hybrid workplace

The Hybrid Workplace - Dual Set of Challenges for Driving Collaboration

27 Oct 2020

Before COVID-19 changed everything, collaboration technologies were starting to hit their stride, but adoption was well behind where the vendors thought it would be. The technology has long been enterprise-grade, but the value proposition has taken time to be properly recognized. As awful as the pandemic has been, it has created an unexpected boom in our space, and while that has been good for business, the new normal has created new challenges for both buyers and sellers.

Collaboration offerings come in a few flavors, but they’ve all been designed to support office-based settings. Remote working has been trending for years, but always as a niche or secondary option. With work from home (WFH) suddenly becoming the norm, it might appear that this disruptive shift would undermine these inherent strengths of collaboration offerings, but the opposite has been the case.

Work from home actually presents some great use cases for collaboration tools, making it the right technology at the right time. This has been good news for sellers, but nothing stands still in our world for long. Over the past few months, collaboration technologies have been achieving widespread adoption to support work from home, but it’s also become clear that this model doesn’t work for everyone, and many businesses want to see a return-to-office when it’s safe to do so.

Some businesses can operate entirely onsite with no remote workers, and the same is true for other types of businesses that are entirely virtual. The majority, however, need to support both now, and will continue needing to do so whenever the pandemic runs its course. This is giving rise to what’s being call the “hybrid workplace,” where businesses must find ways to support both models. Each has its own challenges, not just for being productive, but also for having the right collaboration tools and technologies.

New Research About the Hybrid Workplace

A just-published research study, “The Rise of the Hybrid Workplace,” seeks to address this, and with permission, I’m going to cite some key findings here. The study was commissioned by Cisco and conducted by Dimensional Research, and reflects the state of things on a global basis for mid-sized and larger businesses.

An online survey focused on the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace environment tallied 1,569 responses, with a balanced mix by region – North America, EU and APAC – as well as by size of business, from 250 employees and up.

On this basis the research is statistically sound, but it should be noted that the respondent profile was management level or higher. As such, the findings reflect the views of decision-makers and influencers – not end users. They may be accurately reflecting what the workplace environment needs, but it’s an indirect perspective, so be cautious about drawing conclusions pertaining to end users.

That aside, I’ve grouped the key findings into two themes that align with the challenges outlined above. First will be the collaboration challenges posed by COVID-19 for the home-based workforce, and then what’s facing businesses in terms of bringing those workers back to the office and being productive in that setting.

Work from Home Challenges

Supporting the Growing WFH Trend

The following chart from the report breaks out the extent of work from home both pre- and post-pandemic. While the latter can only be speculative about what might be, the expectations clearly show that WFH is here to stay.

  • 58% expect the level of WFH will be at least 8 days a month, which is well ahead of the 34% response for pre-COVID
  • Conversely, pre-pandemic, 66% indicated WFH was under 7 days a month, validating the notion that remote work was not widespread before this change
  • In terms of cases where businesses take an absolute position, note that 25% said there was no WFH prior to COVID – 1 in 4 – but that level is expected to drop to only 9% after
  • At the other, only a small segment of respondents – 1 in 8 – work from home full-time, and that level will not likely change after the pandemic

How many days do you work from home?

Overall, this chart shows the extent to which WFH is growing, and from that, two implications arise. First, the data confirms that WFH is a major trend, and businesses must be prepared to support it. Secondly, the level of full-time WFH is low – and is not expected to change – so businesses will need to support collaboration in both settings.

Meetings Need to Support Remote Workers

Collaboration platforms like Unified Communications comprise many applications, but meetings is arguably the biggest value driver. Many aspects of the research focused on meetings, and the starting point was to look at where participants would be based. The following chart summarizes the expectations around home-based workers being part of the meetings experience.

  • As the call-out shows, 98% expect that some or all meetings will have at least one home-based participant
  • The pre-pandemic level is quite high as well – 88% – so this is not a new development, but going forward this will be a near-universal expectation
  • In terms of a universal expectation – all meetings will have at least one home-based participant – only 1 in 7 said that for pre-pandemic, but this jumps to 1 in 5 for post-pandemic – again, the trend is clear

Percentage of meetings with WFM participant

There should be little doubt from this data about the need to support remote workers for collaboration. Pre-pandemic, only 12% felt they could get all participants physically in the same room, and going forward, that number drops to just 2%. This should be a key consideration when planning a collaboration technology strategy, and it’s especially applicable to video, which has emerged as a key enabler for remote collaboration.

