This term "work from anywhere" or "hybrid workstyle" was academic but unheard of until COVID-19 pandemic came in around March 2020. This pandemic has caused upheavals in society and business world turning centuries old work style of going to a workplace and caused almost everyone having to have to work from home or a remote location. Let's find out what it's all about.
The big question that has been going on since the pandemic started is what workstyle do I choose for my staff and how do we change (if we have to) to a different work style. This article focuses on work from anywhere and hybrid workstyles but each business needs to weigh all the options choose a unique mix and approach that works form them. That may be a combination of different workstyles or a single workstyle.
Different business work styles
Work from anywhere (WFA) work style means being able to perform your office work from any location and not being bound by specific restrictions eg: needing to be in the office part of the time. It is the most flexible to deal with pandemics and changing climate. Work from home in my opinion can be included under work from anywhere because you are working somewhere else other than the office. Take a look at this interesting article from Forbes by Sarah Travers from July 2021: "Three Tips For Letting Employees Work From Anywhere" where it discusses the ramifications and tips when working from anywhere.
Hybrid work style enables staff to mix working from different locations like home, on the run and in the office. It brings staff together to a physical office for part of the week and the rest of the week they work from anywhere or from home. Take a look an at interesting BBC article by Christine Ro from August 2020 entitled "Why future of work might be 'hybrid'" where it explores whether the hybrid workstyle is the best of both worlds (work from anywhere and office in one) and creates greatest flexibility and caters for all sorts of people - some needing human contact and interaction at least some of the time.
Office only work style requires all staff to go to a centralised location or a collection of locations. It is the costliest out of all the work styles to a business as building and the equipment in it has to be provided. And there was a time where video conferencing and other communication technology didn't exist so it was essential for productivity and collaboration to be in a central place.
In this blog we will be focusing on work from anywhere (WFA) and hybrid work styles because I professionally think it's the future and gives the best cost and productivity gains when done right. And we will explore the aspects and important point to consider when designing an optimum WFA or Hybrid workstyle.
Essential aspects for WFA & Hybrid work style success
With any approach to doing business work from anywhere or hybrid work styles require good planning and forethought to be successful. When aspects o that workstyle are missing - everyone suffers and tends to revert back to previous ways of doing things. Which is not a bad thing - some have to work in an office only eg: medication production or factory work (we will talk about factory automation another time).
Research shows that the management play a huge part in setting the right culture for the hybrid teams of today. In a recently published book entitled Work From Anywhere (ebook), Alison & Darren Hill show you how to shape business and culture strategies to bring out the best in your hybrid and remote team members by focusing on both performance and people.
Another place where this need was revealed is by a research paper released in 2013 called Telework, productivity and wellbeing: an Australian perspective under section "3.2 Telework and productivity: management guidelines" the researchers observed:
"Comments from managers of teleworkers also indicated that from a productivity perspective, managers needed to use a different management approach in telework environments . This approach, based on trust, required managers to have regular virtual meetings with individuals and teams that focused on task-based deliverables".
So it really starts with the leadership changing the way they manage their people - in a spirit of trust and empowerment. The focus should be to set targets and not worry about how this is achieved, if you have employed and trained capable staff then they will follow you to your goal (as long as it's reasonable and logical). This does not mean micromanagement and having daily video meetings - this becomes cumbersome and makes staff feel like being in a prison and feeling like their management doesn't trust them. If they conduct themselves honestly and achieve the goals you set you will notice amazing results. And that approach comes hand in hand with work from anywhere or hybrid workstyles.
The right information technology (IT)
In February 2013, Dr Marianne Gloet & Dr Mendoza & Dr Kurnia (Melbourne University) and Dr Bosua (Open Universiteit Nederland) published a research white paper entitled "Telework, productivity and wellbeing: an Australian perspective" where the results showed that adequate technology was required to enable and support telework in order to achieve optimum productivity. It also confirmed that productivity was not a major concern for organizations that developed a culture of telework. It states in section "3.1 The importance of IT as an enabler for telework productivity":
"Across the research cases investigated in this study, it was evident that adequate technology to enable and support telework is required to improve productivity. As such, basic collaboration and networking tools, mobile devices and a supportive network infrastructure need to be in place in order to achieve productive outcomes in terms of telework."
