Digital Workspace
July 21, 2021

Leveling the Playing Field of Communication & Collaboration in Your Hybrid Workforce

Your organization may be in the process of transitioning to a hybrid work model, or you’ve already done so and you’re figuring out how to adjust your processes and workflows. No matter what stage you’re at, it’s crucial that companies approach their hybrid work models as long-term  models rather than short-term solutions to current conditions. 

In fact, according to a Gartner survey, by 2022 25% of the knowledge workforce will choose their home as their primary workplace, and 45% of said workforce will choose to work from home for 2-3 days per week. With that projection in mind, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to prioritize investing in processes, workflows, and infrastructure that supports a long-term hybrid workforce. 

At Sift, we’ve made the hybrid work transition, and as Sift’s Director of Product Engineering, what’s top of mind for me is supporting our team with the tools they need to thrive while working in a hybrid capacity. So, I’ll be giving you some suggestions for how to support your hybrid org with the tools they need. I’ll cover the following:

  • What it means to prioritize strategy over technology
  • How to determine the tools you need with the cultural-technical-physical framework
  • And 3 different scenarios for how to use the framework

Strategy > Technology

Before going on a rogue Google search for collaboration/communication tools, ask yourself if your organization has a strong foundation for collaboration in place. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do employees have a way to find and discover one another?
  2. Do coworkers have a way to manage individual (asynchronous) work and collaborative (synchronous) work?
  3. Do teams have a way to access core documents that will help them understand your company’s history and culture?
  4. Do employees have a way to connect with colleagues in a casual, social context?

These are just a few questions to ask yourself as you evaluate your tools. The motto you can keep in mind when thinking through these prompts is: strategy over technology. 

[Related article: Are You Using Tech to Solve the Right Problems?]

We recently spoke to a group of top people and technology leaders in our webinar, Hybrid Work Roundtable – How to Plan for an Ambiguous Work World, and when we asked them about how they approach investing in infrastructure, the resounding theme was “start with your strategy”. Annie Lin, VP of People at Lever, emphasized, “I think of technology as tools. Technology shouldn’t drive the strategy. It should be the other way around.”

[Related article: Key Takeaways from Hybrid Work Roundtable – How to Plan for an Ambiguous Work World]

So, consider what problems you’re trying to solve and then start your search. You can use the questions I outlined above as your starting point.

The cultural-technical-physical framework

A significant concern that many webinar attendees expressed about managing a hybrid workforce was enabling communication and collaboration. Specifically, 23% of attendees responded that “enabling communication and collaboration” was a primary concern of theirs.

George LaRocque, Founder and Principal Analyst of WorkTech, provided a helpful framework to evaluate your tools. He called it the “cultural-technical-physical framework” and he described it in the following way: “There are three aspects to the way that I talk about employee experience: cultural – your relationships and how you feel about work, technical – the tools that you’re given, and physical – everything about your working environment i.e. your commute, office, etc. When you’re selecting these tools ask yourself: ‘Why do we need these tools? Are you trying to solve a cultural problem? A physical problem? Take stock of what you have and identify the gaps.” 

Sift Employee Experience Framework

I’ll take you through three scenarios that will show you how you can use this framework to identify tools that can help you solve a specific cultural, technical, or physical problem. 

Scenario #1

Context: You recently took a pulse survey and found that the majority of your employees are feeling disconnected from their coworkers. Your org has been working in a hybrid environment for a few months now, and you’re already seeing the creation of two groups/cliques – the remote workers and the in-office employees. Specifically, the remote workers have expressed that they don’t feel as connected to in-office employees. Both groups have communicated that they feel their days have become incredibly scheduled, meaning that they lack organic, casual interaction.

Considering the above context, what aspect of the framework do you think this falls under? You might’ve said cultural right off the bat, but consider answering the below questions to validate your response. 

  1. Does this problem affect relationships between employees? 
  2. Does this problem affect the social life of remote/in-office employees?
  3. Does this problem impact employee engagement/happiness?
  4. Does this problem affect more than one team?

Cultural problem checklist

If you answered “yes” to more than two of these questions, then you’re correct, this is a cultural problem! The core problem here is that employees feel that they’re missing organic, unstructured interaction between in-office and remote workers. And the problem directly impacts employee relationships and how they feel about work. This is a particularly dangerous pitfall of hybrid work, because it’s easy for in-office vs. remote workers to gravitate towards each other.

