What Makes the Hybrid Office Work?

Everything has changed when it comes to the office. Remote work is going to be part of the way we do business from now on. The question is: what should you do to turn the hybrid office into an advantage?

Today, a hybrid office is not just a strategic nice-to-have, it’s a real-world requirement for organizations to continue to compete. Now that work-from-home is the new norm, the path to success involves upping the game when it comes to digital collaboration, virtual teams, and information agility. Organizations that improve customer experience and boost organizational performance will gain a competitive advantage. These are all hallmarks of digital transformation and a top priority for all organizations as a result.

Workers are demanding the new norm

Most workers do not want to return to the office. According to a survey conducted by Global Workplace Analytics, 77% of the workforce wants to work from home. This has led to a profound change in office space needs, workplace design, and workforce policies and practices. Knowledge workers have become accustomed to working remotely and most report that they are more productive as a result. According to research from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, more than half (55%) of workers surveyed said they prefer working remotely and plan to visit the office only as needed.

These cultural factors are driving the adoption of the hybrid office model as the standard in 2022 and beyond. With hybrid work, the workplace is no longer inside the four walls of the corporate office—it’s an ecosystem of employees working from home, in coworking spaces, and in the office. According to Gallup, a majority of U.S. companies (53%) expect that a hybrid office schedule will be the predominant arrangement going forward. Indeed, 24% expect their staff to work exclusively remotely.

The hybrid advantage

Beyond the cultural factors, improvements to operational performance and customer experience are fueling the adoption of remote work. A hybrid office can quickly level the playing field with larger competitors and give you an edge. Here are a few advantages to consider:

Keep costs down – All businesses, particularly small businesses and startups, need to keep expenses to a minimum. But traditionally, hiring enough staff to cope with growing demand means more physical workspace, more workstations, more software, all of which cost more money, creating a Catch-22 for an expanding business. Now, scaling up can be done much less expensively.

Boost client engagement – A hybrid workforce opens a door to a new level of client engagement. Consider, for example, remote data capture technology that provides a way for customer service agents to digitally capture the necessary documents directly over the phone or on a Zoom call. Customers no longer need to go to an office location. Now think of inspectors, drivers, and delivery personnel; these are all client-facing activities where a remote workforce approach works to boost client convenience and engagement.

Increase productivity –
A distributed workforce means that people can use previously “dead” time, like travel to off-site meetings, more productively. And just because employees are working off-site doesn’t mean they’re off the radar. Collaboration tools enable people to take part in meetings, share data, and stay connected wherever they are. Productivity is increased because the latest information is at everyone’s fingertips, and not just those of the employees in the field.

Remote possibilities

How can you leverage a hybrid office? Enabling a remote workforce requires a thoughtful focus on collaboration and identifying and building upon the core capabilities workers need to get their work done. Here are a few to consider.

More effective field employees

The advantage of remote work is especially clear with field employees. There are several ways that mobile capture technology, for example, is being used to improve remote worker productivity and service in the field. Financial institutions are using the techniques for new account opening. Insurance organizations enable claim adjusters with capture systems so that they can photograph accident scenes and damage, then capture the accompanying documentation and upload the entire batch on the spot. Government agencies, universities, and organizations that work with stacks of documentation find that mobile capture is an open road toward savings and service improvements.

Streamlined onboarding

Every company must land and keep new customers, but unfortunately, the onboarding process for many organizations continues to be challenged by the legacy of paper. But cloud-based technologies work to ease the process of customer onboarding. Bank loan officers, for example, can capture the necessary documents directly – in customers’ homes or workplaces – by simply taking a picture with a smartphone. While loan origination is one good example, a similar approach provides new value and efficiencies in any process where “paperwork” must be collected for applications, claims, contracts, etc.

Improved customer experience

The flexibility and portability of a remote workforce can also lead to improved customer experience, another important success factor today for businesses of all sizes and types. Remote workers, no matter where they are located, are more readily available to review time-sensitive material, resolve problems and requests, and collaborate with customers, team members, and stakeholders in real time. This potentially gives an organization a leg up on its slower-moving competitors and boosts the ability to generate new revenue streams faster.

Best practices

Everything has changed when it comes to the office. What do workers, companies, and customers need for maximum efficiency and security? Here are three areas where you may find immediate benefit:

Get rid of paper – Despite ongoing digitization, many core business processes continue to be burdened by paper. Important and common activities like customer onboarding, accounts payable, and human resources are just a few examples. Getting rid of the paper is a first step that opens a pathway to other innovations and improvements.

Get a handle on file shares – In the rush to digitize, it is easy to let some of the same patterns of behavior and bad habits creep into file shares as they do in managing paper files. A lack of records management protocols makes information governance a nightmare as the volume and variety of digital files increases; often causing worse problems than before.

Embrace the cloud – Cloud-based apps enable remote workers in ways that were not practical or possible in the past. The best part is that you often don’t need to build the capability yourself; many developers and providers have tailor-made solutions for core business functions. This can be the quickest and most reliable way to enable your remote workers with the tools they need.

Evaluate your current process and workflow – No matter what activity you target for digital transformation it is important to closely examine the current process to identify gaps in performance. In what specific ways can you reduce time, save money, or capture a missed opportunity? Do this by establishing measurements that demonstrate how the as-is process works today. These will point the way and indicate improvement success later.

Establish specific objectives for transformation – It is important to define what the “to-be” process needs to be. Do this by developing a set of specific expectations and objectives like “we will reduce the time needed for customer onboarding from three days to three hours.” Use these desired to-be measurements as part of your RFP or project milestones and measure your success against these objectives.

Enlist a cross-functional team – You can better ensure success with a cross-functional team that includes users, process owners, IT support, and executives who all work together. The mission is to replicate the capabilities and techniques found to be effective in one area to other applications within the enterprise. In this way, organizations reuse the solutions, techniques, and expertise involved rather than reinventing the wheel every time.

Moving forward

To succeed today will require the ability to turn the hybrid office into a strength, and leverage team collaboration and information management as distinctive organizational skills no matter where people are working. Now is the time for organizations – both small companies and global names – to respond and adapt. An agile and flexible approach to the hybrid office embraces the anytime, anywhere, any-device model of productivity. The good news is that your team’s best work can happen outside the walls of your organization and can be an important competitive differentiator. Look for providers and partners with the right mix of expertise, capability, and vision to allow you to make the most of a remote workforce.  

Kevin Craine is the managing director of Craine Communications Group. He is writer, podcaster and technology analyst, as well as the author of the book Designing a Document Strategy and a respected authority on document management and process improvement. He was named the No. 1 ECM Influencer to follow on Twitter.