This topic merits another analysis altogether. But the RingCentral data provides enough support for my second theme — namely that a hybrid work strategy cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. We all know that certain jobs have to be office-based, while others are location-independent. Similarly, some people cannot work in remote, unsupervised settings, while others thrive working this way. To say that workplace and workforce dynamics are complicated would be an understatement, and to illustrate, consider the three following examples from the study:
  1. One of the main vectors for segmenting the research data was workers and “decision-makers,” with the latter being akin to what I refer to as managers. Whatever labels you choose, the differences between these two fundamental groups are central to the workplace dynamic. As noted above, 60% overall do not feel isolated working remotely, but the level of isolation differs noticeably along these lines. While only 34% of workers feel isolated working this way, the level is higher for managers at 46%. The freedom that comes with working at home may feel great for workers, but it’s a source of anxiety for managers since this makes their job harder to do. When it comes to developing a hybrid work strategy — you must recognize that the needs and wants of workers and managers won’t always align. Another related example is a preference for working in an office setting, which is higher for managers than for workers, at 49% and 38%, respectively.
  2. Age-based demographics may well be the most critical factor in the success of hybrid work, requiring much further analysis beyond the scope of this article. Here’s one data set which hints at how central the generational divide is to managing today’s workplace dynamics. Regarding the issue of considering employment elsewhere if forced back to the office, that sentiment is much higher among millennials and Generation Z than among Gen X and Boomers, at 43% and 24%, respectively. To the extent your organization has a healthy mix of these demographic groupings, you’re going to need flexible hybrid work policies to keep them happy.
  3. A more subtle delineation arises between employees who are parents or non-parents, especially those dealing with young children and daycare. Not surprisingly, policies forcing workers back to the office will be much more likely to lead parents to consider working elsewhere than those who don’t have children — 46% versus 27%. While single-issue factors like this cannot dictate your entire hybrid work plan, they certainly must be considered, and this one is a good example of how complex workplace dynamics are.
 
Theme three: We need UCaaS more than ever
Vendors like RingCentral conduct these surveys for a reason, and not surprisingly, several findings support the value of unified communications as a service (UCaaS). I’m not writing this article to draw attention to RingCentral — it does this well enough without my help—but rather to make the distinguished connection between technology and making hybrid work successful.
 
We all know that hybrid work wouldn’t be possible at scale without the cloud, and by extension, platforms like UCaaS. The market has plenty of alternatives to RingCentral, so the main takeaway is to validate the value that UCaaS brings. Not only to support everyday communications and workflows but also to make the work from home experience a sustainable option. The following three data points support this statement:
  1. The pandemic has caused a greater reliance on collaboration tools. That may seem self-evident given how widely adopted UCaaS has become during this time, but the strength of support is worth noting. The research spanned five markets, but closest to home, among U.S. workers, 74% felt this way. Vendor motives aside, this finding indicates the importance of choosing the right UCaaS solution to support your hybrid work plans.
  2. 69% of respondents feel that connecting remotely via voice or video calling is as good as gathering in-person for their workday tasks. It may not be realistic to see this level approach 100%, but with seven in 10 people feeling this way now, that’s great validation for the value of UCaaS. Because most home spaces aren't naturally well-equipped for full-time work, UCaaS plays a critical role in bridging the gap between being in the office and making work from home viable in the long run.
  3. 78% who use voice communications “say they feel more connected to each other.” This data isn’t a breakthrough. But it reflects an important theme in RingCentral’s study — namely, the importance of human connection. As workplace solutions become more technology-driven, the human factor is easy to overlook. AI will inevitably automate most of our work, but that’s a long way off, and right now, businesses are just trying to make hybrid work go well. Today, work is still about people connecting with people, and at its core, UCaaS needs to provide a valuable voice experience. When planning your hybrid work strategy, IT leaders want reliable and high-quality voice service from UCaaS. But it will also be critical to recognize how that experience helps bridge the spaces of home and office to make people feel connected across all workplace settings.

BCStrategies

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.

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