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The it director's essential guide to increasing workplace productivity

The Pandemic Continues to Change How We Work. Are You Prepared? 

IT professionals across the world met an unprecedented challenge after COVID-19 forced as many as two-thirds of employees to work remotely here in the United States. 

Suddenly, employers needed to shift their entire organization to remote work. However, many found themselves unprepared to face this challenge. 

Since March 2020, demand for video collaboration tools skyrocketed, along with security enhancements, like multifactor authentication and VPNs. McKinsey reported some organizations leapt forward five years in their transition to digital adoption — and they did it in just a matter of weeks. 

Today, as the pandemic matures, it’s clear a hybrid workforce will continue well into the future, and in some cases, it’ll become permanent. 

To accommodate safety recommendations, some will stay home. But to take advantage of in-person collaboration and advanced technology, others will return to the workplace — but it won’t be the same.  

IT must lead the way forward, given the central role technology will play in creating and sustaining the next-generation workplace. 

This guide was created to cover the many ways IT can support their hybrid workforce during this time. Included are technical and non-technical solutions to key challenges brought on by the pandemicsuch as: 

  1. New technology solutions to improve safety at the workplace 
  2. Best practices for using meeting rooms during COVID-19 
  3. Ways to combat productivity loss with a hybrid workforce 
  4. How to improve outcomes during video meetings, and 
  5. The importance of maintaining a positive culture — even remotely

Continue reading below to learn how to support your hybrid workforce for the long term. 

Building a Return-to-Work Strategy? Start Here

If your return-to-work plan isn’t going as smoothly as intendedknow that you’re not alone.  

It’s no small feat. You need to establish new best practices for employees, like changing workspace layouts to accommodate social distancing and developing a thorough communications strategy for internal and external audiences. 

According to a report by Salesforceless than half of survey respondents believe their employers are ready to bring them back. And yet, many organizations have begun the transition. Some welcomed a portion of their workforces back, resulting in a hybrid environment — comprised of employees at home and at work.  

Every organization is essentially on its own to decide the timelines and policies that will keep employees safe, healthy and engaged. In doing so, IT and business leaders must approach this task with the utmost urgency and seriousness.  

As the pandemic matures, fears of burnout continue to climb and for good reason. The Kaiser Family Foundation found more people reporting mental health issues as the pandemic goes on. In Julythe weekly average was 40.1 percent of people who reported feeling symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Around the same time in 2019, the rate was 11 percent. 

What’s more, innovation and creativity lose momentum as workforces remain dispersed and people stay isolated in their home offices. The blows to productivity and innovation acted as the impetus for Best Buy, IBM, Yahoo and others to roll back telecommuting programs in the past.  

But executives and management can’t rush the transition back into the workplace. 

It’s important to know the way things were prior to COVID-19 won’t be the same going forward. Everything from sanitation to office occupancy will take on a new meaning in “the new normal.”  

For the foreseeable future, IT and business leaders should expect to cater to a hybrid workforce. They must develop a return-to-work plan that keeps employees and visitors safe, prioritizes the health and wellbeing of staff, and enables an effective flow of communication between those at work and those still at home. 

Follow this guide to create a strategy that will help your organization navigate its new normal. 

return to work

Let Employees Return to Work at Their Own Pace 

While some employees want to return to the office, your organization must proceed with cautionWith the pandemic still at large, employers need to consider occupancy rates, employees’ health, personal situations, and other factors. 

For many, remote work continues to prove favorable to being in the office. Without a commute and fewer distractions, some organizations saw productivity spike during the pandemic. Because of benefits like these and the continued threat of COVID-19, remote work isn’t going anywhere. 

A PwC report shows 83 percent of office employees want to continue working remotely at least part time after COVID-19 is no longer a concern, and the same survey shows 55 percent of employers surveyed believe their workforces will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future  

As management starts the transition process, the top priority should be the health and wellbeing of the workforce. If employees aren’t ready or don’t see the workplace as safe, it’s hard to think they’ll contribute their best work in the office.  

For IT leaders, this means it’s time to build a strategic framework for a long-term hybrid workforce. Undoubtedly, many employees will return to the office the first chance they get. Others will remain reluctant.  

Regardless of location, they need to work together, so how do you plan to enable that communication? For starters, it’s time to make some changes to your infrastructure. 

