ComXo were joined by five legal tech experts from various technology providers in a virtual roundtable discussion, moderated by Andrew Lewis, Head of New Business at CTS. The discussion's aim was to examine the importance of data and analytics in the legal sector, as well as how law firms should use them to overcome sector-specific challenges and gain a competitive advantage.
Participants in this roundtable discussed data and legal analytics, law firms and new technology, client service, and the current hot topic in every industry: AI and ChatGPT.
In this roundtable, Andrew Try was accompanied by:
Ivan Packer, Consultant, Agilico
Rob Lawson, Strategic Sales Manager, Perfect Portal
Graham Moore, Founder & Managing Director, Katchr
Andy Lewis, Head of New Business, CTS
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National Telephonists' Day 2023
National Telephonists' Day is a celebration of people who keep the business world running behind the scenes.
Whilst we all are familiar with the frustrations of some call centres, the function they perform has become indispensable to our everyday lives. At ComXo we provide a range of services that support and enable some of the largest businesses on the planet. These huge enterprises are re-imagining their world of work driven by the cultural change experienced since the pandemic, and the underlying push to drive down corporate carbon footprints of commuting, office space and business travel.
Much of this transformation is being driven using technology, process and people to centralise, optimise and virtualise workplace services, making them self-serve, on-demand and curated. A huge part of this work is facilitated by telephonists working around the clock. Every telephone call into a business may now need:
Transferring to a home office
Coordinated desk booking and management
Employee wellbeing support
Complex escalation during incidents
IT or facilities help whilst on the move.
In today's world the corporate telephonist is not sitting plugged into an old-style switch-in head office, but instead integrated into Microsoft Teams, Zoom or corporate telephony and can be located anywhere in the world. They sit over existing corporate systems such as Condeco or Service Now to qualify and prioritise help desk incidents and service requests, and manage them in a way that drives outcomes in an efficient and instant manner. The world of work has become something that needs to be instantly available wherever and whenever - we require it like a utility. The experts that enable this to happen are the telephonists.
ComXo is a boutique operator in the world of workplace services and whilst we build and use the latest in technology and AI, we realise that the human interface of the telephonist is what adds real value to the daily workflows of our customers. We are more than just switchboard.
We celebrate the telephonists because they are what make our business successful and interesting. The ComXo values of the 4 P's Politeness, Professionalism, Proficiency and Personality and all human qualities that sit at the core of our culture and make us the amazing and enjoyable business we are.
On National Telephonists Day, we took the time out to treat the team to massages, a special barista drinks experience, sweet station and importantly, to share messages of thanks from clients that really show the value and impact of their work.
We thank our telephonists, celebrate them, and salute them. Happy National Telephonists Day!
Ask Andrew: The forecast for 2023
As we settle back into the office, we asked CEO Andrew Try to reflect on 2022 and talk us through predictions for the year ahead.
2022 can be best described as a discombobulation. So much of what we all considered normal was already out of kilter, and whilst this time last year I expected it to be a year of returning to norms, I think few predicted the rollercoaster of influences that affected work, personal, national and international sentiment.
As a business owner and manager, trying to forecast and predict in normal circumstances is hard and through 2022 it was harder still. However, sticking to key strategic anchors of creative, energetic people with a passion for being the best, challenging the status quo and building a better future' served us well at ComXo.
Here are my top 3 headwinds that we navigated as a business last year:
With a workforce that is fully hybrid, the business focus was to support the physical and mental health of our entire team, including those we could no longer see. ComXo is a boutique specialist delivering high service levels and market leading innovation, and for this a strong culture is required. Investment went into flexible shift patterns, "come into the office" events, wellbeing packages, parties , training and development, video team culture, resident mental health practitioners, and my weekly CEO video check in.
Change in workforce and workplace utilisation for clients.
