I hope your magic Mary Poppins bag, to go back to the office, is ready. Let’s see, you’ll need your laptop, your laptop’s power adapter, your headphones, your headphone’s power adapter, your ring of light, your ring of light’s power adapter …
Oh, and you thought this was just a one-time package? That is cute. Prepare to do this two to three times a week, while dividing the time between your home office and your office for the next, well, forever.
Welcome to the exciting new world of hybrid work.
“Somewhere close to 60% of the workforce is choosing the hybrid option,” said Gartner analyst Suzanne Adnams, “which means her ideal is to work at home and go to the office three days a week.”
If I had a dollar for every time I heard “two or three days at the office” while reporting on this column, a socially estranged steak dinner would be my responsibility.
What is not so clear? Where you will go once you arrive at the office. That depends on your employer. Here are three possible options:
• Desk of the same age: As usual. You still have your own desk, but maybe now, your chair and your colleague’s chair are further apart.
• Shared desktop: The hideously named trend where employees don’t have a permanently assigned desk. Also known as hoteling, flexing, or desktop sharing, this is becoming the leading hybrid option for a key reason: It doesn’t make sense to have a desk per person if people only come in a few times a week.
• Without desk: The office is not to work alone, but to collaborate. So instead of desks, there are mostly group meeting areas, with a private phone booth here and there. Companies like Dropbox have committed to this route.
I certainly cannot tell you in detail what will happen in your company, but I can say that this hybrid life will make you even more dependent on your technology tools. The same technology that allows us to work from anywhere – laptops and smartphones, video calling, Slack – is also the technology that makes this so complicated.
Your colleagues are at the office whiteboard, but you are stuck at home in a little Zoom box? He survives the daily commute to the office, only to find that he left his USB-C dongle on the kitchen table. Hi Bob From Accounting, stop yelling on your video call. This is not your basement!
But I have hope. Not only did we demonstrate our technological resilience when we embarked on the Great Work-from-Home Experiment a year ago, the manufacturers of our most trusted products are paying attention and adapting for this next phase. These are some of the biggest hybrid challenges and some possible solutions.
I got back to my good old trip, but on my hot desk, I have nothing, not even a coffee-stained mug.
There are no two ways to do it, you are going to need a bigger bag. And for the record: Anyone who tells you that a backpack is only for high school students is simply wrong.
When you head to your building (assuming you remember where it is), you may have to pull out your phone. Your employer may require Covid-era health checks and other precautions, but may also provide you with the opportunity to reserve your workspace, through systems like Robin or Salesforce’s Work.com.
Congratulations, you made it to “your” desk. I can’t guess what technology will be available when you get there, but hopefully it’s pretty basic, especially if you’re using BYOL (you know, bring your own laptop).
Redesigned spaces, for example, employees get just a desk and two monitors side by side, Jo-ann Olsovsky, the company’s chief information officer, told me.
At least Salesforce employees will be able to store other belongings in lockers and easily obtain other tech peripherals (mice, keyboards, headsets, chargers) from tech vending machines located around offices. You don’t pay. Just swipe in your employee badge, press the button for your item, and cut it from the bottom tray.
If your office vending machines only dispense old Doritos, you can request things through your IT department. Regardless, you are probably dragging your favorite team around. Certainly, there will be more expensive gear in your bag than you don’t have two (tablets, microphones, noise-canceling headphones).
For the smallest things – battery packs, charging cables, a mouse, and the various adapters for connecting drives, memory cards, and cables to your laptop – you’ll need a backpack. Don’t have one yet? Oh, you must. The one I just received, the InCase Nylon Accessory Organizer, has mesh pockets and straps to organize different cables and adapters. It is priced at $ 50, but I bought it for $ 15.
I am in the office with some colleagues. Other colleagues are at home.
If you think going back to the office means the end of video calls, I have bad news for you. Expect that most meetings from now on will have a video component and that there will be even more cameras in the office, and not just in conference rooms.
“It’s hard to imagine going into an office now and all those little confined spaces that could have had a phone in them don’t have video enabled,” Logitech CEO Bracken Darrell told me, adding that he expects some companies to put up webcams. hot. desk stations as well.
Executives working on collaboration platforms at Microsoft,
Google, Slack and Zoom said a key need was for employees at home and at work to feel equal when making calls and working together. These are the initiatives they have launched:
Microsoft Teams: A system called Teams Rooms links conference rooms with remote users who want to join. Speech recognition on new compatible speakers can identify who is speaking in a room and the person’s name will appear on the screen. You won’t be embarrassed about dialing from home either: a new presenter mode removes the background from your video and puts you in front of the presentation, or places the presentation in a box over your shoulder in “reporter mode.”
Google workspace: Google also powers speakers and cameras for the office, but as people leave the house, they will also use their phones more for video calls. An update to the Google Meet phone app will better show people on video. An upcoming update to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides will include the ability to overlay voice and video chat while people work together on documents.
Loose: An audio room feature is coming, so users can quickly access a conference call. Think Clubhouse but for quick meetings. The company, which Salesforce agreed to buy, is also adding a feature for sharing pre-recorded video messages. This could help a manager send an announcement to everyone, whether they are in the office or at home.
Zoom: The star of the pandemic has its own conference room service called, say it with me, Zoom Rooms. The company’s Zoom Rooms Controller app for iOS and Android allows people in the conference room to control meetings from their phones, without having to touch the dirty shared keyboard or room control panel.
A bigger challenge: What if the in-person meeting includes some physical items, like a whiteboard? How do people support and contribute at home?
Google and Microsoft have tried to facilitate this. Microsoft makes the Surface Hub, a giant Windows tablet for offices that runs the Microsoft Whiteboard app connected to the cloud. Those on a Microsoft Teams call can view and add to the whiteboard. Same idea with Google’s Jamboard. People in the office can scribble on the giant screen, and those in a Google Meet video call can see it and add content to it. Zoom works with third-party hardware manufacturers to integrate the board.
Today I work from home, how can I share that with the world?
The upside to all of this is that being stuck at home won’t be as bad as it used to be. You are already fine-tuning your setup, and some companies even plan to continue subsidizing the home office needs of employees. And now that you’ve gotten used to over-communicating your hours and deadlines? Keep doing it, wherever you are.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
What do you expect your return to work to be like? How will you prepare for a hybrid situation? Join the conversation below.
Google added some features to its calendar to help, including what it calls “segmentable work hours.” You can make it clear to your colleagues where you are working from or if you are doing something else, like exercising or getting around. Slack is also exploring the possibility of adding more status options to indicate their whereabouts.
This return to office may have a fancy name, hybrid job, but make no mistake, it’s just as hybrid as Frankenstein’s monster. Just remember, a year ago we went through a pretty catastrophic job change, and we will do it again. Don’t forget the dog.
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Write to Joanna Stern at [email protected]
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