Maintaining a Safe Work Environment During COVID-19

The fast transition to remote work forced IT into a difficult situation. Metaphorical fires engulfed their workdays, with IT personnel making a mad dash to acquire Teams or Zoom licenses, work-from-home kits, and more for a newly remote organization. 

Hopefully by now, things have cooled down.  

But don’t get caught off guard.  

The transition back into the office will mean IT must build additional infrastructure to accommodate a hybrid environment and safe work habits.  

With that, IT will need to prove that the organization complies with safety policies. A report like this will demand that IT has the metrics available to show not only leadership, but employees as well. 

By the end of your return-to-work plan, you should have an ecosystem of technology that will instill enough confidence in your employees so they can make their transition back to work. 

To successfully welcome employees back and keep remote workers engaged, consider these actions: 

 

Create a Safe Office Environment 

 

Daily Health Screening and Temperature Checks 

Companies such as Amazon and Wholefoods adopted daily health screenings early on. Not only did this help prevent potentially sick employees from reporting to work, it helped build trust. It showed the company took its employees’ health seriously. As this practice becomes standard, consider investing in thermal imaging technology to streamline the check-in process for employees (see more below) 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Sanitation 

Masks became the defacto standard in preventing the spread of COVID-19, and many U.S. cities and businesses now require them. Employers should create new policies that require masks and other forms of PPE in the workplace 

Implement regular sanitation of personal and shared spaces, like conference rooms, to keep the work environment safe. And, it’s wise to keep a healthy stock of hand sanitizer available for employees and visitors.  

Foot Traffic and Occupancy 

Some shops and grocery stores took a page from city planners and built one-way streets, or aisles rather, to keep traffic flowing. Facilities managers should consider doing the same to limit bottlenecks and improve foot traffic. 

For medium and large businesses, it’s impossible to welcome every employee back to the office and stay compliant with social distancing guidelines. Consider a staggered shift for employees or assign employees to days in and days at home to prevent breaches in safe occupancy.New call-to-action

Technical Solutions for a Hybrid Work Environment

 

Thermal Imaging and Wellness Checks 

Hospitals and businesses alike perform regular temperature checks of employees and visitors when they arrive. The goal is to detect potential symptoms of illness prior to admittance, and ultimately prevent the virus from spreading. Thermal imaging cameras and devices provide accurate measurements of a person’s temperature and streamline the check-in process. Although, it’s critical to implement best practices early on

Beyond temperature checks, some employers rely on their workforce to perform a health check before they leave home. Using an app, people can provide a health update to determine if it’s safe to report to work.  

Occupant and Proximity Analytics 

In terms of risk, it’s easier to spread COVID-19 indoors than outdoors because of spatial restrictions and ventilation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As employees come back to work, how do you ensure adequate social distancing?  

Occupancy sensors and proximity analytics can help show how people use spaces at work and their proximity to others. Having this data allows facilities managers and the IT department to determine better ways to use spaces like conference and meeting rooms, with social distancing in mind. 

Touchless Technology and Personal Devices 

Think of all the ways people interact with technology in a conference room: control panels, a computer mouse and keyboard, touch screen displays, microphones. Not to mention door handles and chairs. Some companies are working on touchless solutions to reduce or eliminate the number of surfaces that employees touch in a meeting room, with the core goal of promoting a safer work environment. 

Microsoft, as an example, created a number of solutions for touchless meeting experiences, including:  

  • Microsoft Teams App — The Microsoft Teams app allows users to schedule and join meetings and communicate with each other using their preferred device.  
  • Proximity join — A Microsoft Teams Room detects your personal device (laptop, smartphone or tablet), and then automatically establishes a connection to a meeting. 
  • Personal device and voice control — Participants can launch a meeting using voice commands or the Teams app on their personal device.

A Break-Fix Vs. Strategic Mindset 

Solutions like these will help reshape your current environment into a next-generation workplace — one your employees will not only need but expect. And still, there is more to consider. Implementing any one of these solutions in isolation acts as a simple fix to a much greater, more complex challenge.  

IT must treat these solutions as individual parts of a whole, working together to create a comprehensive plan fit for the times — or risk falling short of a sustainable solution.  

New Best Practices for Meeting Rooms During the Pandemic

The very thought of sitting in an enclosed meeting room — breathing the same air and touching the same surfaces with your colleagues — is cause enough for anxiety during the pandemic. Despite this, many yearn for both facetime with co-workers and the organic benefits of face-to-face communication.  

Gensler’s U.S. Work From Home Survey 2020 shows an overwhelming majority want to return to the office, albeit with changes. Only 12 percent of people want to continue full-time remote work long term.  

“Most want to go back to the office full-time, or are looking for a balance between the two,” writes Janet Pogue McLaurin, principal at Gensler for its Workplace practice. “We’ve proven we can easily and efficiently work from home... Nevertheless, we can’t effectively do all work activities from home. The workplace not only still matters, it may be more important than ever.” 

As IT and business leaders begin migrating their workforces back to the office, they must take the necessary precautions to improve and adapt their meeting rooms for the next generation of collaboration. 

For the first time in months, many remote workers will converge in the same environment, which in and of itself requires special care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of every individual.  

But what about when they meet?  

Not only will workers come together in the same building, but they will also collaborate in the same meeting rooms — some of which likely aren’t suitable in the age of COVID-19 in their current state.  

Huddle rooms today likely won’t work for in-person group collaboration because of the square footage alone. If in-room meeting participants can’t social distance, these spaces could remain empty long term unless new actions are taken to salvage the space. 

With various safety protocols put in place to deter the spread of the coronavirus, IT professionals and business leaders must carefully consider how meeting rooms will be used during the pandemic. 

Start here: 

  1. Are the meeting rooms equipped to handle the needs of a hybrid workforce? 
  2. Will office workers have enough space to socially distance within meeting rooms and abide by other safety policies? 
  3. What are the main touchpoints in and outside of the room, and how will these surfaces stay sanitary?  

It’s important to first understand how in-office workers will use the meeting rooms during this time, gauging not only comfort level but what technical preferences people have for collaborating with those in and outside of the workplace. After that, IT must align expectations and use cases with the right infrastructure.  

 

Meeting Rooms Must Enable Hybrid Work 

By now, many organizations realize their workforce will continue in a hybrid fashion long term — or even permanently because of the benefits to employees and businessesA PwC survey shows 55 percent of employers plan for most of their workforce to continue remotely at least part time after COVID-19.  

However, this blended environment — virtual and physical — caught some off guard. The 2019 Impact of Video Conferencing Report by Lifesize shows just 34 percent of meeting participants took video calls from dedicated conference rooms. Now in 2020, many enterprise companies must plan accordingly to invest in conferencing technology to improve the connectivity between remote and in-office workers, according to CIO.  

To some, meeting rooms work in a more surface-level way to facilitate in-person collaboration only. While that's adequate for those in the workplace, it doesn’t help remote workers who still need a virtual seat at the table. 

It’s critical to consider what steps IT must take if meeting rooms don’t accommodate the needs of the hybrid workforce: 

  • Video conferencing powered by the organization’s chosen platforms 
  • A clear visual of all involved, especially for those in the meeting room 
  • High-quality audio to capture in-office meeting participants 
  • Intuitive room controls for both scheduling and facilitation  
  • Real-time sharing and collaboration on work material 

Video conferencing became the primary means for remote workers to stay connected with their co-workers during the pandemic — and that will hold true for many.  

Given that a portion of the workforce will remain remote for the long term, the integration of this capability should rank highly on IT’s priority list. But, what’s the best way to integrate video conferencing into meeting rooms? 

 

Bring Your Chosen Video  Conferencing Platforms into Meeting Rooms 

The video conferencing platforms remote workers use on a daily basis should remain available to them however or wherever they meetand that includes the office 

Services like Zoom and Microsoft Teams continue to improve the way remote workers connect using their laptops or smartphones, so it shouldn’t be a burden to launch a meeting from a conference room.  

Whether it’s Zoom, Teams, Webex or another, these platforms can become a part of your workplace’s meeting rooms and collaboration spaces in various ways, including:  

Interoperability with Existing Rooms 

Zoom developed its Conference Room Connector, an interoperability solution that makes it simpler to usthe application with existing conferencing technology (SIP or H.323). Microsoft and others created solutions for interoperability as well, like the Cloud Video Interop (CVI) solution, to make it easier for IT to extend the life and versatility of its existing technical infrastructure. 

Platform-specific Rooms 

For those organizations changing its office environment or choosing a new workplace, some companies offer meeting environments with their specific video conferencing platform at the center of the design. Microsoft launched Teams Rooms within the past few years, as did Zoom and Cisco with their own renditions – complete with platform-certified AV conferencing equipment.  

