Why too many tools can be a bad thing for hybrid working (and what to do instead)

working from home hybrid working

Despite assertions from global business leaders to the contrary, hybrid working is not an aberration, it is here to stay and research has found that as many as 70% of employees are expecting it to be part of their future work arrangements. Indeed, hybrid working is now likely to be a source of competitive advantage for organisations looking to hire talent, in what is being billed ‘The Great Resignation’.

And at the heart of successful hybrid working is technology and the tools that organisations now have at their disposal to enhance engagement and increase productivity.

Most IT managers will tell you it’s been possible to use technology to support hybrid working for years and they’re right. Indeed, in 2001 I was working hybrid myself, splitting my time between our north-west England office, our London office and my home and relying heavily on my Compaq Armada laptop and a dongle to connect me to the company network.

Today, the technology we have access to is significantly better and tools have evolved to support the way we work as individuals, teams and organisations. There is a tool for almost every role, however, if they’re not selected and implemented in the correct way then they get in the way of collaboration. 

Technology gone bad

Worse than that, some organisations are using technology to ‘track’ when employees are online, which is a truly insidious practice. Not only does this undermine the safety of the culture but demonstrates a clear lack of trust between management and employees.

There are others that are insisting that people show themselves as ‘online’ during working hours, leading employees to find ways to stay online, whilst tending to their lockdown lives.

Machiavellian monitoring aside, for employees to truly leverage technology and for it to contribute to a productive hybrid working culture they have to have the discipline to use it in the way it was intended. Our reliance on tools, is only going to increase.

Gartner forecast that worldwide spend on technology will increase by 6.2% this year to cope with the demand for new tools to support hybrid working.

Whilst on the face of it, this is a good thing for IT leaders, it also increases the pressure on them to deliver secure tools that improve collaboration and visibility. Nearly half of the respondents in one survey said that investment in collaborative work management is now in the top four priorities for their organisation.

This cannot be achieved by providing a plethora of tools for people to use, but instead by assessing which tools are required to enhance collaboration and then ensuring that they’re used correctly.

Technology for good

Agreeing how technology will be used is vitally important, otherwise, as many companies found out in the early days of the pandemic, you have lots of people using lots of tools and all in different ways.

Rather than taking a scattergun approach to procurement, organisations should take the time to assess which tools would add value to building connection between people and improving collaboration for hybrid teams.

Almost every department will have their ‘must use!’ application, however, they should be assessed – as with any other capital purchase – and then implemented in the correct way. This means ensuring that employees fully understand how to use technology such that they can extract the full benefits from it, rather than it being another thing to install on an already bloated laptop.

In a recent survey conducted on the Culture Makers Community, only 10% of respondents said that they’d been fully trained to get the best from their collaboration tools and this is likely to be norm for many. 

And there are some interactions that technology can never replace. Whilst Australians are still under work-at-home orders the tendency is to assume that every interaction should be via video. This is wrong. Instead, teams should ask themselves when will a phone call be appropriate rather than subjecting people to endless Zoom meetings?

A hybrid working approach requires teams to think differently not only about the tools they use, but also about how they’ll work together. After all, what’s the point in having Microsoft Teams installed, if you don’t know how and when it should be used to enhance collaboration?

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