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Bridging the Remote Office Gap: Tools For the Hybrid Worker

Bridging the Remote Office Gap: Tools For the Hybrid Worker

Once upon a time, office workers got up and drove to the office, clocked in, and worked from 8 to 5. Then they went home, disconnected, and lived their personal lives until the next morning when they did it all over again. Then came technology – internet, smartphones, 5G. The lines blurred as workers had access to emails and network servers 24/7 – and supervisors and clients had access to them. And yet, even as the office continued to cross the line further and further into the home, standard wisdom was that employees needed to be in the office to do their jobs. Then COVID-19 came along and workers couldn’t be in the office and we entered the era of work-from-home, aka WFH.

Once upon a time, office workers got up and drove to the office, clocked in, and worked from 8 to 5. Then they went home, disconnected, and lived their personal lives until the next morning when they did it all over again. Then came technology – internet, smartphones, 5G. The lines blurred as workers had access to emails and network servers 24/7 – and supervisors and clients had access to them. And yet, even as the office continued to cross the line further and further into the home, standard wisdom was that employees needed to be in the office to do their jobs. Then COVID-19 came along and workers couldn’t be in the office and we entered the era of work-from-home, aka WFH.

WFH should come with an asterisk indicating “your mileage may vary.” While many workers were extremely productive outside the office, others had more barriers to productivity or simply missed in-person interactions. However, 90% of workers in a recent Owl Labs survey said they are at the same productivity level or higher working from home compared to the office. But because mileage does vary, for both workers and employers, as soon as the strictist restrictions were lifted we entered the age of the hybrid workplace.

“Hybrid workplace” is probably right up there with “WFH,” “Zoom” and “coronavirus” when it comes to terms we’d barely heard of before March 2020 that are now firmly embedded in the lexicon. These days, the hybrid workplace most commonly refers to a model in which workers split their work weeks between office and home, typically with two days of one and three of the other. However, it’s not as simple as combining the pre-COVID home office with the pre-COVID corporate office. We’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years, and that’s why the “hybrid” part of the hybrid office is so critical – it marries together the technologies that have been developed and refined during the pandemic.

Meeting Rooms

Once a centerpiece of the traditional office, meeting rooms have developed new importance as part of the hybrid office – 24% of companies in the Owl Labs survey had expanded their meeting rooms and collaboration spaces since the start of the pandemic. When equipped with the right tools, these spaces create a hybrid meeting area that lets remote and in-office workers work together seamlessly.

Collaboration displays allow remote workers to interact with on-site presentations and can facilitate smoother meetings for those in the office as well. For example, built-in wireless casting means on-site staff can project their screens to the display with no complex wires to swap out. Built-in microphones and cameras allow on-site and remote staff to interact with each other, and improved video and sound quality allow workers to stay safely spread out in the meeting room instead of needing to gather close to the screen.

Video and Phone Conferencing

The video and audio capabilities that work in meeting rooms can serve the hybrid office well in other ways. Company-wide voice over IP (VoIP) can connect an entire organization, on-site or off, which means remote workers’ phones and numbers will function the same as those in the office. For hybrid workers, the ability to use web or desktop clients or smartphone apps means there’s no need to carry a desk phone between home and office. And VoIP doesn’t just mean audio anymore — with video conferencing there’s just one click between isolation and collaboration.

Work-From-Anywhere Hardware

Work from home no longer means asking remote workers to log onto the corporate VPN from their personal devices — for several reasons. Remote employees aren’t second-class citizens and shouldn’t be treated as such; all workers should have access to the same tools and resources. Traditional office workers are typically provided with computers and all necessary peripherals — monitor, keyboard, mice — and have access to printers and supplies. Laptops and docking stations make hybrid work simple – it’s easy to disconnect from the home dock and plug into a workstation in the office. Cap it off with small, desktop printers suited for a home office space. Cloud-enabled print management enables administrators to monitor print usage from any location. It also means workers can hit “print” at home and then collect the output when they get to the office – the document can be held in a print queue for several days.

Security Everywhere

Whether at home, in the office, or at a coffee shop, robust cybersecurity is essential. And by “essential,” we mean “absolutely non-negotiable, do not skimp on this, your organization’s entire future is dependent on it” — to put it mildly.  Security is another reason to ensure the hybrid workforce is equipped with company-issued hardware — most home networks simply aren’t set up for the level of security needed to protect company data or ensure compliance with industry-specific regulations. Hard drives can be encrypted, protecting company data on laptops in case of loss or theft, and endpoint protection helps protect and defend computers against viruses and malware attacks no matter where they’re located. Providing remote staff a correctly provisioned router that can be configured and managed via cloud will add a layer of protection to company devices on a home network, including printers, which can be as much of a threat as a computer if not properly protected, and should be delivered to home workers with the same security precautions as the ones in the office.

The Future of Work

The way we work has been transformed, and it seems unlikely we’ll ever return to the way things were before the pandemic. The Owl Labs survey showed 48% of respondents said if their job no longer allowed them to work remotely, they’d begin looking for a job that did. In addition, 91% said flexibility in when they work was important or very important, and 87% said the same of flexibility in where they work. Organizations that want to appeal to employees will need to be flexible, and that means offering the right tools and technology to support the hybrid workforce.

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