What’s more, the companies continue to roll out new features that promote a better meeting experience, especially during the pandemic, like Microsoft’s proximity join. This feature allows participants to launch meetings automatically in a touch-free way from their laptop or mobile device. 

Bring Your Own Meetings (B.Y.O.M.) 

Instead of a fixed device within the room, meeting participants could instead rely on their laptops or smartphones to integrate video conferencing capabilities into the space. With roughly 80 percent of enterprise organizations dedicated to multiple video conferencing applications, a more agnostic approach to meeting rooms works best.  

Leveraging a wireless network connection, participants use their personal devices to launch a video call but use the technology already in the room to facilitate the meeting. Within the video conferencing platform, participants would select the room’s audio and video as the output. The wireless connection could be supported using a dongle, software application or web interface. 

Video conference calls will continue to play a vital role in how remote and on-site workers collaborate. But how meeting rooms effectively cater to COVID-era work remains an IT challenge due to hardware limitations caused by new social distancing requirements, spatial limitations, and workflows. 

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Social Distancing and Safety Protocols Affect Your Meeting Room Technology 

Since the early stage of the pandemic, health experts have reminded us to remain six feet apart from one another to  help prevent the spread of COVID-19. And, it’s important to note, masks alone aren’t a sufficient substitute for social distancing. 

So, how does this affect meeting room technology? 

Since meeting participants must remain six feet apartthe number of people who can safely use a meeting room decreases, forcing some to either find another meeting room from which to join — or participate remotely. Not only must fewer people work in these spaces at the same timebut they also need to sit farther away from one another.  

These factors will affect how well the technology can enable hybrid collaboration. With this in mind, consider how audio, video and room controls might be affected: 

Clear Audio Rises in Importance 

No matter the size of the meeting room, clear audio will always be of the utmost importance. Without clear audioparticipants struggle to hear and communication suffers. 

For larger conference rooms or boardrooms, meeting participants benefit from microphones stationed in front of them and a distributed audio system to carry sound throughout the space.  

On the opposite end, small and medium-sized rooms typically feature compact audio solutions that distribute sound in a unidirectional way — typically at the front of the room from a soundbar.  

But, will that be enough for participants sitting in the back? 

If the audio doesn’t reach the back of the room, IT should consider replacing the system with one that delivers a clearer audio experience. This could include both the microphone to pick up in-person participants and the speakers that distribute sound. 

A Clear Visual for Quality Video Conferencing 

Second only to audio, a clear visual is a critical component to help a hybrid workforce communicate more effectively. With meeting participants spread out in greater distance in the meeting rooms, the visuals should accommodate the added distance.  

Whether it’s a projection screen or a display in the meeting room, if the visual isn’t large enough for the person in the back to see, then it hinders collaboration. 

There are several ways to approach this challenge.  

If budget allows, consider installing larger displays as needed. For some rooms, one display would suffice, while larger rooms could benefit from multiple displays.  

However, another route would be to integrate a zoom function using a pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameraThis added function would allow in-person participants to control the conferencing camera to focus on individuals who are speakingLikewise, a zoom function that enlarges what’s displayed on screen would help in-meeting participants who sit farther away. 

Touch-Free Room Controls Help Improve Safety 

Crestron, Extron, QSC and others rolled out new applications and services to help meeting participants control their collaboration spaces entirely from their smartphones.  

In Crestron’s case, participants use a smartphone app. From their device, they can connect via Bluetooth to the in-room control panel and adjust the audio, video, lighting and more. With this functionality, there is no need to touch the control panel on the table, which cuts down on shared surfaces. 

While this technology isn’t new, the feature for meeting rooms comes at a time when the very surfaces we touch are under higher scrutiny than before. It’s possible that people can become infected with COVID-19 by touching surfaces, according to the CDC. By reducing the number of touch points within a meeting roomit will help reduce the likelihood meeting participants would contract the virus in this way. 

Improvements to audio, video and room controls will elevate the quality of communication for a hybrid workforce. When paired with people counting technology, occupancy sensorsand digital signage, meeting rooms become a comprehensive solution to the numerous collaboration challenges brought on by the pandemic. 

 

These Solutions Will Improve Communication  

While remote work will last well into the future, the reasons for returning to the office grow in importance.  

Some remote workers feel themselves heading toward burnout, while as many a51 percent feel isolated or lonely working remotely, according to reporting by USA Today. Because of these factors, productivity levels will likely dip. When this happens, companies can expect a negative impact on both innovation and creativity. 