As a workplace service partner to some of the largest professional service firms in the world, 2022 was uniquely challenging. The WFH (Work from Home) to WFO (Work from Office) ratio was difficult to forecast as "new normal" working practices evolved rapidly throughout the year. The spring saw the rebound from Covid and lockdown and war in Ukraine. The summer had the extra Jubilee bank holiday and 40C temperatures. In Autumn we mourned the death of the Queen, whilst numerous prime ministers came and went. Finally, Christmas was marred by strikes. How could we forecast this, and what normal would look like?
Inflationary forces, cost of living and the focus on value delivery.
Retaining and incentivising our dedicated and experienced teams has been essential. Searching for more value for customers as prices had to go up was, and remains, our focus. We have been helped by a tight labour market making customers look to outsource as an answer to their own staff troubles, but most importantly it's our continued effort to make ComXo a great place to work. We delivered 9 new team induction groups last year compared to an average of 5 per year, and our staff turnover is around 10% less than industry average which I'm very proud of.
This year what are my predictions?
It is impossible to second guess the macro except to say that complexity, global shock, fast moving trends and fluidity will continue to dominate. The companies that have the most flexible structures and elastic outlooks will benefit; those trying to hang on to the past will not. As the saying goes "When the big waves rain down upon you, the person who's smiling is the surfer!".
From the ComXo standpoint, creating flexible workplace and workforce environments is about the ability to "Centralise, Optimise and Virtualise". Central, virtualised services sitting on digital platforms, enabling AI and delivering data driven insight saves lots of money, increases workforce productivity and transforms client experience. As a business that thrives on managing complex challenges and streamlining them for a great result, we will continue to facilitate our customers on this journey, whatever 2023 and beyond throws at us.
Ask Andrew: Investing in innovation during uncertain times
Andrew Try, Managing Director of ComXo talks about how technology can help through uncertain times.
What is the future of the workplace over the next 5 years? When so much big change is happening in the world and influences such as environment, war, economy and COVID, this is a difficult question to predict. However, there are certain companies who are pioneering people, process and technology that are sign posting where the market is heading.
Technology is an obvious enabler, however poor adoption or platforms that do not achieve traction cause huge friction in organisations and user frustrations cause productivity to drop with time and money wasted.
At ComXo a combination of software platforms, re-engineered processes and the expertise of virtual teams are combined to provide personalized business support services 24 hours a day which support technology adoption and drives productivity and return on investment.
The ComXo mantra of "centralise, optimise and virtualise" your business support services cuts costs typically by 30% and transforms client experience which drives revenue and profitability.
At the heart of these virtualised services, used by 9 of the top 20 law firms and the likes of PWC is the ComXo Gateway.
The Gateway is an client branded app available from the app store that gives a workforce access to client specific services, information and workflows available as a combination of self-serve and as a managed service.
The outcome is that any member of staff at any time can access their organisation business support services to reserve a resource, register a request, use a service or find out information. The apps are branded, personalised and self-serve, however in the event that the user cannot get something done instant access to an expert (who knows who the user is and where they are) can pick up the request and complete it for the user.
This "Self-serve" as a managed service drives 100% outcomes and enables large complex business to deliver an on-demand culture that enhances workforce satisfaction.
The reporting that accompanies the functions allow super users access to dash-boards that return real time information on services such as space utilisation, ground transport use, help desk tickets and new business enquiries through switchboard.
The Business Services App is able to changed and adapted in real time such that new work flows or reaction to a crisis or event can be delivered into the user interface instantly making it perfect for business continuity or highly bespoke set piece occasions.
ComXo integrate into 3rd party software and API to enable easy outsourcing and virtualisation of existing services such as IT and Facilities Help Desk, Meeting Room booking, desk management, ground transport, concierge service, switchboard and business continuity management.
ComXo's Business Services Mobile App is a client branded "Super App" that combines Software as a Service capability with an on-demand "Expert Layer" that enables any user to get things done without fuss or friction.
Are legal chat bots ready to chat?
With talk of "post-pandemic challenges" now feeling passé , and businesses re-focusing on the longer term future, legal firms are looking to build efficiencies into sustainable hybrid work processes, and ways to further enhance and develop their client experience for competitive advantage.
