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Making the Future of Work a Reality: Cross-Department Collaboration is Key


Collaboration on a project
Image: Myron Standret - Alamy Stock Photo
While the future of work debate will certainly be a discussion for years to come, recently, we seemed to get more of an indication of what working style will be the winner. And you guessed it — it’s hybrid work.
This week, we learned that several major companies are going forward with their return-to-office (RTO) plans. Meta, Wells Fargo, American Express, and Cisco all announced that they will reopen their offices this month, though many executives are still uncertain about the future of work, as The Wall Street Journal shared in an article. Additionally, many federal workers will be returning to the office, with the D.C.-area workforce having “the option of mixing of onsite and telework options depending on their mission,” as Axios reported.
These announcements come as the idea of returning to the office in some capacity has been gaining steam. Of over 10,000 knowledge workers surveyed, 58% of them claimed that they are working in a hybrid work model, and 68% said they prefer hybrid work, according to Slack’s Future Forum, as WorkSpace Connect reported here. In a separate WorkSpace Connect article, I shared how Kastle Systems have reported that occupancy rates have steadily increased as we headed into and stated 2022. Recent data places occupancy rates even higher at 36.8%, per the February 28, 2022, report — an almost four percent increase from earlier in the month.
Making Hybrid Work Work for All
With organizations feeling more confident about reduced pandemic-related risks, workplace leaders are once again rolling up their sleeves, reviewing or redoing their RTO plans, and figuring out their best course of action for the future of work. And for those workplaces planning at least a partial return to the office soon, IT, HR, and facility leaders will need to pool expertise and work together to ensure that employees have the tools, spaces, and policies in place to thrive in hybrid work.
Each of these departments will have their hands full with making hybrid work possible within their organization. At the heart of RTO is technology, and IT’s role will be multi-faceted in hybrid work. They aren’t only tasked with continuing to support the cloud-based communication and collaboration tools that they deployed during the pandemic but might also need to upgrade meeting-room technology (if they haven’t already) to bridge the gap between remote and in-office participants (see related article: Achieving Meeting Equity). Additionally, employees who haven’t stepped foot into an office in nearly two years might need extra support remembering how to use the technology that already was deployed to meeting spaces or learning new in-office technology.
HR and facility/real estate professionals will also have their work cut out for them as well. HR professionals will have to codify RTO plans into policies and communicate them to employees. They will also have to keep a pulse on how employees are feeling about the new work environment, through surveys and other activities, to ensure that it isn't impacting employee engagement or wellbeing. As many employees have expressed a preference for remote working throughout the pandemic, a shift in working style — without proper guidance and workplace leadership — will most certainly lead to disastrous results.
Robust technology and effective HR policies are just two pieces of the puzzle; another is the space itself, which brings in the expertise of real estate and facility professionals. As office layouts change to support a range of different working styles — a key attribute of the hybrid work-enabled workplace — leadership from facility professionals will be crucial to ensure that it’s done effectively. As workplace provider Pronestor shared in a guide, facility managers will have to specifically focus on space management, utility consumption, and security in hybrid work, each with its unique considerations.
Although the above tasks are broken out by department, they often require collaboration across departments to make a reality. As IT works to video-enable more of the traditional open office, they’ll have to work in close coordination with facility professionals to ensure that spaces are fit and arranged for video collaboration, making sure things like bad acoustics don’t become a factor. HR professionals looking for tools to better manage and track the employee experience might turn to IT professionals for insight on the best HR software or how they can leverage their existing software for that information (see related: Employee Engagement Breaks Out of the Silo). These are just a very of the many examples of how these departments can work together, and as hybrid work unfolds, I’m sure more examples will pop up.
Collaboration between departments was key to getting workplaces through the pandemic, and now as we appear to be entering the final stage of the pandemic (fingers crossed), this cross-departmental collaboration will become increasingly important to getting workplaces out of a pandemic operating mode and into the next phase.
For more perspectives on workplace strategies and these topics, please consider attending Enterprise Connect, March 21-24, virtually or in-person in Orlando, Fla. Also, check out these workplace sessions from the event: