It wasn’t that long ago when ‘work’ was considered a place to go rather than something to do. That’s been shaken up by a host of social and economic factors so that, today, most work can be carried out regardless of location.
Technology makes all this happen but also brings new challenges. In this post, we explore the prevalence of hybrid workspaces and how IT teams can maximize the benefit of email signatures in this context through lean and effective management.
What is a hybrid workplace?
The hybrid workplace supports people who wish to split working in the office with working elsewhere. Also referred to as a hybrid workspace, the hybrid workplace is hard to pin down as a physical entity. Instead, it is the sum of tangible workspaces that may be inside or outside a corporate location, the connections that bind them, and the software and other technologies that unify them. It’s a concept; a model unique to how each organization enables their workers in everything they do, no matter where they are.
Hybrid workplaces are now typical in all business sectors and a feature of the digital economy, empowering individual ‘knowledge workers’ to contribute and collaborate irrespective of other commitments that may limit doing 9–5 hours or commuting long distances.
Hybrid workplaces are also common in education, enabling students to extend their learning and deliver work assignments in a single environment, a hybrid between classrooms, libraries, the home, and anywhere else the individual may be located.
What’s the difference between a hybrid workplace and a remote workplace?
A remote workspace differs from a hybrid workplace by excluding the facility to be office based. The distinction matters little from a technical standpoint because IT systems and networks are primarily concerned with what users are doing (and being who they claim to be) rather than where they are. However, the difference is more important at a human level because coming into the office affords opportunities to meet with and spend time with colleagues. This can be valuable for the effectiveness of certain kinds of meetings and to make remote workers feel less isolated.
Another critical point is that the “hybrid workspace” can be used as a handy catch-all description for enabling hybrid working. It brings to mind the idea of something amorphous capable of stretching across virtual and physical domains to envelop individuals with the same capacity to work. Someone speaking of “my hybrid workspace” is describing a universal capability, whereas some referring to “my remote workspace” could just as easily be talking about the devices and furnishings of (for example) their home office.
Arguably, a ‘remote workspace’ is also somewhat less helpful as a definition because it logically describes a singular location where an individual can work and an infinite number of places.
How have companies adapted to hybrid and remote work?
The pre-pandemic world seems a long time ago, but it’s important to remember that – prior to Covid-19 – organizations had already been making significant progress supporting ‘flexible working’.
Flexible working laid the ground for hybrid working
It began far earlier, in the pre-internet age, when working practices were highly rigid and heavily workplace-based. Such practices were restrictive, particularly for people balancing employment with caregiving roles. Since then, advances in IT and communications have enabled cultural, organizational, and technological changes that have steadily evolved into today’s remote and hybrid work styles.
Organizationally, flexible working has been concerned with the following:
Technologically, flexible working became increasingly feasible thanks to:
Acceleration of digital transformation during COVID-19
This evolution rapidly sped up amid Covid-19 lockdowns and social distancing mandates. Overnight, organizations were forced to find ways of catering to long-term remote work from practically all employees. And while the vast majority were already set on this path, the pandemic encouraged far more profound and faster adoption of this and other digital transformation initiatives.
Hybrid working emerged as a widespread phenomenon as the tide of lockdown restrictions receded and eventually abated. The economy-wide imposition of remote working was replaced by many organizations encouraging back to the office only those employees who felt comfortable doing so. After all, with the technical capability now in place, most organizations are equipped to facilitate whatever work styles their employees choose. And rather than all workers opting for the binary alternatives of office versus remote, a sizable proportion prefer a hybrid halfway-house.
Managing teams and promoting wellbeing is essential
Giving employees the choice of working practices is wise if you want to attract the best talent. That’s the consensus of much research conducted since the pandemic into the expectations of workers regarding workplace flexibility. And there’s yet more evidence that this is good for organizations and the people they employ.
Businesses have adapted to managing people across hybrid workplaces. Hybrid work arrangements can be dynamic and unpredictable, with workers choosing different patterns depending on their changing workloads, non-work commitments, and general well-being. Individuals working in a remote setting for long periods can become isolated and not feel part of the team. So it’s imperative that managers be aware of this and that office-based working should be supported and encouraged regularly.
What challenges do IT teams face managing a hybrid workforce?
Hybrid working relies heavily upon company IT departments to put the right technology in place, support users in how they want to work and support key business objectives. Here are some familiar challenges that IT faces.
Delivering a consistent level of service across the hybrid workplace
The top goal for all hybrid IT strategies is that everything IT does should apply the same way across all users. This ensures that no individual is disadvantaged through their choice of working practices or location – everyone has the same means to execute their duties.
Uptime, availability, and performance
Ensuring consistent uptime for all workers is very difficult in the context of many different workers using their own connections outside the purview of the IT department. When workers are 100% office or remote-based or split their time 50/50 between the two, it’s relatively straightforward to ensure they are connected. Issues arise when workers are so dynamic that network speeds change depending on where they are or when connectivity fails at their choice of location. A Zen Internet study found that 89% of remote workers waste up to 30 minutes daily due to poor connectivity or internet speeds.