The use of "lawtech" including AI and chatbots has been hyped over recent years as the solution to all problems, with chatbots in particular seen as the "quick fix, easy to scale, friendly face of Artificial Intelligence".
Some predictions have estimated that more than 85% of customer interactions will NOT include a human being in the legal sector. But we ask the question:
"Are you ready to hand over your valued customers to a client experience which is totally hands-off?"
Are you ready to hand over your valued customers to a client experience which is totally hands-off?
This insight, written by conversational intelligence expert Andrew Moorhouse, takes a look at balancing the risk of losing human interaction, alongside the reward of combining better tech and processes for a highly personalised managed service.
In this insight you'll find:
Insights from over 10,000 conversations across sectors
Analysis of call volumes and qualified leads for the legal sector
How to balance risk and reward when introducing AI technology
RECESSION: How real are the risks?
Recession and the risk of ongoing uncertaintyis high on the list of business challenges right now.
The last recession in 2008 saw a calamitous and sudden capitulation of capital markets; was a disaster akin to a tornado … sudden and unplanned. The aftermath saw business cut hard and fast in reaction to it. This time things feel more like a drought. We know we are already in it, and we can feel the economic cogs moving slowly but with potentially devastating consequences.
The headwinds are many: higher prices, supply problems, war, post-pandemic malaise. Businesses however will be asking the same questions: how do I cut costs, become more efficient, become less people dependent, how do I remain good value for my customers… how do I protect my stakeholders? How do I keep my job?
In 2008 ComXo experienced the first wave of office support outsourcing in professional services. We saw the demand for our technologies and managed services increase, as we pivoted to meet demand for business transformation, helping to drive down costs.
This time we expect even greater demand.
The combination of Brexit and the pandemic have changed so many contributing factors that this upcoming financial period is far harder to predict, with risks across a number of areas. The physical office is being used differently, hybrid work has evolved, data is more abundant and the balance in employee engagement has shifted. The new corporate world is driven by business service personalisation, on demand access 24/7 to integrated services, insight-driven facilities management, self-service, intelligent triage, and outcome driven KPI’s. Those that have not yet benefited from the technology dividend and business continuity benefits of support solutions, are likely to embrace it, or risk being out-manoeuvred by their competitors.
Our professional service customers such as PWC are using ComXo outsourced business services to lead the charge of reimagined client experience, cost rationalisation and new generation business continuity. Our legal and financial customers are following service roadmaps to do the same. It is clear to see from our clients’ financial results that this approach works now, and for the future of a successfully functioning enterprise.
Want to find out more? Talk to our team for insights and case studies that might help your planning.
Hybrid Working-Making it a success for your law firm
The change-averse legal sector has slowly been moving towards digitisation for years. However, since the global pandemic and the accompanying government-enforced lockdowns, the sector has been forced to review their working habits and embrace remote working.
As the world enters "the new normal", and Freedom Day in the UK seems a long way behind us, offices are reopening, and businesses are accommodating a blend of home and office working: the hybrid-working model.
Research has found that a large proportion of employees expect a level of "hybrid" working in the future - with just under half wanting to work from the office for 3 days or fewer each week. Additionally, results also found that over half of employees now believe the office to be unnecessary, with these numbers increasing since the first lockdown.
The legal sector needs to understand what's happening on the ground to ensure they are attracting new talent, providing a competitive working environment for staff, and proactively identifying concerns or issues amongst their employees - to provide the best experience to their teams.
Working in partnership with CBRE and CTS, we've provided a guide to help you do just that.
In this guide, we cover:
Why you should embrace hybrid working
The benefits of a hybrid working model
What employees want from hybrid working
What you should consider when developing your hybrid working strategy
Designing a successful hybrid working strategy: The best of both worlds
Complete your details below to download our free Hybrid Working e-book, with access to our ‘Finger on the pulse’ webinar on how to measure success.
Maintaining business continuity during a cyber attack
CYBER ATTACKS - FIGHTING THE INVISIBLE ENEMY
When it comes to Risk and Business Continuity the traditional focus on fire, flood and theft has now been replaced with a less visible, but highly destructive threat in the form of cyber-crime, viruses and attacks on business's data and I.T. environments.
