Embracing hybrid work: A how-to guide for SMEs

SME hybrid work

Source: Supplied.

When droves of employees suddenly became remote workers in 2020, SMEs around the country quickly adapted to the ‘new normal’. That’s the beauty and strength of small business — you have so much more flexibility and agility than larger organisations.  

But modifying systems on the fly doesn’t always lay the foundations for success down the line, particularly as your business and the landscape it’s operating in continue to change and evolve. 

With only 9% of the global workforce expecting to return to the office full-time, it’s time to make sure you’re set up to thrive in a hybrid world. 

Review your foundations

While other articles in this series of six have discussed the small business benefits of turning your workplace into a hybrid hub, this last one will really focus on the fundamentals. 

Chances are you’ve already been experimenting with hybrid work these past two years, which gives you a great body-of-knowledge to operate from. However, getting more proactive, and less reactive, means going back to basics and re-evaluating your foundations. 

It’s your job as a business leader to empower your employees to perform at their peak wherever and however they choose to work — and there are three areas you’ll need to build on to achieve this. 

As small business sales leader at Cisco Australia and New Zealand Karen Schuman explains, each of these areas has its own key considerations:

  1. People and culture: “How do you make sure that you continue to develop your organisation’s culture with a dispersed set of individuals?”
  2. Process and communication: “How are you communicating that hybrid or remote working experience, and what is the process for that?
  3. Tools and tech: “Do you have the right tools and technology to support all of your employees as they move between remote and in-house working?”

Cisco empowers your workers with Hybrid Work experiences at home, in the office, or anywhere. Because work is not where you go, it’s what you do.

Common challenges (and their solutions)

The shift to a hybrid model is an exciting opportunity for businesses to boost inclusivity, collaboration, productivity and profitability. 

Of course, as with any major change, there will inevitably be a few hurdles along the way — in this case, according to Schuman, often stemming from the three main areas below. 

The good news is, with a little planning and forethought, these are easy to overcome: 

People and culture. One challenge is how to keep that ‘water-cooler effect’ now that you have a dispersed team. Another is maintaining innovation and collaboration.

A way to do both is by embracing feature-rich, intuitive collaboration tools that allow employees to message, meet, call, share content, and collaborate securely from anywhere. High-definition, seamless video technology, for example, is essential for driving connection and promoting presence. 

Collaborative conferencing technology, such as virtual whiteboarding, can also be leveraged to great effect, as it allows team members to collaborate seamlessly and in real-time.  

Security. A hybrid work model means your employees will be accessing your network from all sorts of places, as well as switching between company and personal devices. So, how do you keep your data secure?

Unfortunately, cyberattacks are becoming more sophisticated and persistent, and 60% of SMEs that suffer a data breach go out of business within six months. It’s vital a reliable security solution is protecting your sensitive data — and covering your remote workers and their devices, too. 

Skills. Schuman says a shortage of relevant technology skills within SMEs is fuelling an increased need for extra support from IT managed service providers and partners. 

Practical steps you can take now

If you’re ready to get the hybrid ball rolling, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success:

Talk. Talk to your employees to get a sense of their work style and how it matches your business vision. Make sure all workers are aligned with your hybrid working plan, and that they understand what’s expected of them.

Talk to other SMEs and your technology partners to learn more about what works, and what doesn’t. 

“Businesses are in various stages, so talking to other organisations who’ve either gone on the journey or are about to go on the journey can really help,” Schuman says. 

Plan. Make sure you have plans in place for each of those three foundational areas: people and culture; process and communication; and tools and tech. And don’t just plan for today, but for the future too.

For example, the tools and tech you choose should be simple to use and able to work together, so they can continue to support your business as it grows and evolves.

Secure. Schuman can’t stress it enough: Secure your employees, your customers, and your data.

In short, consciously creating the environment for your hybrid workforce to succeed means revisiting the foundations yours is built on. It means culture change, more planning, and better tools. Above all, it means giving every team member equal opportunity for secure and uninterrupted productivity, connection and collaboration, wherever and however they work best. 

With more autonomy and the tools to perform at their peak, you’ll be creating the perfect conditions for your employees — and your business — to thrive in 2022 and beyond.

READ NOW: Hybrid work and the changing face of cybersecurity

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Cisco helps seize the opportunities of tomorrow by proving that amazing things can happen when you connect the unconnected. An integral part of Cisco's DNA is creating long-lasting customer partnerships, working together to identify our customers' needs and provide solutions that fuel their success.

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