The hybrid working debate provokes strong opinions. But the emerging consensus among leaders is that allowing people who work for them to operate more frequently from home while still regularly visiting the office will offer the best balance for businesses and employees alike.
Currently, we know that the UK government’s flexible working taskforce, co-chaired by the CIPD’s Chief Executive Peter Cheese, is consulting with various stakeholders on possible legislation that would make remote working the norm, not the exception, says Dr Selin Kudret, an Assistant Professor at Kingston Business School. The CIPD further champions a new campaign, Flex From 1st, that calls on organizations and the government to make flexible working (including place flexibility, that is, remote working) a legal right from the first day of employment for all employees. We have strong evidence over time documenting the benefits of flexible working for both organizations and employees, Kudret continues.
Flexible working provisions are associated with improved employee well-being and the attraction, retention, and career progression of diverse talent, and increased productivity. Importantly, Kudret highlights that the possible legislation will enable the normalization and thereby a balanced uptake of flexible working arrangements by both genders, which will, in turn, help businesses reduce their gender pay gap.
Let’s take, for instance, a dual-career household with caregiving responsibilities. Unless flexible working legislation ensures the right to request flexible working for both individuals through both of their employers, it is likely that the inequitable gender roles will continue to dictate which individual should put their career progress and earnings on hold, Kudret says. With the possibility of new flexible working legislation and the test run of large-scale remote working during the pandemic spanning nearly one-and-half years now, some form of hybrid working is here to stay, Kudret concludes.
Outside the IT community, relatively little consideration is given to the differences between video collaboration platforms. Attention tends to focus on the admittedly crucially important areas of security, reliability, and compliance. But what about the user experience? Can the choice of platform exert a significant impact on people’s job satisfaction and, therefore, an organization’s productivity?
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Yes, it can, suggests Mark Richer, Founder and CEO, StarLeaf. Why? Because people’s mental well-being has a significant impact on their productivity. “I’m convinced that people are happiest and most productive at work when they are completely and effortlessly connected,” he says. Dr Lebene Soga, Programme Director and Lecturer at Henley Business School, agrees, suggesting that communication platforms are not just tools to be used as a means to an end but must be considered as having the ability to act on users in various ways. The choice of the technology is therefore of paramount importance – user-friendliness is a key element of whether individuals accept a technological platform for their work activities or not. Seminal research conducted in the 1980s shows that individuals are more likely to accept a new technology if they perceive it as easy to use. Therefore, organizations and the executives who lead them must be intentional about what specific technological platforms they provide for their communicative practices.
In May this year, StarLeaf commissioned a survey of over 1,000 business users of a leading video conferencing and collaboration platform to test if these beliefs are widely held. The respondents came from both SMEs and enterprises, and they used the platform as a primary tool for business communication with colleagues and external contacts – for messaging, audio calls, and video meetings. The survey focused on uncovering if users were happy with the platform provided to them and what they found lacking if not.
Asked to describe their productivity when using the platform, 27% agreed their productivity had fallen, compared to working in the office pre-pandemic. While an overwhelming 92% agreed the platform made them less collaborative than when they were in their regular workplace.
StarLeaf was especially interested in whether the platform’s many intricate features were a barrier to effective team working and it seems that they overwhelmingly are. 80% reported finding the platform complex and frustrating to use, and in fact, 20% of all users are so frustrated that they are actively looking for an alternative provider. Imagine spending 20 hours a week feeling exasperated and unable to work because of a tech platform. “That’s too much time by anyone’s standards,” says Richer.
No surprise, then, that 67% of respondents said they would welcome a more straightforward, cleaner, and easier to use tool for collaboration. “A user-centered approach to hybrid working would help in reducing the pain points around using video conferencing technology,” says Dr Yemisi Bolade-Ogunfodun. As opposed to developing off-the-shelf technologies on an industrial scale (a profitable business strategy), an understanding of the user demographic is critical to positive user experience. In particular, the 21st-century workforce comprises employees across different generations with different attitudes and responses to technology. When seen from this perspective, a deeper understanding of current and future user profiles will generate insights that can be plugged into the conceptualization and design of video conferencing technologies. After all, organizations are about people and how to support them in achieving set goals, Bolade-Ogunfodun argues. There is a business case for scaling up technologies. However, the problems of adoption, frustration, and technology fatigue can be avoided when social factors are integrated into designing these technologies, Bolade-Ogunfodun concludes.
Simpler is smarter
These results conclude that a sizable proportion of businesses require their leaders to adopt a more straightforward way to enable their workers to connect and collaborate.
Consequently, StarLeaf, consciously designed and built a more intuitive way for people to message, meet and call, says Richer, whether at home on their computer, on the move on a smartphone, or in an office meeting room. “Our industry-leading reliability and accreditation to the highest standards of data security mean ease of use comes with performance you can trust,” he says.
Dr Naeema Pasha agrees, saying, “we do want an uncomplicated and undemanding tech experience, and the future of video is set to do this – and on a huge scale.” Pasha, who set up Henley’s World of Work Centre to look at the next normal of work, says the video technology industry still in its infancy compared to other workplace tech. Still, over the next five years, there will be giant leaps in its offer as a response to hybrid working. She adds, “we know one of the foundations of high productivity is good employee engagement, and as such, the focus of emerging video technology to enable us to work collaboratively and we won’t have as much of the jarring effect we experience now.”
Leaders, therefore, who are planning for a future of hybrid working should investigate choosing a more straightforward collaboration platform. It evidently can free the people they manage from the complex tools that frustrate creativity, productivity, and innovation, allowing them to focus on what matters: creating the human connection at work.