Five years ago almost every business had their traditional IT systems and programs sitting separately from their communication technologies - such as their PBX's, conference calls, outbound and inbound phone lines. Today it is more likely that these services sit within the traditional IT infrastructure. On paper this offers huge benefits but has one major flaw; when a cyber-attack hits, it's no longer just internet access, computers and servers that are compromised. All communication channels are vulnerable. In many situations the only option is to go dark and take everything off-line, resulting in no emails, no internet access, no incoming or outgoing phone calls, no conference calls with clients. A business's ability to communicate internally with its own employees, and with the outside world is significantly impacted.
BUSINESS CONTINUITY DURING CYBER ATTACK
As specialists in integrated communications and infrastructure for some of the top firms in The City, managing their global communications, we have supported firms through potentially catastrophic cyber attacks.
Here are our top ten tips on maintaining business should you be subject to cyber attacks or data breaches:
1. Protect your brand at all costs. Perception is reality.
It is unacceptable for a customer focused firm to be unavailable for any length of time. Being able to demonstrate that regardless of the situation, you are open for business and capable of maintaining high service levels builds trust, customer loyalty and professional respect.
2. Enable your teams to focus on the crisis.
When a crisis hits, you will require total focus, concentrated effort and coordinated teamwork to survive. Create space and mitigate risk by ring-fencing the front line experience. Triaging internal services, information updates and escalation requests engenders an atmosphere of uninterrupted calm and control, and puts you back on the front foot.
3. Provide a serviced virtual meeting place for stakeholders
Continuous communication is the single most important factor during a crisis. An easy-to-use voice conference room that can be accessed at any time is key. A managed audio conferencing service can facilitate requests to ensure agility and fluidity as the situation develops.
4. Keep your staff informed. Duty of care is essential
Defined, well-rehearsed communication channels minimise confusion and insecurity amongst stakeholders and staff. It is vital to have access to up-to-date stakeholder and staff contact lists for consistent communications (e.g. text, email, voice, hotline). These comms can be invoked through a managed service in the cloud.
5. Ensure access to your knowledge asset
Having an external switchboard provider that understands your processes could enable you to maintain access to key information and business services even during a crisis, ensuring ongoing efficiency and information flow
6. Keep your IT help desk functioning 24/7
Minimising confusion as a crisis unfolds is vital. Getting and keeping key IT capability up and working is a pivotal step to achieve this. Ensuring clear lines open to your IT help desk gives your workforce assurance that the situation is under control. Using a triage capability to answer calls and service requests; fact find, prioritise and escalate - enabling your own IT staff to focus on the higher level problems.
7. Provide your staff with the right tools for remote working
By providing alternative, company sanctioned and network independent communication tools, staff can stay productive rather than having to second guess the company's risk, security or compliance regime. A BYOD (bring-your-own-device) technology that's simple to use and allows easy billing will encourage staff to continue communicating.
8. Think Global
For global corporates a cyber-attack could mean that all world-wide communication becomes disrupted. Do you have a global resilience plan in place for communication? Is it tested around your key risks and invoked on a regular basis?
9. Create strong supply chain relationships
When a crisis hits, relationships with key operational suppliers become even more important. Maintaining strong connections with the right people in these organisations will help ensure your problem is prioritised. Share your BCP plans with your supply chain and include them in your scenario planning.
10. Protect new business opportunities.
Industry statistics show that up to 55% of switchboard calls to professionals service firms are existing or new business calls. A crisis hits customer confidence and keeping lines open to answer questions, escalate requests or give advice will ensure your customers do not seek out new suppliers
Cyber security is now considered a vital part of any business continuity plan, helping keep the threat minimised with proactive solutions. If it's something you’re considering and would like some guidance talk to our team.
You have to turn Can't into Can
"We can't get all staff working remotely maybe 60%." But within a fortnight the whole company was working from home and the office fell silent for the first time in 15 years.
