For well over a century, the modern office workplace paradigm has remained unchallenged. While online technologies contributed to a recent rise in the number of freelancers who follow a “work from anywhere/home” ethos, most businesses still relied on the traditional office workplace model.
But this has been challenged by the global COVID-19 pandemic - firms have been forced to allow their staff to work from home. As a result, hybrid workplace arrangements have become the norm. With the future of the pandemic still clouded in uncertainty, the hybrid workplace seems to be here for the long haul.
Maintaining high workplace morale and employee engagement levels are both difficult tasks in an office. In a hybrid workplace, this gets even harder due to the communication challenges. Firms need to put in extra effort to maintain a connection with employees and provide additional support during these stressful times.
What is a Hybrid Workplace?
A hybrid workplace is an arrangement where an organisation combines office work with remote work. While some individuals, especially those involved in core tasks, work from the office, others can opt for a work from home arrangement.
Though this system quickly achieved mainstream adoption due to the pandemic, the technologies that make it feasible have been available for several years now. Businesses have tended to shy away from it due to concerns regarding productivity, erosion of work ethic, and challenges relating to team spirit.
Hybrid workplaces make heavy use of the internet for communication. Online video conferencing, collaboration platforms, and other specialised software are used to ensure coordination and communication between dispersed teams.
Benefits of Hybrid Workplaces
A hybrid workplace can have the following benefits and advantages over working from the office alone.
1. Employee Benefits
Given the ongoing pandemic situation, it is important to highlight the biggest benefit for staff from hybrid workplaces – increased protection against viral infection. On top of that, employees have also reported other quality of life improvements.
Without the need for long commutes, people can cut costs and use the time saved on other aspects of their life. This, combined with relatively more flexible work hours, help individuals maintain a healthier work-life balance.
2. Productivity Benefits
During the early days of the pandemic, one of the key concerns of organisations forced to embrace remote work was its potential impact on employee productivity. Such fears were found to be exaggerated as multiple surveys showed that productivity actually improved with working from home arrangements.
There are several factors behind this – a lot can be attributed to the range of employee benefits mentioned previously. It is a well-established fact that individuals who maintain a healthy work-life balance tend to be more productive.
On top of that, the hybrid workplace puts more emphasis on employee autonomy – with less micromanagement, individuals are encouraged to become more proactive, responsible, and accountable as well.
3. Cost and HR Benefits
Office space is expensive to acquire and maintain. In a hybrid workplace, organisations can opt to downsize existing offices and sell/lease surplus real estate. In an adverse economic climate, the cost savings from this could come in very handy, especially for smaller firms.
In a traditional office framework, the HR department has severe limitations in hiring talented workers. They can only hire those who are able/willing to commute to the office daily. With a hybrid setup, HR has a wider talent pool to recruit from.
The Role of Technology in a Hybrid Workplace
There would be no efficient and productive deployment of a hybrid workplace without modern information technology. The entire model is built around an online network within the organisation that connects everyone – this is the “intranet”.
By definition, an intranet is any private digital network used by organisations for secure communications between employees and management. It is used for everything, from data storage to collaboration between teams, sharing of news and updates, employee socialisation and more.
In the pre-pandemic days, the intranet was predominantly used in an office setting, through office PCs, laptops, and other employee-owned mobile devices. But with some tweaks and security precautions, the system can easily accommodate a hybrid workplace.
In this new context, intranet technology can be used to improve employee engagement in the following ways.
1. Acts as the Central Information Repository
Departments and teams separated by physical distancing need a reliable and accessible central repository of information. This includes any new updates from senior management, department-level reports, marketing and sales content, blogs, and other important company data.
Having everything in one location helps improve collaboration and productivity. It also facilitates fast and efficient communication between the firm and its employees, which is always crucial for morale and focus. The addition of social components, such as employee chat threads and feedback loops, will help increase employee engagement in a hybrid workplace.
2. Delivers Targeted/Personalised Online Experiences
In e-commerce circles, the personalisation of customer experiences is a watchword. Something similar can also be applied within an organisation, aimed towards employees. Using smart segmentation tools, managers can ensure that employees only get highly relevant and project-critical messages.
Acting like an internal spam filter, this arrangement is great for both increased productivity and data security. It ensures that sensitive data is restricted to employees who have the requisite clearance and administrative privileges. In a hybrid workplace, where half the staff is working off external networks and personal devices, this is of massive significance.
3. Enables Smart Analysis of Employee Experiences
Much like on the internet, a business intranet can also accumulate a ton of user data based on how people use its different services and features. Organisations can conduct data analysis to gain vital insights into employee productivity and engagement levels. These insights can be used to improve existing communication and collaboration tools to help your employees work better.
4. Facilitates Remote Onboarding
Hybrid workplaces allow firms to hire employees who may even be located overseas. Even when hiring local talent, the pandemic restrictions can prevent firms from completing onboarding in-person at the office. An intranet can fill in the gaps here, providing access to a wide range of training content. HR can use training videos, instant chat, and video conferencing to introduce new employees to their co-workers and senior managers. Office chat groups and other collaboration spaces will also help in bringing newcomers up to speed, remotely.
Is Your Organisation Prepared to Support a Hybrid Workplace?
The widespread embrace of the hybrid workplace is surely one of the few positive side-effects of the global pandemic. It is a win-win situation for business organisations and their employees. The one major caveat is that in order to be effective, a hybrid workplace needs significant investment in online technologies. How well-prepared is your organisation to handle the demands of a hybrid workplace? See these 6 tactics to modernise your intranet to ensure that it’s used effectively and contributes to an increase in employee productivity.