[Related article: The Pros & Cons of Hybrid Working and What it Takes to Plan for a Hybrid Workforce]

So, when looking for solutions, find tools whose value proposition is to facilitate fun, creative, and ideally organic connections between different groups of individuals. Some solutions that come to mind for me include: Gatheround – a tool that creates customized groups/pairs of participants and provides games, prompts, and fun ways to engage. You can choose from a variety of templates such as cross-team mixers, team building workshops, and more that utilize round-robin matching, randomized pairs, etc. to facilitate unstructured conversations.

Another solution is Donut, which is something you can implement in your Slack instance. Donut recommends and schedules video conversations or chat sessions between colleagues in an organization. The professional equivalent of a blind(ish) date, it ensures that people can meet their peers and build a network in an organization that expands beyond the seven people they work with on a daily basis. For this specific context, you could consider matching a remote and in-office worker every week. And if they can meet in person, it might be a nice idea to send them a gift card to grab coffee/donuts. 

Remember, once you implement a tool, track its impact/results. Take another Pulse survey after a few months and see if your stats improve!

Scenario #2

Context: Your organization has always viewed remote work as a short-term solution and always planned to move the full team back into the office, however, you’ve decided to embrace a hybrid model. Your senior leadership is incredibly concerned about security. You often exchange sensitive information via your collaboration tool, and your leadership team is concerned about how secure this information will be with half of your team working from home. You’ve had a malware attack attempt in the past, so your team is even more cautious now.

Consider the below questions to understand what aspect of the framework this situation falls under. 

  1. Does this problem affect the tools that your employees are using?
  2. Does this problem affect how your team(s) are working together digitally?
  3. Do employees currently have a tool that equips them to deal with this problem?
  4. Will team(s) require training to deal with this problem?

Technical problem checklist

If you answered “yes” to more than two of these questions, then you know that this is a technical problem! The core problem here is that employees are not equipped to work and exchange information digitally in a secure way, and the problem directly impacts the tools employees are currently using.

An example of a solution that speaks to this need is cyber security solution Digital Hands. Digital Hands' solution allows remote employees to run a virtual desktop in a cloud environment without having to exchange information with their home PC vs. running a desktop on a home PC or connecting to a corporate network via VPN.

Scenario #3

Context: Your organization has been working in a hybrid capacity for a few months now and finding that the majority of your org is opting to work remote for the full workweek. After talking to the team, you’ve decided to completely get rid of your offices and transition to a fully-remote office. As such, you’re figuring out how to best support your employees as they continue to work fully from home. You’ve heard that many team members have been feeling burnt out and by their working environment at home, so you want to find some creative solutions.

Consider the below questions to understand what aspect of the framework this situation falls under. 

  1. Does this problem affect your employees’ working environment (beyond the digital)?
  2. Does this problem affect how your employees use their time/resources?
  3. Does this problem affect where employees get their work done?
  4. Does this problem affect employee productivity and satisfaction?

Physical problem checklist

If you answered “yes” to more than two of these questions, then you know that this is a physical problem! The core problem here is that employees are not satisfied with their working conditions at home, which is made more significant by the fact that your org has fully transitioned to a remote company. 

A solution that addresses this problem is to subsidize a coworking membership for your organization so that employees have the option to work remotely but vary their physical locations. Deskpass is a solution that does just that. Although this isn't a software solution, it’s a tool that will help solve a physical problem.

Continue your learning

Use the cultural-technical-physical framework to help you identify, evaluate, and implement solutions that solve the problems of your hybrid organization. Feel free to share the checklists above with whoever you’re working with to make these decisions.

I highly recommend watching the full hybrid work webinar that I mentioned if you haven’t yet! We take a deeper dive into some of these topics, and it’ll help you continue your learning. Click below to access the recording.

[ON DEMAND WEBINAR] Hybrid Work Roundtable

As organizations transition employees back to offices, hybrid teams will be the new norm. This conversation features HR and IT leaders who discuss their strategies around how they are adapting to the rise of worker flexibility. Learn how to make hybrid work, work.