Webinar Recap | Empowering Hybrid Work with Microsoft 365

Thank you for your interest in “Don’t Go Back to Normal | Empower Hybrid Work with Microsoft 365.” If you were able to join us for the webinar, we sincerely thank you for being there. We hope you had as much fun learning about what the digital workspace looks like for a hybrid team, and how Microsoft 365 can empower your users no matter where they’re working as our panel did sharing their experiences and knowledge with you. 

Didn’t get a chance to catch our session live? We’ve got you covered.

This Session:

The pandemic opened new doors to remote work overnight. Now, we find ourselves facing the “hybrid work paradox.” Employees are keen to retain the flexibility offered by remote work. At the same time, human-to-human collaboration remains a prized component of any work environment. So how do you marry the best of remote and collaborative experiences? The answer lies in honing your strategy, physical spaces, and technology to best suit company and employee needs. On this webinar, we were joined by three professionals who are witnessing the transformation of the modern workplace firsthand.

Episode Takeaways:

  • Find the middle ground between physical and remote work
  • Embrace asynchronous practices
  • Focus on office ambiance
  • Ditch email once and for all
  • Automate legacy processes
  • Invest in meeting technology

Show Links:

Key Takeaways 

9:52 – Find the middle ground between physical and remote work

Stephanie said that nearly half of all American Pacific Mortgage employees are interested in a hybrid work option. The challenge becomes creating a flexible system that works for everyone.

“79% of our employees do not want to return to work, and 30 or 40% do want this hybrid merriment. So there’s a lot of leadership discussions going on. How do we find the right middle ground? Do we have suites and things that can be shared? We also have this multi-generational workforce. We literally have summer interns right now, straight out of high school, all the way to people who’ve been in the mortgage industry for 40 years. So we’ve found that definitely in certain generations, this work from home idea is even more prevalent, and the flexibility of hybrid work. We have to figure out a way to solve for it.”

13:12 – Embrace asynchronous practices

The pandemic proved that remote work is viable. Brain said the next step is companies fully letting go of the idea that work needs to be done in the same place, at the same time.

“A year and a half ago, a lot of companies didn’t even offer an option for people to work away from the office. And now we have people saying, I don’t want to go back at all. This is the new normal for me. I think what we’ve learned is that so much can be done remotely, more than we even thought was possible. I think for a lot of clients that came to us early on in the pandemic who weren’t ready for remote work, they were asking us what tools they should use and what best practices that we could share. And I think quickly they learned that they were able to kind of pick up and still be productive. A lot of our customers are public sector customers. A lot of government agencies have basically closed offices and sent everybody. But I think what we’ve also learned is that we have to let go of this idea that people have to all be working together at the same time, in the same place.”

16:24 – Focus on office ambiance

Michal said that one way to entice workers back to the office is by creating an appealing physical and social ambiance. Providing snacks and happy hours can seem trivial, but will be attractive for employees looking to fulfill social needs.

“I look at it from the hospitality industry. When you’re running a restaurant, part of it is the food. But part of it is that ambiance as well. I think a lot of organizations are going to probably pay a little bit more emphasis on the physical surroundings that are in offices. I think that’s a really fascinating kind of approach to entice people back. The snacks thing actually isn’t as stupid as it sounds. Because even though we’re facetiously talking about free food and drinks after work, I think that social aspect is also something that a lot of organizations miss. We used to do Lunch & Learns every Friday. Or like I said, snacks or beers or coffee. Or just that serendipitous connection you can make by meeting someone in a doorway, or having a drink, I think is going to be really compelling. But from a more professional side, I definitely think that hybrid’s going to be something that’s probably going to become the norm. But I say personally, using that office space for very concentrated types of group-based activities, right? So not just people going in and being a bum on a seat for eight hours. Coming in and maybe doing workshops or some sort of this discovery exercise.”

19:43 – Capture company culture

Certain aspects of company culture can only be fostered in person. Stephanie said that APM plans to keep certain annual events, but supplementing that on a weekly basis is a challenge that still needs solving.

“Culture at APM is huge. I mean that’s probably one of the top three things that ever comes up in our entire company. So as Eric knows, culture is heavily represented on our SharePoint intranet, in our web presence, everything. So for us, it was a major shift to go from having these regular events in person. Now we’re able to hire this national talent. So now our workforce is not only dispersed in a sense that they’re working remotely, but also dispersed physically, more so than ever. So we’ve come up with some innovative ways to capture our culture while we’ve been away from one another. But as a company who calls themselves our APM family, it’s really hard to replicate that when you’re not in person. Certain events that we typically have throughout the year, we have an employee recognition rally. That one being in person will be a no-brainer. I think those kinds of events where, you know, our holiday parties, those are tricky. But those kinds of cultural events are where we know we can create the value. I think the key of how day to day or week to week do we deal with the hybrid situation is really going to deal with our teams being dispersed…that particular hybridization is going to be very difficult to solve.”

26:43 – Ditch email once and for all

Michal said that moving from communication tools like email or chat to asynchronous tools like Teams is critical. This will provide transparency across the board.

“For us as a company, and I think for a lot of our customers, it’s really trying to move people away from email and into using something like Teams. And more so for the asynchronous communication, trying to move them away from one-to-one chat into using something like Teams channels to provide that transparency, and to provide that asynchronous communication piece. Because as users move across teams or move across different areas, all of that has kept historically also. So that’s what we’re saying. I mean, there’s other tools. Obviously from a document management perspective, you have SharePoint and everything else. But I think from a communications perspective, particularly intra-team or smaller team collaboration perspective, trying to move them away from using chat or using emails into using something like Teams where you have the centralized workspace. You have your conversations. You have your tasks. It just provides a whole level of transparency, which has been sorely missing. And that transparency is really critical to do remote work.”

