With the increased spread of vaccine roll-outs and the easing of public health restrictions that come with it, many of us will be transitioning from a fully remote work set up to a more flexible hybrid model. While this could be a welcome shift, it raises the question of what we mean when we talk about hybrid, how it will impact our work-lives, and why audience engagement is the key to making hybrid work.
“Hybrid work”, “hybrid”, and “flexible working” among a roster of other phrases have become a big part of the current conversation around the future of work, as we ease out of lockdowns and fully remote working, and move into a more open - more “normal” - mode of working. But not back to 100% in-office.
Part of the difficulty of engaging in this conversation has been a confusion over what hybrid means. Companies are positioning themselves and people are writing think-pieces on hybrid and the future of work, but often they don’t take the time to define what they think hybrid actually means. This has proved to be something of a challenge, and is not as straightforward as it may seem. The reason why the thinking around hybrid can be considered a conversation - and a conversation that is ongoing - is because it is much more difficult to define and the strategic choices of many companies are being planned in consultation with employees.
Part of the challenge of defining what hybrid is is that it exists in a sliding-scale grey area between two extremes. It is simple enough to understand what it means to be 100% in-office or working fully remote. Also, the first of these was the received norm, while the other was enforced by public health policy, so neither required much consideration or consultation. One was simply the norm, the other a necessary reaction. This next step many companies will take into the future of work towards a hybrid model has been much more considered and strategic. Do we open offices again and make attendance entirely voluntary, or make being back in the office an expectation? These are questions that ultimately rest with the organizations themselves, and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. The specifics of hybrid will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Whichever end of the sliding scale organizations lean towards, certain challenges will need to be met and changes will need to be made. The still relatively recent innovation of stable video conferencing software like Zoom and collaboration tools like Slack made an abrupt transition from in-office to remote work possible, but the move to hybrid work presents a new problem of an engagement gap forming in the hybrid divide between the two groups.
The separation between those present in the office and those who opt to continue working remotely runs the risk of creating a digital divide, where those who are in office can engage and collaborate more effectively, leaving those working from home to lag behind and get overlooked for praise and promotion. The phenomenon of vital information passing from one colleague to the other between meetings rather than in them is well documented, and a serious challenge for workplace inclusivity in the hybrid workplace. Digital tools hold the key to making hybrid work work. Organizations need to invest in technological solutions in order to bridge the physical and digital worlds. Building on existing levels of digital literacy and fluency is also a key goal for companies that want to keep their teams productive and stay competitive. The intensity of this digital shift also risks an over immersion in technology that risks an increase in the digital exhaustion that many are already experiencing.
In any case we will all likely continue to rely heavily on the likes of Teams and Zoom to facilitate our meetings, and on Slack to help us collaborate throughout the day. But, as we experience a greater separation between those who are present in the room and those who are joining remotely, it is important to make a greater effort to engage those who are working remotely as well as those who are in the room. We need to facilitate interaction between speakers and audiences, and between colleagues in a way that is inclusive of both in-office and remote people. Coupled with this, we need to place greater emphasis on fighting digital burnout, Zoom fatigue, and death-by-Powerpoint. We can make all of our work-lives more enjoyable by making meetings more fun, a pleasure rather than a chore.
With Mentimeter you have the capacity to include everyone in the meeting - in-person or remote - on a level playing field. Their engagements and interactions with the speaker as well as with each other are equivalent and given equal weight and attention. Engaging with your audience in meetings is the key to drawing on all of the expertise in the room, even if some people aren’t in the room. Giving people the opportunity to have their voice heard means that no one is overlooked, and no great idea goes unheard.