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    The Year of Hybrid: Five Workplace Predictions For 2021

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    By Lieven Bertier, Workplace Segment Director, Barco ClickShare

    The Coronavirus pandemic caused perhaps the biggest and fastest shift in working practices that we’ve ever seen. But while we’re not yet out of the woods with Covid-19, and many businesses are still predominantly working remotely, what’s increasingly clear is that this terrible pandemic will not spell the end of office-based work as we know it.

    Many companies are reviewing their office space requirements in light of the pandemic, and some have even made the move to full remote working indefinitely. But the vast majority of businesses – and more importantly, their employees – are desperate to return to the office, albeit with more freedom to work remotely or from home when needed. This hybrid workplace model was growing in popularity even before the pandemic – Covid-19 has simply acted as a powerful accelerant to an already burgeoning trend.

    Organisations have now seen that a blend of office and home-based work can be achieved to great effect. Once the pandemic has finally been defeated, they know they need to embrace this hybrid approach. With vaccines now rolling out and the end in sight, the big question for 2021 is what companies need to do now to get ahead of the curve.

    Here are Barco’s top trends to watch for in 2021 as we begin the era of hybrid working.

    Employees will demand a hybrid working approach
    Although we’re at the beginning of a new year, the workplace lessons of the last won’t easily be forgotten. There is now a huge desire from employees to get back to the office while having more freedom to work remotely when needed. In our recent global workplace study, Finding a New Balance, employees stated that they ideally want to work from home two days a week and in the office for three.  Whilst some companies have recognised this desire within their workforces and made efforts to embrace hybrid working, many remain underprepared.

    In another study we carried out with 900 companies across five countries, we found that just 50% of workplaces will be ready to implement a hybrid workplace in the next 12 months. More telling however is the fact that just 27% of UK workers felt their office was adequately equipped to support a move to hybrid working should it arise in the future.

    As the rollout of national vaccination programmes finally shows light at the end of the tunnel, companies must invest in hybrid working technology now to meet the expectations of their employees and maintain productivity and engagement. This will be especially important as we begin to navigate the uncertain process of returning to the office. Now is the time for careful and strategic planning, supported by the right technology, to ensure adoption of new ways of working is as smooth as possible.

    The desire for creativity will reshape our offices
    Pre-pandemic, the desire for more traditional meeting rooms was slowly fading away. Neglected in favour of more modern huddle spaces and smaller breakout rooms, the meeting room seemed ready for obsolescence. But the rise of social distancing requirements mandating rooms large enough to keep the 2-metre rule has changed things significantly.

    What’s more, this is a trend that looks likely to stay even after we’ve returned to the office. Our global study found that 50% of employees now prefer formal meeting rooms over huddle spaces and 1 in 3 employees use a standard meeting room or boardroom on a daily basis.

    Part of the reason for this is the serious creativity and collaboration deficit that we’ve felt in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Whilst productivity and efficiency have survived and even thrived, the lack of human connection has been stark, and creativity has taken a nosedive. As we return to physical workspaces, employees desperately want to connect with each other and collaborate in larger groups, making up for the lost time spent working alone during the pandemic. Expect to see offices reconfigured to reinstate larger meeting rooms, prime for brainstorming and group collaboration, which will have a significant impact on the layout of the office of the future.

    People will catch up with technology
    Being thrust into the world of remote working with virtually no warning came with its fair share of challenges. Many workers struggled to get to grips with often completely foreign technology, and do so alone at home without the face-to-face support of IT teams.

    Dutch futurist Gerd Leonhard outlined in his book ‘Technology vs Humanity’ that while trillions of dollars are spent on making the world technologically ‘smarter’, relatively little is spent on getting humans ready for that future. This sentiment was evidenced by the challenges many faced navigating remote working technology. In fact, 2020 may have seen one of the steepest technology learning curves we’ve ever experienced in the history of working life. In our study, 65% of respondents reported having difficulties setting up impromptu remote meetings, and nearly half said they felt that video conferencing didn’t come naturally to them.

    Last year workforces around the world scrambled to understand remote working technology and as a result overlooked some of its more complex attributes. Features such as polling, breakout rooms and other brainstorming techniques which could have led to higher quality meetings were not fully utilised. This year, after nearly 10 months of remote working for some, we expect employees to finally start making the most of the technology available to them.

    2021 will be the year people embrace and understand virtual collaboration technologies and will find it all second nature. Better quality collaboration will take place as a result.

    Generation Next
    In 2020 Gen Z burst into the workplace and changed its culture forever. Unlike any before them, this group largely experienced a remote start to employment, perhaps appropriate for the most digitally native generation to date. Surprisingly however, Gen Z employees place great importance on face-to-face connection: a recent survey found that 83% of Gen Z employees prefer to communicate with their managers in person. This affinity for in-person collaboration coupled with Gen Z’s strong desire for freedom and individuality in the workplace must trigger greater investment into hybrid working models to satisfy these needs.

    As the workplace Gen Z population grows, the challenge for businesses in 2021 will be in offering the freedom of remote working without sacrificing the human connection this generation values. We predict an increase in flexible working policies underpinned by advancing collaboration technology for a generation that wants the best of both.

    Engagement will become the new productivity
    In the early stages of the pandemic when remote working was still a novelty, businesses were solely focused on survival and ensuring work could continue in a remote setting that was foreign to so many. Now, after several months of home working have passed and the end of the pandemic is in sight, the focus will shift from productivity to meaningful engagement.

    2020 left employees feeling less engaged than ever. Accustomed to multi-tasking during remote meetings and suffering from a lack of communication, workforces finished the year distracted and fatigued. Moving forward employers must commit to creating hybrid meeting environments that keep people’s attention and enable them to focus on the discussion, regardless of how they are participating in it. This will become increasingly important as the workforce is split between home and office. It will no longer be acceptable for remote participants to feel left out of proceedings; technology must bridge the gap, providing a more immersive experience for remote participants through superior quality visual and sound offerings.

    We can also expect to see more investment in the home office as the hybrid model takes off. In order to achieve a seamless transition between office and home, employees need to be as able to carry out their work at the same level from either location. Look out for significant investment into remote and ergonomic technology for the home office to boost engagement and ensure consistent performance in both settings.

    Ultimately, this is all about employee engagement. In 2021, engagement will become the biggest tool in maintaining productivity. Employers should focus on finding ways to inspire their teams, because the results can be remarkable: studies have shown increasing a company’s engagement by just 10% can grow profits by $2,400 per employee annually.

    Whilst so many things about the year ahead remain uncertain, one thing we can be sure of is the continued evolution of the workplace. After a year which saw our working habits change irretrievably, 2021 will be all about catching our breath and investing in the technology to not only catch up to those changes, but to establish a workplace that will be fit for the long-term.

    Employee expectations have changed: people have realised the benefits of a more flexible and autonomous working life, and businesses need to act fast to satisfy these needs. Hybrid working technology will take centre stage in this new era of hybrid working, allowing employees the freedom they desire without sacrificing the collaboration and connection they need to do their jobs and deliver for their employers.

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    Lisa Carter

    All stories by: Lisa Carter