29:40 – Automate legacy processes

Thanks to automation tools like Power Automate and SharePoint, Brian’s company has finally convinced big clients to let go of paper-based legacy practices.

“Right when people started to go remote, the biggest gap was all of the legacy paper-based processes that exist in government. A lot of our government clients were contacting us. And one of the classics is, we call it ‘the red folder.’ It’s the documents that get routed from desk to desk to desk in a red folder. And we start talking to state agencies about this process, and everyone has a similar process. So moving them over to automation and workflow, it was one of those kinds of things that we’ve always been talking to clients about, probably for easily the last five years. The possibility that you can move this process into a digital workflow. But there was no compelling reason to do it. Because they were always going to be working in the office. You know, this process works. And this is the one we’re most familiar with. Why would we change? I get it, you could make it digital, but this works for us. But when there was people away from the office and this process still had to fly, they had to get on it. And so we did help a lot of clients with automating workflow using Power Automate, or even SharePoint for that matter. Just to try to help get them up and running and stay productive.”

36:46 – Build the best conference room

Brian said that physical conference rooms need to keep remote participants front of mind. When he worked remotely in a previous role, he constantly struggled to be heard and included.

“I was a fully remote employee before I came to Kiefer, for four years. Most of my life was spent on a conference call where I wasn’t in the room. And you can tell that nobody cared about the guy that was on the phone. Because I could not hear anything that I needed to hear, except for all of the side conversations. I think the places piece – if you’re building a real hybrid strategy, that conference room is going to have to account for the people that are in the room. I’m glad that we’re actually doing that now. It’s like we’re actually building out the infrastructure of the conference room to be able to support people, no matter where you might be. So it’s more inclusive. And I think it just makes a lot of sense. But for me, just being able to be able to participate, and my contribution as a participant in the meeting is going to be as valued, or I’ll have the same opportunity to contribute as I would if I were actually in the room. I do think that used to be a big missing piece when remote work wasn’t viewed in the same light as it is now in building a true hybrid strategy. It’s the screen placement. It’s the cameras. It’s the ability to provide feedback. It’s being able to hear what’s going on.”

41:05 – Invest in meeting technology

For Stephanie, the best conference room upgrade took the form of Microsoft’s Surface Hub. It’s an easy plug-and-play resource that instantly made meetings feel more inclusive.

“So as everyone had the issue, we all went home. Our primary executive conference room was already outdated. So sent home in COVID pandemic, where we have half of our leadership who’s onsite and half of it is not, immediately became much more complicated. The antiquated technology in the room became a big problem come May of 2020. So I think it was June, we got connected with the trial program of a Surface Hub with Microsoft. They rent you one to test and try out. So we did that. We did that for two or three months, and it changed our leadership’s ability in the morning to have their daily meetings. And it made it much more personable for them. Anytime we now have a meeting in that room with them, they always say they want to see the faces. Because they could see everyone on the big screen. And you didn’t have to connect a laptop, or try and project, or do any of these other things. You just join the device right into the meeting. It immediately changed their lives.”

44:18 – Use Teams for work and play

Brian described using Teams for everything from work to happy hour. Not only is visibility a plus, it also includes interactive capabilities like chat and emoji feedback.

“Here at Kiefer, we had a couple opportunities to test out using Teams as a practical way to pull together a big group. And we’ve done the Friday afternoon happy hour on Teams. We have all 25 of our employees all online. But we started playing around with some other technology, like Whiteboard. We played a game of Pictionary using Whiteboard. And you can kind of see everything happening at once. I really started to feel like Teams is more appropriate for this hybrid conference demand. Right? If you really need to be able to bring people together in person and also online, it’s a great tool. There’s a lot of good opportunities to engage, provide feedback, claps, thumbs up, likes, chat, all of that.”

47:11 – Test out transcriptions & translations

Michal is excited about upgrades to transcription and translation software. In the future, this should enable convenient features like subtitles, as well as the ability to communicate with a global workforce.

“One of the things that’s pretty interesting. I’m not sure when this is coming or not, is there’s live transcriptions, but also live translation which are happening. I think that, to me, is really fascinating. Because I think Stephanie, you mentioned this. Now you can hire people from anywhere. I know you’re looking at North America. But I know a lot of our clients now are like, well listen. If asynchronous communication is the way to go, all of a sudden our hiring pool has gone from being local to the world. Obviously having a common language is a little bit difficult. So I think that translation capability would be incredibly powerful, once they put that in. And the other thing that Brian mentioned, the thing I like with the transcription as well, was a lot of times you can’t maybe hear what people are saying. At least you might be able to read it on the bottom.”

48:08 – Invest in personal devices

Michal thinks that providing laptops to all employees is a great start. But what’s needed next are devices like microphones, headphones, and webcams that can provide consistent quality.

“I would love to see companies invest a little bit more into people’s personal devices. Because I don’t know how many meetings you’ve been in where the person can’t hear you because their headphone doesn’t work. Or it doesn’t connect. Or the microphone is awful. But nobody really says anything. Typically it’s executives, which is really strange, you know? Because they’re the ones that need to be heard. But maybe their microphone isn’t particularly great. So I think that’s going to be another one of the challenges of hybrid work. I think a laptop is just one part of the kit. Now I think it’s laptop, headphones, probably a microphone, maybe a webcam if it’s not put in there as well. So looking at it from the rooms, and also the people connecting you need to those rooms.”

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