Working at different organisations and then starting my own business, Cyberkite, I realised that clients who buy mismatched and low quality staff communication, connectivity and productivity equipment found the whole work from anywhere or hybrid work style difficult and ended up reverting back to working in an office. So it's important for decision makers to weigh the reduce expenses running a larger office space and redirect those funds into staff hardware and apps that work well with one another. This is why I started the online store Cyberkite to help make that easier for businesses.
Staff & training
The other side of the coin apart from Leadership approach is the staff play an important part and need training in order to be comfortable with using technology and find the right work style for them. Some work better in the office only, some work well anywhere and some work well with a mix of office and home. This depends on their home situation - some living alone and some living with others.
This is why hybrid work style is the most popular type which I quickly discovered after running a LinkedIn poll (required LinkedIn login to view) on the different workstyles. 67% of people interviewed across Australia have embraced the hybrid work style and about 25% embraced work from anywhere all week (no office use). Folks this is here to stay.
In the 2013 research paper called Telework, productivity and wellbeing: an Australian perspective under section "3.3 Telework and productivity: worker guidelines" that working from anywhere and hybrid work styles are more productive than the traditional office only. But they require staff to be familiar with the technology they got and to make good use of their time in spite of occasional distractions. The research states:
1. Teleworkers are more productive if they have the ability to work away from the office on demanding tasks that are difficult, complex and non-routine. (Michael: It depends on type of business and personality)
2. Even though teleworkers felt that they are more productive when working away from the office, they may end up working longer work hours than required when working away from the office.
3. Often teleworkers will make productive use of the time saved when not having to commute to the office.
4. Teleworkers felt that while a hybrid arrangement to telework contributed to productivity, they prefer to keep telework days to an average of two days per week. They felt the need for social interaction and face-to-face conversations with colleagues to mitigate a feeling of isolation that often occurred when teleworking.
5. Teleworkers need adequate training in the use of IT tools to ensure that they are productive in delivering task outcomes when working away from the office.
6. A suitable ‘away from work’ environment with adequate IT support allowing teleworkers to continue their office work seamlessly allows for more productive teleworkers.
Research also showed in research paper released in 2013 called Telework, productivity and wellbeing: an Australian perspective under section "3.4 Telework and wellbeing" that workers needed a different approach to task actioning. The staff also found that wellbeing fluctuates on some days it's great but on some there needs to be wellbeing processes and technology in place to manage their digital wellbeing. The research paper also came up with 3 observations regarding the benefits of remote work:
1. The ability to work away from the office enabled a better work-life balance on telework days, which engendered a positive attitude towards work
2. Working away from the office allowed for alternate activities (e.g. an hour of working instead of driving in heavy traffic), which energized workers, resulting in less stress and allowing for more productive work
3. Workers could better balance family and work life, and the ability to have a presence at home contributed to a more happy family life.
As part of Cyberkite's IT consulting services we cover the aspect of digital wellbeing as part of any workplace, especially those who work from anywhere. There are lots of technologies and approaches to helping your team with digital wellbeing including the right devices, settings on devices, apps on devices and policies and procedures the promote good mental health and digital detoxing/switching off. What about the idea of a detox 30 mins during a workday where all activity except the essentials stops and everyone has a digital detox? Or reminders digitally and in offices in lunch areas - lunch time is detox time - put the the cookie down! (I mean put the phone down!). Work from anywhere and hybrid workstyles are great but both benefits and negatives with digital wellbeing have to be addressed for it to work.
Successful work from anywhere or hybrid workplace requires good IT security measures to ensure your weakest link isn't you working from home. This has become a priority for any business including small business when allowing their staff to work from home or anywhere at least part of the time. This aspect ws not covered in the 2013 telework research paper but has become a very important aspect of work from anywhere and hybrid workplaces.
