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Getting Beyond the Hybrid Work Culture Wars

The battle over return-to-office (RTO) appears to be dying down, at least at an overall cultural level. The number of public debate, pronouncements, and CEO threats seems markedly lower in 2024 than we saw last year. This is definitely a your-mileage-may-vary situation: I’m sure there are enterprises where the battle rages on. But for our industry, moving ahead with AV and meeting rooms means planning for a hybrid work future where the office must complement the virtual meeting infrastructure.

This week on No Jitter, Prachi Nema, principal analyst at Omdia, looked at the AV systems and capabilities that are most likely to advance enterprises’ hybrid work strategies and make the office an appealing place to collaborate in an era when every work day is likely to include at least one virtual meeting. Her analysis is definitely worth a read.

The article takes off from some research Nema presented at Enterprise Connect 2024 last month, in a session on the future of meetings. Among the findings she shared in Orlando is the fundamental truth that, whatever else is going on with RTO, the vast majority of workers come into the office because they’re ordered to. When Omdia asked enterprise leaders, “Why do your knowledge workers come into the office?” 77% said it’s required by company policy. Among the other reasons, 44% cited in-person collaboration, and 38% said it was to handle “emails and other desk-based work.”

Some of the drivers touted during the early years of hybrid work come in significantly lower. Just 30% come in for company events, 28% for mentoring, and 17% for socializing. Enterprise leaders have spent years now beating the drum for “company culture,” but most workers seem to have tuned them out on that point.

The findings Nema presented at Enterprise Connect suggest that enterprises believe technology advances can help make a difference in the modern meeting room experience. One data point I found interesting was a question about the limitations of traditional meeting rooms. Omdia’s respondents cited a lack of newer features as more of an obstacle than the challenges imposed by legacy systems: The top two responses were “Lack of meeting room automation” and “No ideation solution.” Further down the list were, “Still have legacy meeting room equipment” and “Lack of interoperability between meeting platforms.”

So while the RTO battles may be in an uneasy truce, there does seem to be reason for optimism that enterprises want to continue to improve the in-person meeting room experience, subject to whatever budget and real estate issues a particular enterprise may be grappling with. Hybrid work will continue to evolve, and the in-person component will continue to be an important element.