I was the last one out of the building that day and I will never forget the feeling of physically locking the front door; the first time the building would be unoccupied, having always been full of life and personality 24/7. I loitered on the doorstep and took a moment to think about what was happening and what my team had just achieved – that the business continued to run, with no interruption to our services, still hitting our SLAs and that we had just relocated everyone home to meet the lockdown directive imposed. All in the backdrop of a pandemic.
As I reflect on that surreal time, I know the success comes down to the whole team working together amidst our culture that embraces and encourages preparedness and a can-do attitude. What did that look like in practice for us as we entered the pandemic?
Regularly reviewing risks.
Most importantly, test those plans regularly.
The news of this unknown disease was accelerating and cases increasing rapidly around the globe. The first case in London of a woman taking an Uber to the hospital triggered a handful of our staff to become nervous, and it quickly escalated up the priority list for discussion at SLT.
We shared what we knew already, brainstorming the potential risks and scenarios. What if staff fall ill? What if there are cases in the office and we must close the office? What if we don't have enough staff to handle our clients calls and so on?
We devised a four-step plan of actions around those scenarios and what response we would need in each case to continue business as normal. This included staff communication, client communication, isolating a small number of staff from the main team in their own space, deploying the small unit of "remote-ready" operators, cross training operators, and practical actions that included investing in additional equipment and having a deep clean company on standby.
A week or so later as cases continued to rise, and we had a scare close to home, when an ambulance pulled up outside our neighbouring office building and the paramedics appeared in white suits. This set off a reaction of fear amongst our staff.
I found myself sitting in the board room with our switchboard management team, reassuring them of the situation, running them through the plans, answering their questions. The team have referred back to that meeting several times wondering how I knew what was going to happen and how well prepared we were. What they have all forgotten is what I said in that meeting: "I've been here before, we prepared for bird flu, and we prepared for swine flu but just never had to invoke the plans!"
Despite not having experienced this scenario before, my confidence came from knowing that we are able to continue running the business when we are not in the office - why? Because it is one of our major incident plans, and along with others, I ensure we physically test those plans in full regularly. It is clear to me that the senior team were reassured because we had a clearly defined plan, and I was able to communicate it quickly and confidently to them. If they spoke to other leaders within the business, they received a consistent response.
Little did I know just three weeks later we would be in full lockdown.
As the rates started to shoot up and the rumours spread about closing schools, we took another step forward in our plan, implementing some more staff working remotely, prioritising those that were identified as high risk or with high-risk dependents, and rotating personnel in departments to minimise the risk of a whole team falling ill.
We had just found out that our remote emergency facility would not allow us to invoke if we had to close our offices due to a corona virus case. The question was posed, what if we had to have everyone working remotely from their homes? The answer was "we can't get all staff working remotely, maybe 60%".
Instead of simply accepting that, my team, as we do with any problem, immediately started coming at the problem from other directions:
What can we achieve and how can we maximise that?
How can we overcome what is stopping us achieving 100%?
How can we ensure the same quality of service and team spirit when we are apart?
In addition to our internal challenges, we are central to many of our clients' business continuity plans and as such were simultaneously assisting them. We experienced a significant increase in calls as they moved to remote working and had constant changes to call handling instructions and data to manage. Whilst we continued to work as a team, we had clear accountabilities for part of the SLT to focus on clients and their needs and the others on our operations.
Having initially questioned the possibility and believed we could not run fully remotely from team members homes, we find ourselves continuing to do so successfully today, with a proportion of staff working out of the office who choose to, and others coming in to work as and when needed for team collaboration.
We have not yet finalised what the future of hybrid working looks like for ComXo, after-all, who knows when this pandemic will be over. What we do know is that; our business is still thriving, we successfully supported some of the biggest and the best professional services firms through their own pandemic response, our team are benefitting from a positive work/ life balance, our family culture is flourishing, and our can-do attitude is as strong as it always has been.
Returning to a Hybrid Workplace
As October rolls around, and the usual 'back to work' messages are coming through, we take a topical look at what it means to return to a hybrid workplace, in collaboration with dedicated HR specialists, Kane HR.