Clear communication, especially in-person communication, will help combat feelings of isolation and burnout, which places meeting room technology on the front burner as employees return to the office.  

Along with other changes to protocols and policies, these new considerations for meeting rooms will help IT create a more reliable connection between in-office and remote workers, strengthening communication and preventing the negative impacts of COVID-19 to the organization. 

Better Virtual Meetings When Working Remotely

It’s scientifically proven that meeting fatigue, or more commonly Zoom fatigue, exists.   

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Microsoft has commissioned surveys with Harris Poll, undergone scientific studies of the brain, held focus groups, conducted interviews and more than 30 research projects.  

Among the findings, Microsoft reported that the brain is stressed. “Specifically, brainwave patterns associated with stress and overwork were much higher when collaborating remotely than in-person,” writes Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, in a report. 

Stress begins to set in after 30 minutes of remote collaboration and only two hours into the workday — leaving a mountainous six more hours to go. But what’s the root cause?  

Research suggests its multiple factors, including: 

  • Meetings increased by roughly 8% and feature more participants prior to the pandemic; people also fail to schedule breaks between meetings 
  • Technical features in video conferencing platforms that can add stress, like how grid view splits the brain’s focus or when participants’ windows are minimized during content sharing 
  • Intensified concentration to pick up subtle cues and non-verbal communication, which would normally come organically during in-person meetings 

“For somebody who’s really dependent on non-verbal cues, it can be a big drain not to have them,” said Andrew Franklin, an assistant professor of cyberpsychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, in an article 

After months on end of what feels like non-stop video calls, some people feel the burnout creeping in. This affects their engagement during calls and productivity at work.  

There are many solutions to combat these feelings and symptoms — but the truth is, virtual meetings are here to stay. 

While 100% remote work appears to have an end, it won’t go away completely. The remote workforce will transition to a hybrid one in the coming months, featuring a blend of in-person and remote collaboration. 

But how can remote workers combat meeting fatigue? How can they improve their virtual meetings and enhance remote productivity? 

You will read about several strategies to improve virtual meetings below. 

Are Your End Users Struggling with Virtual Meetings? Pass Along These Best Practices 

While the reasons vary, meeting fatigue has begun to set in. And when meetings fail to engage participants, it costs organizations in more ways than one. So, what’s the best way to fix this?

1. Take Full Advantage of Unified Collaboration Platforms 

By some estimates, participants waste up to 15% of meeting time because they struggle with technology — either it doesn’t work, or worse, it's not intuitive.  

To account for this, some experts say presenters should plan for their virtual meetings to run 25% longer. But during a time of constant meetings and a longer workday, the focus should be on running meetings more efficiently, not adding more time. 

Achieving this starts by knowing the technology inside and out — from the foundational features to the most advanced. 

As IT leaders bring on new video conferencing and collaboration technology and retire outdated platforms — from antiquated software to old meeting room equipment — they must help their workforce better understand the tools that empower them to continue collaborating, especially as tech companies roll out new features. 

Microsoft introduced new functionality to Teams, like Focus Mode, which allows users to remove distractions from their interface while others share content. Both Microsoft and Zoom also rolled out real-time closed captioning to make their platforms more accessible. 

As these products mature, new and improved features will enable more effective communication among a hybrid workforce, but IT must maintain a responsibility to teach its organization about to take full advantage of the technology. 

3 ways IT can help its workforce with new and existing technology: 

  1. Host live virtual training sessions and Q&As 
  2. Double-down on communications with workers 
  3. Build out a resource center that highlights advanced technical features of tools and platforms  

2. Establish Interoperability Between Video Conferencing Platforms  

Over two-thirds of enterprise companies rely on more than one video conferencing platform. Whether it’s Zoom and Teams or Webex and BlueJeans, or any other combination, most commit to more than one tool. 

And, that makes sense.  

Organizations work with many stakeholders outside of the company, including contractors, partners, and others who might not use the same platform given the range of solutions available on the market.  

But surely, the solution isn’t to subscribe to each online video conferencing platform. Right? Right.  

Instead, IT can make its organization’s chosen platforms interoperate with others. Zoom, Microsoft and Webex announced last year plans to establish interoperability among their platforms, so no matter which video conferencing tool users joined from, they would have a seamless experience.  

As users better understand new and existing platforms, interoperability would make it easier for them to join meetings from a familiar interface, rather than learning multiple platforms all at once.  