Why? Well because you don't have much visibility over any intruders that are trying to gain access to staff working from anywhere or at home. Therefore it is important for any size business to invest in their staff's IT security even if it's the staff's own home devices. Therefore my recommendation is take a zero trust approach or at least add some measure of IT security control across personal devices without the need to monitor staff or forms of standardisation. Check out this interesting Forbes article on this topic by Einaras von Gravrock in March 2021: "Navigating Cybersecurity In A Hybrid Work Environment" where he covers the ramifications and tips on what is needed such as:
"If your company has adopted (or is planning to adopt) a hybrid working arrangement, you must rethink how you manage your infrastructure and effectively provide tools or resources to keep employees and company data secure. There will not be a one-size-fits-all approach to how companies could handle hybrid work security."
Technology for WFA & Hybrid work styles
There is so many information technology products available to help you along this journey and that is why I started Cyberkite, to bring quality products to help your Australian business in this transformation journey. I understand it is not going to happen overnight, but it's clear it has to happen. Otherwise you might as well go home and enjoy a relaxing life and forget about it all.
A productive and performing business has a good foundation in establishing good communication through very effective tools like video meetings, group chat and phone. Without good communication you can't glide easily when in a work from anywhere or hybrid work style. Unified Communication (UC) is an approach where all your communication types are accessed on all devices from one app and has gained popularity since the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Here are the benefits of a single solution for business communication:
Better productivity: Your teams will be able to connect how they prefer, through whichever device that works well but it will bring them all together in one place online.
Stronger performance: Because employees can both communicate, and collaborate in an instant, they can solve customer problems faster, and improve your business reputation
Enhanced user experience: A good UC strategy can delight your employees and even reduce turnover in your organisation, by giving people more freedom to work as they choose
My company, Cyberkite specialises in complete Communication solution with products and apps for your business. We particularly specialise in Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom and RingCentral based UC platforms. Learn more about our communication technology products and services here.
What does it really mean to have good connectivity? The most important foundation in digitally transforming your business is good IT connectivity. We think there are four pillars of awesome connectivity:
Good Office Internet: Whether your teams work from home or in the office they need good and reliable internet. With our partnership with TPG in Australia we can provide an excellent corporate package for your business to reduce those slow loading pages, freezing video calls and problems synching documents to the cloud.
Good Office Network: You can have fast internet but if your office has problems with the network wiring and equipment then there will still be bottlenecks, freezing pages and video calls. We transform slow, unsafe and unreliable office networks so they need little repair or maintenance.
Good Wi-Fi: Many businesses report unreliable Wi-Fi connectivity such as poor signal coverage in parts of their office, loss of data, disconnection and data loss. We can change that with our amazing range of Wifi products and installation services. We also equip all desktops with a Wifi card so that staff can have a backup connection in case of an outage.
Good Staff Mobile Connectivity: To complete the picture, when staff are out and about they need good phones, mobile data and reliable network to be able to connect anywhere. As a TPG dealer we can come up with competitive mobile handset and plan solutions to give your staff that final and important part of connectivity when out of the office.
Cyberkite focuses on low cost and flexible connectivity solutions for your business for internet access from home, office and remote locations and that includes fast, reliable & secure Wi-Fi and other connectivity options. Learn more about our connectivity products & services here.
What is Cybersecurity? Well I'll let you see the video in this paragraph but essentially its protecting your staff and your data in your organisation.
I have developed a 7 protection layer model for all aspects of Cybersecurity and it is necessary to secure your staff in their homes and anywhere in such a way. Learn more about Cyberkite Cybersecurity products and services for Australian businesses here.
Staff productivity in the modern and ancient times involved technology to get something done faster. In the office it is IT hardware and software provided to staff to get the job done better and quicker. Switching to work from anywhere or hybrid work style has many productivity benefits provided the right productivity tools are provided. Remote work can also bring travel and other cost savings to staff and to the business. And that is reflected by Dr Marianne Gloet who was one of the lead researchers in the research paper released in 2013 called Telework, productivity and wellbeing: an Australian perspective . It is clear that if staff don't have the right tools when working from home or anywhere they will not perform. That is why Cyberkite has prepared a brand agnostic approach to productivity products, check out the productivity store here.
