Tech startups redefine the office experience in the hybrid era

The COVID-19 pandemic and the great resignation have caused us all to reconsider work, what we do and why, how we do it and where. It has put the onus on employers to deliver versatility on and offline, empowering employees with the technologies and working arrangements that will best produce efficiency, job retention, and satisfaction.

Digitisation is at the heart of our future economy. But its key stakeholders and drivers are not the traditional players. Employers today need to listen to what employees want, and find a framework that works for everybody. And, technology will facilitate the combined effort towards a more inclusive, collaborative, and flexible workplace. 

This dexterity will be defined by startups, through their flat structures, readiness to adopt new technologies and ability to transmit a company culture. It is also enabled through their propensity for operating within shared workspaces, and to practise remote working, even prior to the pandemic.

Yet even for startups, the question remains, what can be done about remote working? Even in the most collegiate, flat structured organisation, is total remote work one-size fits all? Arguably, it is not, but it is startups that will define the optimum environment, which will tend more towards a hybrid set-up.     

The demand for hybrid

The future is hybrid. According to a study by Accenture, more than four in five employees prefer the model and 76% of businesses - responding to high employee turnover - have already embraced it. 

The last 24 months have sustained turbulence for long enough for employers to see that employees can work effectively on their own. At the same time, they have also demonstrated the need for collaboration, communication and physical spaces. To understand this paradox, employers are using technology to offer bespoke hybrid models of working that can support top talent regardless of their commitments and concerns outside of work.

The most effective teams today have shed the inefficiency of the full-time office and retained a hub that facilitates culture, relationships, and career development.

This comes with its challenges. Sporadic building use requires better lines of communication between companies in shared workspaces, concierge services, and maintenance. Where employees once only had to organise their own workday, they now have to factor in the schedules of others. How do you plan a team exercise if you do not know who will be in the office?

Here, digitisation finds its new role, building an efficient framework to meet the complex needs of employees. Tech startups through the pandemic gave us the software to work effectively online. But today, the average employee uses 16 different SaaS applications to navigate the modern workspace. 

According to Gartner, only 66% of employees still feel they lack the tech necessary to effectively work from home effectively. And, in the first year of the pandemic as many as 94% of companies said technology would benefit them in the transition to hybrid work by providing a safer work environment in which key information can be shared quickly among employees. Incomplete solutions still provide a barrier to effective working both at home and in the office, then.

The value of flexibility

The point of hybrid working, in essence, is to reap the benefits of flexible working. Most employees want this model because it offers the best of both worlds if managed properly. Managed poorly, it invites duplication and confusion as communication breaks down.

The role of digitisation, then, is to make all the perks of hybrid working readily available, accessible and easy to use for teams living around complex schedules. Digitisation does not replace physical spaces; it reinforces them.

In the words of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “A combination of space and this remote digital fabric that we have established through the pandemic will come together to give us the tools for flexibility.”

No two teams are the same and the technology itself must be versatile to meet the needs of different users. But a number of trends are coming out on top as we understand the new priorities of the post-pandemic employee: development opportunities, a good work-life balance, and looking after their health are all key concerns that technology can help address in order to deliver a better experience of work.

For instance, Google has met this need head on by offering counselling for employees to support the return to the office three days a week. Chargebee has introduced conference-free ‘Focus Wednesdays’ to tackle ‘Zoom fatigue’ among employees. 

At Witco we have seen the need to arrange and organise functions in the modern office as businesses look for new and different ways to reinforce company culture and deliver a seamless experience of work.

Flexible working patterns make it essential that organisations can guarantee vacant meeting rooms, regular social events, and clear coordination on when to come into the office for effective collaboration. Technology that services these needs, streamlining processes and allowing for better reporting of issues as they arise, will make best practice leaders stand out against those that lag behind.

The employees driving tech innovation

The future of hybrid work depends on technology, and the future of technology will be in creating tools for seamless, straightforward movement between home and the workplace. 

Employees today have far more say in how technology shapes the world of work. Digital transformation will not be driven by the crude push for more output, but by the desire to retain, support, and grow talented employees in their roles.

We have seen in the last two years tools such as Slack, Trello, and Zoom become commonplace as leaders have looked for ways to make remote work more  intuitive. Now, the quest will be to deliver the benefits of both remote and in-person working with technology geared to hybrid models.

The next stage in the evolution of work will converge on rational, adaptive, hybrid models of working that place the employee experience at their centre. The fourth industrial revolution finally understands its purpose: digital transformation will empower the employee to communicate their needs, and the employer to deliver them.