Hybrid work: how new technologies aim to shake up old practices
The shift to hybrid work over the past two years has raised a range of challenges for businesses – from how to bring teams together remotely to onboarding new employees. Many managers look at the way they have traditionally done things and wonder if there is a better way.
Digital start-ups are answering this question, challenging conventional ways of using technology in the workplace and developing a range of tools aimed at making hybrid work more efficient.
One of the main issues with hybrid workplaces is how difficult it is to replicate the valuable connections we make through face-to-face contact. Many employers have responded by organizing teams to come to the office on specific days. But it can slow down decision-making – the ‘let’s talk about it when we’re at the office’ effect – and leave workplaces alternately overcrowded and nearly empty.
It’s a problem that Tushar Agarwal, co-founder and CEO of Hubble, is trying to solve. “We realized that companies were struggling to find the right balance between office and remote work for their teams, and this was affecting their office budgets,” he says.
Hubble has developed technology that helps employers analyze how their office space is being used and where efficiency gains can be made. Businesses calculate their ideal mix of office space and ‘modulate’ their budget between fixed properties, such as a head office, and building a network of ‘workspaces on demand’ for remote workers, Agarwal explains. The technology then helps employers find and reserve workspaces remotely. It can even design perks for work-from-home teams, like arranging a delivery of cocktail prep kits to employees to replace a Friday beverage cart.
Agarwal estimates that customers saved around 30%, compared to pre-Covid office costs, by switching to the hybrid. Employees can access workspaces closer to their place of residence, if they do not wish to go to the main office. The same applies if several colleagues live in the same neighborhood and wish to work together.
This customization of office space shows the potential of technology to solve the practical problems associated with hybrid working. Other entrepreneurs, like Anna Rasmussen, are trying to overcome the personal barriers created by hybrid work: how to keep employees both happy and productive. Rasmussen is the founder and CEO of OpenBlend, which creates performance management software that combines conventional goals with other factors such as well-being and motivation.
“One of the main issues with hybrid work is that you can’t just walk past people and see how they’re feeling, so if someone is having a hard time you might not know it,” says Rasmussen. .
OpenBlend allows managers and their teams to see the status of a task at any time. It also helps the manager understand what personal factors can affect the success of teamwork.
OpenBlend was launched before the pandemic, but Rasmussen says demand has increased. “With the Great Resignation, we are seeing clients having to integrate many new team members. As a manager, it’s easier to get the most out of your direct reports when you really know them. . . It made the onboarding process easier for everyone, ”she says.
This increased staff turnover also raises pay and benefits issues. Zara Nanu is the co-founder and CEO of Gapsquare, a company that monitors payroll data to ensure a company pays its staff fairly. She says that when employers hire, they often offer a market rate salary, rather than comparing what they pay to other employees doing the same job. This can create pay gaps because the market rate is usually higher than the salary paid internally.
Hybrid work is also exacerbating the pay gap, according to Nanu. “[Pay] Often this is about who is in the meeting or in the office the day a new project is discussed, or who is in the room when a new role is created. What I have seen with many of my clients over the past year is that most of the time the people who still come into the office are men. So we have to ask ourselves how do we build structures to ensure that people are not left behind? “
During the pandemic, the gender pay gap fell on the priority list, with the UK government suspending the requirement for companies to publish pay gap figures. Gapsquare data should allow companies to see if proximity bias affects wages.
Nanu cautions that how information is interpreted depends on who reads it. “We need to look at how businesses use data. Are they going to use it to create fair compensation or will they say “more people should come into the office”? Because we see from the data, the people who come into the office get the promotions. “
Even before the arrival of the Omicron variant, the slow return to many physical workplaces in 2021 shows that staff are unlikely to revert to old ways of working.
As Agarwal puts it: “Before Covid, the office was one-size-fits-all and it didn’t work. During Covid, working from home was one size fits all, and it didn’t work. Post-Covid, the work week will be personalized to the organization, the team and the individual. We’ve seen personalization enter every other aspect of our lives and it’s an incredibly exciting time to finally give employees more power to decide where and how they work.
For Rasmussen, the benefit of new technology in the workplace is that it allows companies to be more agile in their transition to a hybrid work environment. Rather than installing complicated software solutions, individual managers can test them first, she argues.
“You don’t have to have all of these processes or procedures, it’s just two people having a conversation – a better conversation – and it should be the same whether they’re at home or in the office. “