The office will continuously improve connectivity because expensive, large-scale, business-grade connections are better than consumer broadband. But should the office connection suffer a severe outage, the business continuity plan will invariably be to send everyone home to work remotely.
While not much can be done about connectivity outside of company premises, the IT team has more say over the uptime of IT applications and services driven from its data center. Keeping these core business applications highly available demands a good quality infrastructure, backup systems, and monitoring processes that trigger an urgent fix when standards drop below a certain level.
Securing hybrid workplaces is a primary concern for IT departments because cyber attackers are always looking for points of weakness to attack. Again, the office-based environment typically offers a higher level of protection, which must be extended to users and their devices wherever they are.
The other issue with a hybrid environment is that laptops and other devices are continually going out in the ‘untrusted’ internet (e.g., public Wi-Fi hotspots, home broadband with only basic security capabilities) and then coming back into the ‘trusted’ corporate network. Workers and their machines represent a risk factor, so there are essential checks and balances that IT teams must manage to ensure this isn’t a weak spot for bad actors to exploit.
A shared culture is vital in all businesses, especially in distributed organizations where people don’t often come together in the same physical space. The IT department is an enabler for this, providing the requisite technology infrastructure and tools so that teams can collaborate and facilitate social interactions. Consistently ensuring the ability to take strength from this culture (as well as contribute toward it) is critical to individual well-being and the success of the whole enterprise.
Supporting users at all times, wherever they are
The IT team’s interactions with users should also focus on consistency. This applies to whichever part of the business you work in and from wherever you choose to work and how long you’ve been employed. Beyond this, IT professionals have some specific challenges around hybrid working.
New employee onboarding
When new starters are employed, business managers are understandably keen to make them productive as soon as possible. This relies upon a multidisciplinary onboarding process that brings together HR, finance, IT, and other critical departments to orient, equip and train each of them. Given the hybrid nature of work, digital onboarding processes that don’t rely on visiting a location are the most efficient.
IT’s primary role is the setup process for new users, giving them authenticated access to the right IT resources and tools and familiarizing them with IT policies. As we’ll discuss later, this includes creating user accounts for email and setting up email signatures.
Moves, adds, and changes (MACs)
Once set up, users can lean on the IT support function to assist with issues – again with the expectation that each will receive a consistent level of service. In a hybrid workplace, such queries will rarely be managed face-to-face or by physically gaining access to the user’s machine.
Additionally, managers may call upon IT to deal with changes relating to individuals and the business at large. Such changes might include the following:
Utilizing flexible office workspaces
Commercial office space is expensive and occupies a large carbon footprint. Hybrid working practices mean a company with 500 employees does not need space for 500 desks. However, the dynamic nature of hybrid working makes it uncertain exactly how large that space should be and – crucially – how it should be organized into meeting spaces, formal areas, quiet zones, and so on.
Many IT departments are driving ‘smart buildings’ innovation to support more sustainable, hybrid working environments. Smart building technology allows organizations to study the traffic flows of people around workspaces and design a range of dynamic IT services to suit them. For example:
Facilitating internal and external comms
Communications technology comes under the remit of IT, and many of the challenges associated with delivering this consistently across a hybrid working environment are covered above. However, two specific aspects of communications demand further scrutiny. These are:
Ensuring a consistent brand experience
Communicating the brand is, of course, the job of marketing departments. These in turn look to IT to provide and support the necessary applications and infrastructure. For the most part, the existence of a hybrid workplace makes no odds – the website, social media presence, marketing automation platform, etc., can all be managed from anywhere.
However, in the quest to make the ‘brand experience’ of audience groups as pervasive as possible, email signatures are now a vital weapon in the arsenal. And it is this that IT needs to contend with when email signature admin tasks rest with them rather than with the marketing department.
Communicating key IT announcements and events
As well as facilitating everyone else’s communications, the IT department has important things to say. This includes:
In a purely office-based setup, much of this could be accomplished with pull-up banners positioned strategically, leaving flyers on desks, or placing posters next to the coffee machine. In a hybrid situation, IT professionals must rely more on email and other channels to communicate their messages.
Managing email signatures for a hybrid workforce
Email signatures have an important role in hybrid workspaces, unifying a disparate group of professionals with a shared identity which promotes a closer, shared team experience that ultimately benefits customers and other stakeholders. That’s especially important to stave off the downsides of hybrid working such as staff isolation and difficulties extending a shared culture across the organization.
The added challenge in this context is how IT personnel can effectively deploy and manage email signatures. Fortunately, as with many other functions and disciplines that IT departments have turned to in the wake of the hybrid working revolution, the solution lies in centralizing and automating management capabilities.
Use Exclaimer within remote and hybrid workplaces
Make the task of email signature management by trying Exclaimer within your organization today. We integrate with Office 365 (now Microsoft 365), G Suite (now Google Workspace), and Microsoft Exchange so you can generate the best email signatures for your organization.
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Making the move to hybrid working serves up a number of challenges for organizations. Find out how to make sure email signature management isn’t one of them.Read More >