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Lights! Camera! Action! Or missing in action?

Last week, I had an experience that got me wondering about the return to the office, and it has been bugging me ever since. Matt Denby, Strategic Client Director at Virgin Media O2 talks about the ever-changing office etiquette.

I was hosting a Microsoft Teams call with a client, and there were six of us on the call altogether. Five of us had our cameras switched on, but one of us didn’t. I asked everyone to introduce themselves in turn, but because I couldn’t see him, I missed out the last person altogether, entirely inadvertently. The result was that he was a bit offended, whilst I felt mortified for my rudeness.

It got me thinking though. This is going to happen more and more as offices reopen. What happens as it becomes routine for meetings to include office-based people alongside others working from home? What will the etiquette for cameras, microphones or dress code be then?

Back in March 2020, many businesses adapted very quickly to the changing circumstances, and were able to equip staff with the technology needed to work remotely, including smartphones, tablets, laptops and fast connectivity. It felt as though the belief that the office provided the only effective working environment was proven to be a myth.

As offices start to reopen, O2’s research report, ‘Creating a dynamic workforce‘, suggests that we’re heading towards a hybrid working model. This means in many organisations on any given day, some people will work from home, while others will work from the office. We may also see flexibility in the hours worked too.

I believe that the hybrid working model presents four challenges that we need to address:

1. More kit?

My personal view is that for the hybrid model to be effective, employers will need to ensure that every employee has the right tech and devices to enable them to work at their best.

Cast your mind back to the office meetings we had before the pandemic. I remember feeling almost sorry for the person who couldn’t attend and dialled in from home. They were often overlooked when it came to opinions or suggestions. It seemed as though if you weren’t in the room, you weren’t at the meeting.

Sure, many of us have meeting rooms with large, wall-mounted displays and impressive arrays of audio-visual equipment. But despite their appearances, meetings in these impressive rooms can end up being distinctly ‘low tech’. Perhaps because the right VGA cable is missing, the batteries in the remote are spent, the host lacks the required user privileges to connect to the network, or the IT person who normally sets up the equipment is off that day.

We need to consider how we equip meeting rooms, so they offer the same, or a similar experience for both office and remote workers. High speed connectivity is vital in this. The moment a video call freezes, the engagement and confidence in the meeting will be lost.

There’s no need for giant wall-mounted screens, unless you have them already. In fact, I have a 34” monitor with just a single HDMI port that does just fine. Decent webcams. Decent mics. Keeping it simple ensures that hybrid office meetings can be set up and run by anyone, without the IT team needing to be on standby.

2. Engaging employees

While we’re on the subject of meetings, I think there’s an important discussion to be had about employee engagement.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about the importance of ensuring that remote and hybrid workers feel included. There’s a concern that decisions will be taken by people in the office, without reference to their remote colleagues. This could result in conflicts,  but between office-based and remote employees.

Call it semantics, but I think the issue about including remote workers is more subtle than the current debate suggests. For me, it’s less about ensuring that remote workers are included, it’s more about making absolutely certain that you aren’t unconsciously excluding them. It’s one thing to provide the means for them to take part in office meetings, but quite another to ensure an equal, or equivalent experience and contribution for everyone.

How will you avoid allowing an in-person attendee more airtime? How can you be certain that you consider or value a remote worker’s input with the same rigour as the person sitting next to you? These are the sort of questions we all need to be able to answer. A part of the solution requires upskilling your managers by training them in how to manage hybrid teams effectively. According to O2’s research, more than one in five (21%) haven’t received the coaching or mentoring that is so often important for embedding skills or helping people ‘climb the ladder’. And roughly the same number say they have missed strong leadership from their manager.

3. It’s a cultural thing

I can’t be alone in finding the whole ‘camera on or camera off’ debate confusing. And as some businesses choose to return to an office environment, I think it’s going to become more challenging still.

It’s just one example of how most employers will need to plan for a location agnostic workforce. This might require ripping up the rule book (as our research suggests, there can’t be one-size-fits-all approach). And part of this might mean putting policies in place to clarify ways of working in a hybrid working world.

I’ve spoken to two people recently, both of whom were recruiting and conducting interviews using Microsoft Teams. The first was appalled that only one in three applicants had worn a jacket and tie. The other was equally taken aback by a candidate who had bothered to put a suit on for an online interview. All the more so because his organisation was very much smart casual anyway. To me, this demonstrates that we all need to be careful to set and manage expectations, both for employees and external candidates.

4. Avoiding an exodus

O2’s recent research suggests that 32% of UK workers never want to set foot in an office again, while 28% wouldn’t consider working for an organisation without office premises. With conflicting attitudes like these, an organisation that tried to impose a single way of working could end up haemorrhaging staff. In fact, O2’s research suggests that 21% would be likely to move on.

 

How will you ensure that meetings and collaboration is fair, inclusive and equivalent for all, regardless of how and where they work? I’d love to hear from you. You can connect with Matt Denby via LinkedIn or email me here.



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