The remote-work world we embraced at the height of the pandemic has evolved with blended, hybrid environments now taking centre stage. This will define the post-pandemic business landscape according to Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index (WTI). “The best of both worlds” is what employees surveyed in the WTI are after; 73 per cent want flexible remote-work options to continue, while, at the same time, 67 per cent are craving more in-person time with their teams.
As a result, what we’re seeing are brick-and-mortar offices hosting some staff on-premises, with other team members continuing to work from home, joining meetings online. This hybrid phenomenon is what is now being referred to as the “messy middle”. It references the fact that while many companies have mastered the art of having everyone working in the office pre-pandemic and having everyone working from home during the pandemic, a combination of the two has given rise to new issues. For example, physical boardrooms not being equipped with the right technology (think screens, audio, and the like) has left in-office staff unable to see or hear remote-working colleagues in meetings where collaboration is crucial.
Navigating this messy middle in a way that ensures streamlined, real-time collaboration and inclusive employee engagement is the challenge. It will require employers to reimagine physical workspaces where meetings take place and re-examine the digital tools required for remote and in-person staff to remain productive, together. As the WTI notes, the objective for employers embracing the necessary work-flexibility approach is to “give everyone the tools they need to equally contribute from anywhere.”
Happy, productive employees are a key predictor of business success, which is why employers should be taking the prevailing workers’ desire to integrate remote work seriously. Remote work has opened new career opportunities for employees – not to mention that employers, too, benefit from a wider, geographically varied talent pool for hires.
WTI figures show that 46 per cent of the globally surveyed employees were considering leaving their current employer because they can work from home. In the EMEA region, this figure, although lower at 36 per cent, is still significant. As such, a company’s approach to hybrid working will define “who stays and who goes,” the index notes.
What’s the sentiment in Kenya? At the start of the pandemic, Corporate Staffing Services polled the country’s employees and employers. Where staff was concerned, the majority (54 per cent) were keen to continue remote work post-pandemic, with almost three-quarters of employers agreeing. In a more recent survey, eight in 10 Kenyans expressed concerns over remote work, saying that it’s “ineffective.” However, these concerns are mainly rooted in a lack of support for properly enabling remote work, with resources like laptops and stable home internet cited as obstacles. To roll out a successful hybrid work environment that gives employees the benefit of flexibility, Kenya’s employers must prioritise investing in the correct digital tools.
Just like the rest of the business world, we’re learning as we roll out these hybrid-enabling changes. According to Nicole Herskowitz, Microsoft Teams General Manager, one of the key lessons is that hybrid meetings have been a game-changer for shaping a successful work environment. The caveat? They need to be done well.
For Microsoft, Herskowitz shares that following the “ABC” practice on Teams-based meetings has been key. The ‘A’ is for Audio, because having the right tech to give everyone an equal opportunity to be heard clearly is a cornerstone of inclusive collaboration. The ‘B’ is for Bring Your Own Device (turning on your camera but muting your mic). This allows in-person staff to participate with online team members through chats and live reactions in Teams meetings, while remaining more visible to remote colleagues, to keep everyone engaged. The ‘C’ is about Collaboration; specifically, about assigning a facilitator to streamline interactions between virtual and in-office meeting attendees.
As the WTI highlighted, enabling successful hybrid working will mean reimagining office space and investing in supporting technology; the latter helping to shape the former. We have innovated on the technology front with new Teams Rooms features to better manage the messy middle.
There’s a Front Row layout where the video gallery is at the bottom of the screen, spread out horizontally. It’s been created to simulate the experience of sitting next to each other as if all colleagues were in the same room. The Surface Hub capabilities in Teams Rooms have also been enhanced to offer more ways to collaborate seamlessly – such as allowing every virtual and in-person participant to “ink on the same digital canvas” in a meeting with Microsoft Whiteboard. Each of these technologies is designed to ensure equitable meeting experiences for all staff, no matter where they’re joining from.
Microsoft has collated its experiences into a best-practice guide to hybrid meeting success, which will help business owners across Africa unlock future-proofed ways of working. While it’s messy, that meeting middle ground between remote-based and in-person staff can be managed, with technology as the linchpin.
Mohamed El Nemr is Modern Workplace and Security Business Group Lead for Microsoft Middle East and Africa Emerging Markets