Frustrations Working from Home for Meetings

The above data points establish the need to support WFH for collaboration, but to do it well, the challenges must be addressed. When it comes to meetings in particular, the research indicated a mix of challenges expressed as frustrations, either related to the technology being used, or the overall experience itself. As such, there are multiple points of frustration – some of which better collaboration tools can address, but others have more to do with the working environment – which can be addressed to some degree by technology. Regardless, while it’s clear that home-based meetings will be a big part of collaboration going forward, conditions are less than ideal for producing great outcomes. While some of these issues are less problematic in the office, it’s clear how they can be a drag on productivity with WFH.

Source of frustration


Poor audio quality


Too many people talking at once


Other participants are in noisy environments


Being stuck on your laptop for long hours at a time


Background noise from your side



Office-Based Challenges

As if supporting home-based workers isn’t hard enough, being productive in the office has its own set of challenges. To whatever extent your employees have shifted to WFH, the research also focused on what needs to be done to bring them back to the office. Nobody knows when that will happen or what form it will take, but most businesses do not view WFH as their de facto operating model post-pandemic. Many workers will undoubtedly be happy staying home-based, but others would prefer being back in the office with a change of scene from being home for so long.

That said, there is no guarantee that return-to-office will be effective, and all businesses know that much needs to be done here. Aside from taking all the expected steps to make the office space safe and sanitary, there are operational and technology challenges that pre-date COVID-19, and these will also need to be addressed. Just as the above table summarized frustrations with WFH collaboration, there is a different set of frustrations for the in-office experience, and these are tabled below.

Frustrations with In-Office Collaboration Experiences

Frustrations with In-Office Collaboration Experiences

This table is self-explanatory, and the problem set is quite different than with WFH. The issues here have more to do with the limitations of using applications that support meetings, as well as the meeting room environment itself. The latter isn’t pertinent for WFH, but it speaks to frustrations around meeting room access and availability. In-person meetings are a big part of the office-based collaboration experience, and clearly, these points of frustration will need to be addressed when developing a return-to-office plan.

The leading response is also worth noting, and speaks to AV issues long associated with legacy technology, especially around integrating audio and video applications. Given how seamless today’s browser-based video applications are – and how quickly they’ve been adopted to support WFH – employees will have little patience for these types of problems when coming back to the office, so IT decision-makers need to be mindful of how this could impact their desire to embrace the office once again.

Changes Planned to Support Return-to-Office

Businesses know that their workplace needs to be re-thought before employees will not only come back, but will want to stay. Most remote workers have adapted to WFH by now, and will have different expectations for being in the office again. There will be some table stakes to cover for a safe workplace, but workers will also be looking for a collaboration experience that’s as seamless as what they use at home. The same applies to having the flexibility to manage the work/life balance they had with WFH.

The data table below only lists the top five changes planned, but they provide a good indication for what this new office workspace will need to look like. Video will play a central role, as remote workers have become immersed in using it at home, and for businesses that were lagging in using video pre-pandemic, they will have to catch up on this front. Taking that a step further, they are also planning to step up with devices, providing headphones and video endpoints to make the in-office collaboration experience better. Some employees will come back to the office full time, and others will split time at home, and regardless of that mix, businesses need to think in terms of a hybrid workplace strategy with different drivers for each environment.

Changes planned


Increased use of video meetings


Increased sanitation for the workplace


Increased use of collaboration applications


Increase in work flexibility (hours, location, etc.)


Providing WFH employees with collaboration devices



Bigger Picture Integration Issues

To close out my analysis, IT decision-makers must also recognize that collaboration planning cannot occur in a vacuum. Unified Communications platforms base their value on having seamless integration with the vast range of applications that drive both collaboration and workflows. IT decision-makers understand the advantage of having an integrated platform for collaboration over a patchwork of standalone point solutions. Collaboration in a digital world demands this, yet issues clearly persist.

Almost two thirds of respondents validated this concern, so clearly, the in-office collaboration experience is not as seamless as what remote workers will likely expect when coming back. This will somehow need to be addressed for a hybrid workplace plan to succeed. Enterprise-level integrations have always been complex, but return-to-office will be competing with the ease of use that home-based workers have become accustomed to, and they will not want to stay there if collaboration is a constant battle with applications that don’t play well together.

Experience integration issues across collaboration vendors?








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