By Matt Hancocks, senior research director at Gartner

With the advent of COVID-19, workplace technology changed almost overnight: office workstations became laptops at the kitchen table, face-to-face meetings turned into video chats, and wired networks became home Wi-Fi connections.

After more than a year of the pandemic, the digital workplace will never be the same again. Even the terminology of remote work now seems outdated. As companies normalize working from home, a “decentralized,” “hybrid,” or “flexible” workplace seems more appropriate for the current environment.

A hybrid workplace consists of a mix of remote and on-site employees and employees who spend some time working from home and some time in the office in a given week. It is the future of work and requires changes in IT regulations and operating models. With a view to the post-pandemic workplace of the future, there are four ways CIOs can prepare their workforce and technology stacks for what awaits them.

Rethink how work is done remotely

Experiences have shaped many prevailing views of the workplace with open offices designed to foster communication and collaboration. Still, IT innovations such as email and messaging now offer these benefits in a more scalable way. CIOs need to rethink communication, training and development and knowledge sharing with digital workplace tools as an integral part of workflows.

Identify processes, tasks and activities that require dialogue, discussion or debate, drawing on the “in-office” experience before the pandemic. Look at how these processes have changed since working from home and evaluate the success of these adjustments. Where there has been a successful experience, try to reinforce and anchor it throughout the organization.

For example, the five-minute conversations that would occur when an employee walks past a colleague’s desk were spontaneous, responsive and productive. If you work remotely, you may not reach employees by phone or messenger if their calendar has a “busy” status. Creating a slot in your calendar can help create and regain some of that spontaneity if available via video on a first-come-first-served basis.

remote work

Responding to psychological needs

People are social beings who need to stay connected professionally and socially with others. It is not easy to find this balance in the virtual workplace – too much contact can leave people exhausted, but too little can let people go.

CIOs can address the psychological challenges of a hybrid workplace by identifying how people typically stay connected and then develop a strategy with their teams.

Prepare to experiment and provide variety by trying different approaches, such as different meeting schedules, group activities, buddy systems and open video sessions in small groups during work. Regularly review, adjust, and change approaches and interventions so that they don’t become stale.

Reimagine the use of office space

In the hybrid work environment of the future, the “workplace” – a specific company location will shift to a “workspace.” A work area can be in a home, a co-working space, in the field, the office or any other place that can be set up as a workspace. CIOs must take into account the different needs of each of these environments.

The workplace office should be worthwhile and seen as a different, more valuable experience than the work done elsewhere. It allows people to connect, enables teams to expand and accelerate interactions and outputs, and enables departments to create a sense of identity.

CIOs must lobby the C-Suite to allow experimentation within the office to meet these new demands. For example, they should create a dedicated, collaborative space: an event space for both business and social gatherings or a hot desk environment supported by a booking system.

For the home workspace, CIOs should not assume that everyone has the same resources. Identifying the characteristics, requirements and needs is important for long-term health and well-being. Define specific technological requirements for all employees working outside the office to promote identity, productivity and a sense of belonging.

Managing integrity and risk

Integrity in all its forms is becoming increasingly important in a hybrid work culture. This includes everything from data integrity and security to the reliability of Internet connections. For example, when four professionals share a house, all of whom work for different companies but share the same spaces and Internet connections, clear guidelines around security and confidentiality become even more important.

Working from home also raises new ethical issues, such as privacy-monitoring technologies and consent. Integrity must be a one-way street – it’s not just about employees “actions, but what the organization does as well.

To manage the integrity of a hybrid workplace, CIOs should review the characteristics and needs of each employee in the workplace and assess them from a risk perspective. Strengthen policies around security, confidentiality, credibility and liabilities. Develop emergency and backup plans to prepare for known eventualities, such as power or Internet outages.

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Matt Hancocks is a Senior Research Director at Gartner covering CIO leadership, organizational development, organizational change and culture. Gartner analysts will further discuss digital workplace trends at the Gartner Digital Workplace Summits 2021, taking place virtually April 26-27 in the Americas.

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