A big hindrance to the digital transformation and transition to work from anywhere oir hybrid work styles is PAPER! Paper forms, paper to scan, paper to archive and so on require funds, time and effort to maintain. A business that is paper free is almost impossible but a business that is paperless is very much possible and getting easier and easier to accomplish. Check out this video (above) by Dr Melissa Gracious on he thoughts on the paperless office.
Cyberkite has developed a simple, staged, gradual transformation process for your business to truly move away from paper in the office. We send paper to cyberspace in your business and you can learn about our paperless office products and services here. Here is the process we undertake with our clients to help them transition to paperless:
Stage 1 - Preparation - Upgrade hardware to transform paper to digital format more efficiently. Eg: MFP's and scanners. This may mean deploying small MFP's/Scanners in staff homes and assisting staff to get started in using them or setting up larger MFP's (Multi Function Printers) in office spaces to better facilitate the establishment of e-filing as the best way to store files.
Stage 2 - Transition - Scan paper documents, Upload them to a Cloud storage solution, Organise the data documents and setup a backup facility for them. Sometimes Cyberkite just provides direction and leadership in the transition process while teams and staff convert to e-filing processes and procedures and they recommend best practice.
Stage 3 - Enhancement: This stage is all about improving things continually.
Remove Paper Signing - E-Sign to remove the need to scan documents just to be signed. Recognised by most countries as legal document for most types except certain government or legal forms.
Invoice Processing Automation: This can help speed up the accounting function.
Filing Database Upload to transition from cloud storage into a database for some types of data like client files and emails. Biggest problem we have seen companies using email mailboxes as places to store emails and documents. Transitory action post email mailboxes is to move the clients emails, documents and communications intro a database that can handle email and data storage in a secure environment.
Smart technology setups and products in the workplace are becoming a more common thing and they help to improve processes in the business and enhance the staff productivity and wellbeing. Devices such as smart speakers or automations on devices or processes help speed up deliverables and reduce expenses. This is especially true of repetitive actions including in the physical world such as what robots can do in the office. Cyberkite is an innovative store providing smart device packages for small businesses. if you would like more information on smart office products please contact Cyberkite.
I think work from anywhere and hybrid work styles are here to stay and they will will enhance everyone's work-life balance while bringing savings and productivity gains for organisations of all types whether they are educational, business or governmental agencies. This sentiment is reflected by the 2031 research paper on telework based on their findings:
"In general, participants were positive about the future of telework from a productivity and wellbeing perspective and were of the opinion that managers need to understand the use and application of IT to better manage teleworkers. It was clear that the notion of office work is changing with work becoming continuously more fluid and mobile in terms of time and space. One of the participants commented as follows:
"I believe it’s the way of the future, but managers need to understand and use technology in order to manage telework effectively. Work is now highly mobile, changing all the time, and more and more workers want flexibility in their jobs. Management needs to recognize this. But I think that telework success depends on workers being self-motivated, self-disciplined and self-driven. Project Manager, NetworkCo (company name changed for privacy)"
So I think with the level of technology and the need for human interaction I think hybrid workstyle is here as a leading workstyle now and in the future. Imagine one day working from the moon base, the spending some time in Earth orbit and then meeting some of your staff on Tahitian islands and then adjusting some data while staying in an underwater hotel in the Caribbean. I think it only brings a universe of possibilities and humans and animals have always worked from anywhere.
I think in the future we will work from anywhere and meet anywhere for human contact so the transitory need to work from an office half the time will be not necessary. I still strongly think that work from anywhere is the future but pushback from management and government to support centralised businesses who provide food and drink to centralised workplaces will move back to the suburbs and provide great food and drink to workers working from home and anywhere.
But make no mistake that work from anywhere work style is also beneficial during pandemics and global disasters and according to scientists these things will only increase. So why not seriously consider getting rid of that office and working from anywhere with your staff eg: working from home half the time and working from a local workspace or restaurant upper room or vineyard function room the other time as teams. All that money spent on expensive centralised offices is going to waste.
I compromise though and am happy with most businesses going for hybrid as a transition. And yes some customer facing businesses will need centralised locations to service communities. So hybrid and office only work styles are here to stay. In another blog I will explore the changes in manufacturing of the future - since that's a place that is commonly centralised.
In meantime stay safe and work from anywhere!