From July 19 the UK government announced the move to step four of the roadmap which included the removal of most COVID-19 restrictions across England. Later, in early August Scotland and Wales also followed suit. Whilst the changes meant that workers are no longer required to work from home, government guidance recommends that employers follow a gradual return to the workplace over the coming months. This approach allows for the variant infection rates to continue to decline and appropriate plans and measures to be put in place by employers in readiness for return.
Employers have a statutory duty to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their staff. This duty of care places a legal obligation on employers to plan any return carefully, consider their individual environment, conduct risk assessments, and implement context specific risk mitigation plans as appropriate; in short, employee safety and wellbeing must be a priority. Employers should take extra care of those with any potential protected characteristics and discuss with workers most at risk any reasonable adjustments that can be made to the workplace or working arrangements so they can work safely.
Whilst there is no mandatory government expectation on the specific measures that employers should take, the government has published guidance specific to each industry. The guidance includes certain measures that employers could consider, including;
Minimising unnecessary visitors
Ensuring social distancing
Extra hand washing facilities
One-way systems to minimise contact
Using back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face)
Staggering start/end times
Requiring a facial covering to be worn in enclosed space
A small number of requirements remain in force for employees and must be observed by employers also. Anyone testing positive for coronavirus must self-isolate and should not attend their place of work. Anyone in close contact with someone who tests positive must also self-isolate although, from 16 August, under-18s and those who have received a second COVID vaccination at least 10 days before the contact no longer need to isolate and may continue to attend work as normal.
Employers should note that employees who have been employed for 26 weeks or longer have the right to request more flexible working arrangements, which could include working from home, but they are under no obligation to agree to such requests, particularly where cost, quality or performance may be adversely impacted.
All employees have an obligation to obey lawful and reasonable instructions given by their employer, which includes instructions relating to a return to work. However, employees may refuse to attend the workplace if they reasonably believe that it poses a danger to them, and, if so, they have certain protections under employment legislation. The protections also apply if an employee takes appropriate steps to protect themselves or others from danger.
Having a "reasonable belief" varies from case to case, depending on the facts. There have been a few Employment Tribunal judgements in cases regarding employees' concerns about COVID-19 which have shown that employees have faced little difficulty in establishing that they have a reasonable belief of significant or imminent danger. However, provided an employer is following the Government's working safely guidance, indications show that a "general" fear of COVID-19 may not be considered reasonable and an employee would have to demonstrate on what grounds they believe the workplace to be unsafe.
The future - a new hybrid model?
Looking ahead beyond the pandemic and current period of limited restrictions, the government is clear that re-opening businesses is essential for a healthy economy. Taking people back from furlough reduces the financial burden on the country and allows them to continue a normal working life. Studies by the University of Cambridge demonstrate how working can have a positive impact on mental health as well as the financial benefit. Encouraging people to return to the office may also be helpful in reinvigorating city centres where businesses have been adversely impacted by the absence of office workers whilst restrictions were imposed.
With that said however, companies and their employees have a clear opportunity for change, creating a new normal rather than reverting to "as was". Having experienced a fundamental shift in ways of working over the last 18 months, people have found new ways to be successful, maintaining productivity and sustaining operations. As a result, expectations around work have changed for both employers and employees. Employees' thinking related to how they fulfil their role and how they balance work and domestic responsibilities may have changed dramatically. For employers, there are new opportunities relating to how and from where they can source talent for their business too.
This is an ideal time for employers to think more creatively about effective ways of working, and harness more agile and flexible working practices to meet individuals' changing expectations and business needs.
New research from the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management has found that a large proportion of employees will expect a level of "hybrid" working in the future - with just under half (44%) of the workforce wanting to work from the office for 3 days or fewer each week. Additionally, results also found that 63% of employees now believe the office to be unnecessary - this was a rise of one-fifth since the first lockdown (51%).