By using a cloud video interop (CVI) solution from one of the leading providers — think: Microsoft, Poly, and others — IT can create an easier way for people to meet with others, regardless of the platform. 

3. Set a Goal and Have an Agenda for Each Virtual Meeting 

“If I don’t have an agenda in front of me, I walk out,” Annette Catino, chief executive of the QualCare Alliance Network, told the New York Times. In essence, Catino says if there isn’t an agenda, there isn’t a meeting. 

Wasted time because of meetings accounts for a resounding $30 billion dollars annually in the U.S. For every meeting, define goal and use the agenda as a road map to reach it. An agenda will also help meetings start and end on time, focusing participants on the work at hand. 

The meeting host should provide everyone with an agenda to ground the conversation and provide structure to the call. This is especially important for virtual meetings, given the way they tend to stack up on people’s schedules and cut into work time.  

Without clear lanes, virtual meetings can drag on, provide less-than-favorable results, and result in disengaged participants. What’s more, consider ending meetings early if time allows. Given the way meetings have increased and tend to stack up, the refunded time would be a welcome gift that allows people to recharge between meetings. 

4. Every Meeting Participant Leaves with Homework 

At the beginning of every meeting, there should be a goal and an agenda. By the time the meeting ends, participants must have homework.  

A contributing factor to meeting apathy derives from people’s attitudes toward meetings.  

Was it worth it? Was it a waste of time? What’s the point? 

If meeting participants leave the call, thinking it could’ve been an email — or worse — they won’t be as ambitious to meet again next time. Instead, meeting participants should feel energized, with a clear action plan for once they hang up.  

Some organizations adopted terminology that’s now ingrained into their meetings.  

Mark Toro, managing partner of North American Properties – Atlanta, told the New York Times how the acronym “W.W.D.W.B.W.” became a staple part of meeting culture at the real estate company. It stands for “Who will do what by when?” At the end of every meeting, it’s a consistent response to wrap the call and assign homework to every participant. 

5. Create a Culture that Promotes Meeting Etiquette 

The constant “shhhushing” and “can you please mute yourself” during virtual meetings cause needless disruption to what could be productive calls. As more distractions enter virtual meetings, it becomes harder for participants to readjust their focus, especially given their strained concentration. 

To combat this, establish virtual meeting etiquette across the organization, including 

  • Understand how to use the technology 
  • Assign someone as a moderator 
  • Mute all participants who aren’t presenting 
  • Encourage everybody to turn their video on 
  • Discourage people from multitasking 
  • Start and end meetings on time 

Meetings will flow better, keep participants engaged, and lead to better results with proper etiquette in place. These actions become a part of an organization’s culture with repetition and consistency at all levels. 

6. Consider a Work-From-Home Technology Kit 

Poor audio, latency, and bad internet connections contribute to the negative qualities of meetings and exacerbate fatigue. If participants can’t hear one another — or even join the virtual meeting — productivity suffers.  

IT professionals and business leaders should consider the need and cost of a work-from-home technology kit for remote and hybrid workers. Some organizations, like Google, offered their employees a stipend to purchase equipment while they work remotely 

From a technical perspective, a reliable internet connection, a high-quality headset or microphone and adequate lighting help to guarantee users experience a higher quality meeting. 

Not only does this eliminate the degraded quality of virtual meetings, it levels the playing field for many employees. In Microsoft’s report, only 35% of workers have a dedicated home office, which leaves a substantial portion without an adequate environment. 

7. Host More Inclusive Meetings  

Of course, the consequences of poor meetings — in-person or virtual — exceed boredom, but that too is also quite prevalent. According to the Harvard Business Review, 90% of participants admitted to daydreaming during meetings, while 73% work on other projects during what should be collaboration time. 

Perhaps part of the reason why so many have the time to daydream during meetings is because they don’t feel included in the conversation.  

Much like in-person meetings, virtual calls can become overtaken by extroverts and the highest-ranking officials in the room. Unfortunately, everybody loses the chance to hear multiple perspectives when this happens — and isn’t that the reason for meetings in the first place? 

To improve not only the quality of meetings but engagement as well, hosts should take these three actions to create an inclusive environment: 

  1. Assign roles or jobs to individuals.
  2. Make time for everybody to contribute. 
  3. Address people directly. 

Communications platform Slack says the most engaging roles for participants areinteractivestraightforward and frequent. By giving an individual a role, it makes him or her an active participant at the meeting — which quells the ability to multitask.  

