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This year several new buzzwords have been added to our lexicon. One such phrase, coronacoaster, is something we’re all experiencing. This term neatly describes the ups and downs of what’s been in the news about the pandemic. We think the end is in sight, then learn of a setback that could mean it takes far longer.

Most recently in England, we moved back into a national lockdown. Organizations had to halt plans for a return to the office. Those of us who had returned to COVID-19 safe offices have begun to work from home again. At the time of writing, the current lockdown may yet be further extended.

However, another new phrase has also gained traction in recent weeks and months. And it could offer a way forward. This time last year, the word ‘hybrid’ was more usually followed by words like ‘cars’ or ‘plants’. These days, it’s all about ‘hybrid working’. From Forbes to the FT and beyond, the feeling is, hybrid working could well be the future of work.

What hybrid working looks like

Hybrid working, where employees mix office-based work with working from home or another location. But it can mean different things to different organizations. Some companies structure hybrid working around shifts to enable social distancing, whilst others structure it around employees’ workloads. For example, certain days are designated as office days, for in-office meetings and collaborative work. And remote working days are scheduled for focusing on individual tasks that require concentration and minimal disruption. Elsewhere, organizations structure hybrid working around their employees’ needs. They provide desk space for those finding it challenging to work from home. And they continue to support employees that need or want to work from home.

Hybrid working ensures businesses can flex with change and can scale to meet demand and individual needs. If employees need to self-isolate or stay home because of travel restrictions – hybrid working can ensure a seamless switch from office-working to fully remote working.

Technology for hybrid working

To create this seamless transition, you need the right tools. The key to successful hybrid working is user experience; providing employees with the same experience whether they are working from home or in the office.

Technology needs to provide access to corporate systems and apps so that employees can get on with work. But it also needs to offer them opportunities to collaborate and communicate intuitively with colleagues and other parties. Tools like Microsoft Teams provide this environment. They allow employees to access their work and continue office conversations, online. And vice versa.

Note: to use Microsoft Teams you’ll need to be an Office 365 customer. If you’re considering moving to the cloud we recommend you start with a Microsoft Cloud Assessment.

What needs to be in your toolkit?

The following collaboration tools will help you create a hybrid working environment:

Cloud-based file sharing services

Employees naturally need to be able to access their files to get on with work. In the office environment they may be using a desktop computer. Whereas remotely they may be using a laptop, home computer, mobile device or any combination of these. They need a secure way to access and collaborate on documents from any device. And without the risk of duplicate files and data breaches. Cloud-based file sharing services like SharePoint facilitate this, with data safeguarded in the cloud using appropriate security tools and controls.

Video conferencing software

We’ve all become adept at video chats and videos meetings this year. However, the user experience can be very patchy. Best practice for hybrid working is to deliver the same experience whether in the office or working from home. The solution is a video conferencing platform with all the functionality employees need, e.g. file and screen sharing, and chat. But also, one that delivers a professional meetings experience whether at home, in the office or a large conference room.

Cloud-based telephony system

Remote workers don’t want to use their private landline or mobile for work-related calls. A cloud-based telephony system ensures calls can be made and received – but without divulging their private number or having to claim phone expenses.

Messaging apps

For spontaneous chat with colleagues and collaborators, a message app keeps the conversation flowing. These are a great way for team members to ask questions, share ideas and files, whether 1-2-1 or in groups. Many line managers also use them for boosting morale and team building.

Team management and project management platforms

One reason we recommend Microsoft Teams for hybrid working is because it provides a superb central workplace for your teams. No surprise there – the clue is in the name! Teams can be created for working on specific projects, for different departments or based around desired outcomes. Project, time and team management tools can also be integrated with Teams so all apps are in one place; accessible from any device. This includes tools like Asana, Zoho and other popular third-party software with Teams integration. It also includes apps from Microsoft’s own stack.

In fact, Microsoft Teams centralises all the tools listed above and has become the workplace hub for many organisations. To get the collaborative benefits of Teams you need to be an Office 365 customer and migrate to the cloud. For a successful cloud migration and Office 365 implementation we recommend a Microsoft Cloud Assessment. This is a two-day service which will help you maximize your investment in the cloud. It also enables users to quickly grasp the productivity, collaboration and mobility benefits of their new technology.

Long-term, it’s up for debate whether hybrid working really is the future of work. Yet in the short- to medium-term, as a solution to reduce the uncertainty of the coronacoaster, its time has come. It could be the key to help your organisation achieve much-needed agility, resilience and continuity for your employees. Buzzword or not, hybrid working will be here for some time.