The poll, which surveyed 2,000 office workers across the country in March 2021, shows that demand for hybrid working is especially prevalent in the younger demographic. Two-thirds (66%) of 18-24-year-olds confessed that not being offered flexible work patterns would cause them to look for another job. Yet disturbingly, over a third (38%) of this demographic feel their employer is putting pressure on them to return to the office - risking losing new talent.
Benefits of remote or hybrid working
There are many benefits to well thought out, agreed, and communicated hybrid ways of working. The research appears to indicate that job satisfaction may be one of the key benefits. Allowing better work life balance and increased flexibility is an attractive value proposition for most employees which could lead to reduced attrition benefiting both company, reduced cost to hire, and enhanced career prospects. Happy employees are far more likely to focus on getting the job done, which in turn will lead to better productivity benefits.
Research during lockdown periods has also shown that typically employees worked at least as many hours if not longer whilst working from home, using what was once commuting time more productively. This has brought about a concerning blur between the boundaries of work and home life. Taking this into account, it's important that in planning for a hybrid working model, the benefits that come from greater flexibility are not eroded via "work creep" and encroachment into personal lives. A successful model will therefore be partly dependant on employers and employees agreeing on reasonable expectations for availability, contact times and meetings; one way to address this is in laying out a remote or hybrid working policy, which we look at in more detail later in this article.
Another benefit associated with hybrid ways of working include the reintroduction of social interaction. Whilst lone working allows for greater focus time on specific tasks, both individuals and teams will have missed the real social dimension. Seeing real bodies from which to gauge body language, perceive what has and hasn't been said, the development of natural learning opportunities and a sense of belonging that grabs people's hearts as well as minds is important, not least because it will enhance retention. From a productivity point of view also, the "osmosis" effect of employees learning by being with and around others has enormous value for productivity and employee sense of satisfaction; this is equally applicable to new starters or those needing more support in their role.
This sense of productivity from being together can greatly enhance the work of those in creative functions. Brainstorming or "co-creation" can be an incredibly powerful way of fast tracking to new ideas but works best together where employees can create a buzz and bounce off each other. This notion of being together may also be applicable in highly detailed, time pressured environments, perhaps an investor presentation with multiple iterations, a budget presentation or a business-critical deal that needs to be delivered at pace.
Finally, the benefit of social and casual interactions like a chance meeting in the hallway or bathroom, should not be underestimated in building networks. It's well documented that networking can underpin a greater sense of "can do" in organisations, knowing someone who can, but also helps in career pathing. This is particularly relevant in retaining key talent, giving them a sense of visibility, that what they are doing is being noticed and will help them get the next job. It's also useful for line managers to become familiar with employee talent making it easier to fill new roles as they become open.
Each of the above ideas points us to a sense of purpose.
Why do we need to be together? Where do we do our best work? What factors will support our productivity and ultimate success both for the business and the employee?
It's this sense of purpose that should help shape an employers' thinking around planning for a return to work or hybrid working.
Taking the most simplistic view, for employees to work efficiently and be productive from home, they will need access to the right equipment and tools to deliver the requirements of their job role. This ranges from basic desk, chair, lighting requirements through to computer equipment, internet access, headphones, and software tooling to facilitate collaboration or another role-specific functionality. Stating the obvious, employees should be provided with training on how to use the tools required for remote working and have access to a helpline for when (inevitably) something goes wrong. They will never feel more isolated and remote than when stranded at home unable to "connect".
Whilst it's easy to imagine that employees should have all that they need after such a long period of being away from their regular place of work, it's likely that many will have "made do" and to continue working from home on a more regular formal basis may need additional support. Employers need to consider how that support should be provisioned and what is appropriate. As they do this, it's important to remember that they have an obligation to safeguard the health and wellbeing of employees and will be responsible for ensuring that whatever provision is made, the working from home environment is assessed and found to be compliant with health and safety legislation.
Continuing to consider purpose, the way employees use an office in the future may suggest employers need to reconfigure office space. Whereas row upon row of desk space with a small contingent of meeting rooms may have been appropriate in the past, perhaps more open collaboration space will be required. If employees manage focused work from home and come to the office for broader project collaboration, team meetings and updates or social events, traditional space may not be fit for purpose and need to be reconfigured. Potentially the space requirement may also be smaller allowing companies to reduce their property footprint, making savings whilst facilitating improved productivity. With this change in footprint and potentially less desks than total employees, employers may need to consider an easy access booking system to manage available space.