However, a job doesn’t necessarily guarantee each meeting attendee speaks. During meetings at which the goal is to solicit feedback or opinions, carve out time for every participant to weigh in, regardless of their job title or status. Whether it’s a round-robin style approach or another, the purpose of this strategy is to keep participants engaged and help them feel like their time is highly valued. 

That said, the meeting host should practice direct communication by setting ground rules at the beginning of the call, delegating meeting tasks, and calling on individuals by name.  

Direct, clear communication eliminates response delays and awkward silences, which also contribute to Zoom fatigue, according to Dr. Jena Lee is Assistant Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California at Los Angeles. 

You’re Not Dreaming It — Virtual Meetings Increased During the Pandemic 

For those opening their calendars to find an exhaustive list of back-to-back virtual meetings, at some point they will wonder if it’s always been this way.  

Not so.  

Virtual meetings increased during the pandemic and so has the workday (by approximately 48 minutes). It’s no wonder Zoom fatigue became the phenomenon that it has. But there are ways to combat the stressors of virtual meetings and improve them in the process.  

IT professionals must lead by example and provide their workforce with the knowledge to enhance their virtual meetingsWith these best practices, remote and hybrid workforces can stave off a virtual rut and spend their time more productively. 

Creating an Inclusive Hybrid Workplace Environment

In the midst of the pandemic, many organizations are making every attempt to re-open.

Some employers are implementing health and safety measures and inviting the workforce back into the office. Others continue to ask their teams to keep working from home.

Most commonly, however, businesses are adopting a hybrid work model in which some continue working from home and others return to the office. It’s an unprecedented time of change in how employees get work done.

No matter where your organization finds itself today, the new hybrid workforce will change your workplace environment. Ultimately, this means workplace culture morphs as well.

IT professionals must identify and deliver technology that accommodates hybrid work environments and enable employees to stay connected to be successful in the new normal.

Here are a few steps the IT team can take right now to help create an inclusive hybrid work environment that succeeds in the months and years ahead.

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Update existing technology to help hybrid employees connect and collaborate

The new hybrid workforce will, most certainly, change workplace culture. Many of the changes happening today are driven by policy.

Headquartered in Germany, Siemens is one company that recently took steps to move its business toward a long-term hybrid work environment. In July 2020, Siemens CEO Roland Busch announced the company would enable employees to work from home two to three days per week as its new norm.

“The basis for this forward-looking working model is further development [of] our corporate culture. With the new way of working, we're motivating our employees while improving the company's performance capabilities and sharpening Siemens' profile as a flexible and attractive employer.” – Roland Busch, CEO, Siemens

Businesses around the globe are following a similar path, ensuring they will manage a remote workforce long after the COVID-19 pandemic is resolved. But once new policies are in place, the onus on IT is to maximize existing technology to help the organization manage the hybrid work environment.

Step one in this effort is to make sure existing technology meets the collaboration needs of employees who use it. With a few upgrades, existing conference room equipment can boost collaboration across office locations as well as with those who continue to work from home.

Step two is replacing outdated technology that is no longer reliable and hinders communication. When was the last time IT invested in conference room equipment or licensed new collaboration software for meeting rooms? Today’s best collaboration software include features like project management tools, visual dashboards, timely notifications, calendars everyone can access, activity streams, and more. Together a feature-rich program makes enables everyone on the team to become oriented about a project and dive in without having to ask a long list of questions.1

As hybrid workforce environments become the norm, investments in technology that is intuitive to use and helps employees collaborate need to become IT’s priority.

Examine the following and take inventory of the collaboration tools you have and those that need upgrades.

  • Video equipment that supports remote and in-office meetings
  • Screens, displays and projectors that deliver a high-quality viewing experience both in person and via web platforms like Zoom, Webex and Microsoft Teams
  • Collaboration software built to bridge the gap between on-site and remote meeting participants
  • Audio equipment, including conference room phones, that allow everyone to remain equally engaged in the conversation
  • Bandwidth that accommodates and enables video and audio applications to function at the highest level 


Your goal in this technology assessment should be to ensure technology that’s in use ultimately enhances the hybrid workplace environment and helps employees get work done each day.

Adopt new hybrid workplace technologies to carry your organization into the future

For years, IT departments have moved to create a “digital workplace.” A digital workplace is simply one that provides a network of connected workplace technologies with a single goal in mind: to allow employees to seamlessly work together no matter where they happen to work.