With so much change it's essential that business leaders act as role models for new ways of working. A leadership team that is in the office 5 days a week every week may set an unspoken or perceived expectation that to succeed, employees must be visible in the office every day. Being vocal about how often and why they come to the office will help leadership give "permission" to or enable employees to feel comfortable about their own choices on when to work remotely versus in the office.
Crucial also is a clear articulation of expectations from management on what they expect from employees working remotely. This can be facilitated with a well written remote or hybrid working policy which should aim to address the following topics:
Suitable locations for remote working
Working abroad for prolonged time periods may expose the company to unintended tax liabilities
Employers and employees should consider the appropriateness of a given setting, particularly regarding sensitive material. As an example, internet cafes or pubs may not be appropriate locations
Protection of IP is also important if employees are going to access material on personal equipment or print documents outside of the office environment.
Expectations regarding working hours
Is a traditional 9-5 timeframe still expected or are there flexibility parameters within which an employee may choose to work to get the job done?
Outline for regular contact
What may an employee expect from their manager?
What is required of an employee?
Are there timeframes within which it's acceptable, and conversely others where it is unacceptable, to expect this contact to occur?
How will this be managed, how frequently and by whom?
What happens if there are issues?
Career planning and support
Support for home working
Who manages provision of required equipment?
Who funds home working expenses? E.g., internet, increased utility bills, insurance obligations, travel to and from office if this is no longer an employee's default location
What to do when things go wrong
IT support and how to access?
Who to contact if an employee experiences any issue with functional work, other team members or managers.
Mental health support for those feeling remote, isolated
Any changes or amendments to contractual terms, benefits, or incentives
Note the above is not exhaustive.
In addition to the above, managers need to consider that not everyone's model of hybrid will be the same. It's possible that not all employees will be in the office together and so consideration must be given to how to manage a team that is partially remote and partially in the office. It's important that all employees feel that they are treated equally and justly regardless of location. Simple practicalities relating to this would include taking care in managing team meetings, with attendance split between face to face and remote participation. Things to be conscious of are as follows;
Everyone should be clear about purpose of the meeting, whether that be decision making, a chance to catch up, information sharing etc, and check it's suited to a hybrid working approach. If so, it's important to communicate the intended outcome to the team so everyone has a chance to prepare.
Try to ensure each attendee has a consistent experience by actively taking steps to involve participants working from home - don't default to those in the room with you. This could be done by addressing everyone by name and giving everyone a chance to contribute. Chat and hand-raising functions can be useful in doing this.
The need to refresh or provide training in meeting facilitation for each type of meeting.
Encourage teams to establish their own rules and way to conduct hybrid meetings. For example: choosing a primary platform to use, ensuring everyone knows how to use it, and deciding on ways to ensure communication is inclusive of all.
Make use of tools such as the Microsoft Teams chat function to allow teams to communicate from different locations without having to be in a meeting.
Avoid the use of equipment in the room that team members who are working from home cannot properly see - present slides via the chosen technology will be more inclusive and easier for remote members to engage with.
Save in-person conversations for another time, rather than just before remote participants have joined, or after they have left.
In conclusion, it's safe to say that the trend towards hybrid working is an evolving situation, one which all employers should be mindful of when considering future plans. Whilst there is no single right or wrong answer, employees will have an opinion on what works for them and the employers likely to be most successful in navigating this challenge will be those that consult and communicate with their workforce to understand exactly what is going to work for everyone.
Holding purposeful consultations will help to steer formulating solutions as will being mindful that the right answer is likely to be a framework which will evolve over time rather than a rigid one size fits all answer. Most importantly, as always, clear communication of any agreement and expectations between both employer and employee is critical.
If any of this resonates and you'd like to discuss your hybrid workplace strategy and how we can support you, get in touch here.
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