One new technology used to support today’s digital workplace is secure group messaging. Apps like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Flock, are designed to help hybrid workforces communicate and keep the workflow moving. These apps let employees communicate in group chat or one-to-one messaging and collaborate anywhere at any time.

The advantages of incorporating group messaging tools are clear. They:

  • Break down information silos and increase workplace efficiency
  • Facilitate collaboration, increase innovation and improve productivity
  • Provide a portal that serves as the hub for all internal data and communication
  • Connect and align employees with the new hybrid workplace environment
  • Provide accurate data to help leaders make refined, strategic decisions 


But group messaging platforms also demand enhanced security measures. This means IT needs to proceed with caution before deploying any kind of technology. Employees should use platforms that offer end-to-end encryption. If it’s not delivered via a “sanctioned” IT deployment, they’ll like use an open platform that further exposed the organization to security issues. IT teams will need to adjust its resources to enhance security as the organization advances its digital environment.

As your IT team evaluates new digital workplace technologies, prioritize the innovations that provide security measures and, at the same time, increase productivity and engagement for every employee. For example, it’s estimated that 70% of meeting spaces are not UC enabled, which means they lack the ability to group message. This is where AVI’s team of engineers can partner with IT and efficiently identify how to make conference rooms and meeting space more effective for everyone.

Another new technology to consider is a virtual work assistant (VA) app to further employee productivity in hybrid work environments.

With the increased use of mixing personal devices in the workplace (mobile phones, tablets, portable computers) the need for a smart application that manages productivity and handles day-to-day activities ranging from complex to simple has grown. VAs can “learn” an employee’s day-to-day activities and then automatically schedule appointments, program tasks, receive calls and messages, anticipate out of office hours – the possibilities are endless.

More and more employees have turned to virtual assistant apps because, when used with frequency, they increase productivity. A Gartner study predicts that 25% of the digital workplace will incorporate digital assistants next year. VAs can enhance a digital work environment by:

  • Answering questions in real-time
  • Handling operational logistics, like scheduling meetings
  • Using machine-learning algorithms to compile data and enhance their own capabilities

There are many assistance technologies already in the market, but how they integrated with existing systems can present hurdles. A complete smart virtual assistant can help organizations and employees find success in a hybrid work environment if it is properly integrated.

Communicate with employees to ensure they understand the technology at their disposal

Once you’ve taken measures to augment and upgrade existing technology, and adopt new forms of tech that help employees connect and collaborate, you’re done, right? Not really.

Many organizations fail to thoroughly train, educate and communicate with employees about the tools available for their use. And many employees fail to take the required time to understand how to efficiently use new tech that’s designed to help them do their jobs efficiently and effectively. For example, not knowing where the “record” button is located during a Teams meeting can throw a wrench in everyone’s day.

Digital signage, interactive training and more can all be used to help employees embrace the technology your IT team rolled out. Another easy way to help employees learn to use available tools is to host “how-to” videos on an internal YouTube channel. Short, explainer-style videos with steps, best practices and key features can help employees get up and running in minutes.

IT can also help the hybrid workforce by launching new intranet collaboration software to bring different departments and employees together. Any business with hundreds of employees at disparate locations will struggle to connect them with one another, let alone help them learn about the many skills their work colleagues possess.

An intranet collaboration tool will help foster conversation across numerous internal groups, work projects and tasks. And it can help educate and inform employees about policy changes, challenges with critical projects, idea sharing – the list is endless!

Consider how to deploy and use intranet collaboration software like Microsoft SharePoint, Simpplr or Blink to foster and grow an effective hybrid workplace. Integrating this platform with other digital tools will increase collaboration and also help your organization function more efficiently.

IT’s Identity Changed — For Good

Most IT groups probably never imagined the role would touch on how to best maintain organizational culture. In fact, it’s a critical role that IT does play with the technology that enables employee collaboration and the hybrid work environment that is so prevalent today. It’s an essential element that requires financial consideration as well as a great deal of time and attention.

Like never before, IT must lead the organization through one of its most challenging moments: the COVID-19 pandemic, a rapid digital transformation, a full-scale shift in work standards and environments, and more. With careful attention to detail, vigilance toward cybersecurity, and unrelenting support of the organization, there is a path forward that would not be possible without IT professionals blazing a trail day after day.

 

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Download this ebook to learn about 5 critical mistakes IT directors are making -- and how to avoid them.

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