It seems like ages ago. But, do you remember the optimism that we were all basking in back in the spring? Maybe, just maybe, things were returning to a pre-pandemic life.
Case in point, a Deloitte survey was conducted in April 2021. At the time, over two-thirds of the respondents (67%) were still fully remote. However, 64 percent of respondents expected their organization to return to the office by 2021, with 25 percent reporting they had already reopened.
Of course, things haven’t gone as expected. Thanks to the Delta variant that has swept through the world. While this hasn’t changed many return-to-office plans, some may be exploring options like mandatory vaccines for employees or embracing hybrid work.
For the uninitiated, the hybrid workplace is a flexible framework that typically fits one of two categories;
- Occasionally, employees work on-site, while other times, they work remotely or at home. As far as the balance is concerned, that varies from organization to organization.
- There are teams or individuals who work entirely or mostly on-site, and others who work remotely only. So, there’s no one-size-fits approach here. But, it’s recommended that a substantial percentage of a company’s employees work remotely. So, as a starting point, you may want to experiment with an 80-20 split.
Hybrid work is gaining popularity for several reasons. One reason is that many employers and employees had positive experiences working remotely. And, they’ve also thrived. In fact, research shows that hybrid work increases productivity and engagement.
What’s more, hybrid work takes the best of both worlds and combines them. For example, it combats the loneliness that many experienced working remotely while granting flexibility. And, it reduces daily commuting—which saves time and money.
In short, hybrid working is here to stay. And, here are some pointers to make it work.
Hybrid Work is All About Customization
“If the pandemic teaches us anything, it’s that no two people are experiencing it the same way,” wrote Andrea Hsu and Janet W. Lee for NPR. “That is especially true of people who work from home.”
It has been lonely and isolating for some who live alone, while others relish their solitude. With schools becoming virtual, parents with children no longer had to commute to schools, but some found this to be a distraction when working at home. Office life can bring energy for some, while others may never want to set foot in their cubicle again.
All of that is good, says Lorrissa Horton, vice president, and general manager of Cisco Webex Calling and Strategy, who managed 2,000 remote employees in the pandemic.
“I think we’ve been focusing on what do you need as an environment that works best?” Horton says. “Everyone … has been much more open with their personal requests or desires for what makes their life work the best.”
Getting what you need might not be more important than now, says Harvard Business School instructor Tsedal Neeley. In his new book, Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere, Neeley explores the concept of success from anywhere. Several years ago, when she started writing the book, she noticed a rise in empathy levels.
“I was delighted, for the first time in my career, to see the empathy that people had and the willingness to make accommodations,” she says. In her opinion, workers have earned the right to ask for flexibility by proving they can work from home.
Despite its advantages, hybrid work can take a toll on one’s mental health—specifically in terms of burnout. More than half of young managers (54 percent) reported burnout in one study, and 3 in 10 workers reported their mental and physical health had declined.
“Despite the burnout, so many of us feel, the hybrid environment offers an opportunity to create a more sustainable approach to work,” states Jamie Teevan for HBR. “Remote and in-person work both have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and rather than expecting the same outcomes from each, we can build on what makes them unique.”
“When in the office, prioritize relationships and collaborative work like brainstorming around a whiteboard,” Teevan advises. But, what when working from home? Focus on “other priorities such as family, fitness, or hobbies.” And, make sure that you eat healthy, exercise, and take frequent breaks throughout the day to recharge.
Personally, when I feel overwhelmed, I go for a long walk—without my phone. It’s simple. But, it’s an effective way to clear my head. Besides, getting outside raises your energy and keeps your mood calm, positive, and focused.
On the days that you must commute, make it easier on yourself by asking for a staggered schedule. For example, if you’re an early bird, get to the office around 8 a.m. to avoid rush hour traffic. But, of course, that also means you can dip out at 4 p.m. before everyone is on the road.
The most important thing you can do? Open up to others, whether that’s a supervisor, co-worker, spouse, or outside resource like a therapist. Sometimes just being vocal about how you’re feeling is enough. And, if you’re still struggling with your wellbeing, they can share advice on how you can cope and manage.
Virtual Meetings Require Structure
“Virtual meetings across your organization should have a consistent format,” writes Lorraine Lee, the Editorial Director at Prezi, in a previous Calendar piece. “For example, include an agenda, assign a notetaker, and make sure there are clear action items by the end that get sent out in a summary email.”
Lorraine also suggests that you pay attention to the following when it comes to hybrid meetings;
- Whenever the number of participants reaches a certain point (usually at least 4 or more), the “hand raise” feature should be automatically activated. This way, no one gets stuck with an awkward mix of people speaking out while others wait their turn.
- Moderators or facilitators should politely ask attendees to set up a separate time to discuss topics that aren’t on the agenda. It’s essential to keep meetings focused and to value the time of participants.
- There is a function in both Google Calendar and Samsung Calendar that will shave minutes off a meeting before it starts. Decide whether meetings should always conclude five minutes before the hour or the half-hour. Regardless of which route you choose, make sure you follow through on it.
And, don’t forget to use the right tools. Calendar, as an example, uses machine learning to schedule recurring events automatically. It is also possible to create an agenda with Prezi Video within minutes – you can go over it before the meeting and keep it on screen for maintaining focus.
Implement a Consistent and Flexible Hybrid Work Policy
Dwyane, The Rock, Johnson, once twitted, “Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”
Obviously, he didn’t have hybrid work on his mind. But this quote definitely fits. Apple, for example, decided Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays would be the days when employees need to work from the office as part of its hybrid policy. When employees are on-site, this facilitates effective collaboration and culture-building.
Also, this makes planning your week much easier. For instance, parents can secure childcare for those days, and you can map out your commute accordingly. And, it also establishes a routine.
At the same time, you also need to balance this with being flexible.
“The joy of hybrid work is the extra time you get to spend at home, writes Howie Jones in another Calendar article. “You should take advantage of this time that’s given to you. After all, who knows how long you can afford the luxury of hybrid work at your workplace.”
Your Calendar can help you plan your home office workday so that it fits in with your personal life as much as possible. Make time for family time and hobbies. Consider ways to optimize your work-from-home schedule, so you can attend recitals and sporting events with your children. Those are the moments you’ll cherish most in the future and not the time spent working.
Arguably one of the biggest drawbacks regarding hybrid work is the possible security threats it presents. In fact, Statista reports that 68.5% of businesses have been victimized by ransomware in 2021. This rate is the highest yet, marking a 24% increase over just three years ago.
In terms of basic computing practices, this is directly attributable to the rise in the number of people working from home (WFH), as well as a change in attitudes. As soon as users step outside the office, networks suffer from many risks their activity might pose. Suffice to say; this poses a serious problem.
To Err is Human, But the Software isn’t Blameless
“Even if employees were to stay unfailingly vigilant and adhere to the most exacting security practices every second of the day, the fact remains that most virtual desktop products, including desktop-as-a-service (DaaS), don’t provide adequate protection against ransomware and other remote access security threats,” writes Robb Henshaw is Co-Founder & CMO of Cameyo in eWeek.
For example, you need to open server ports to the Internet for Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to work. In the remote and hybrid work era, hackers and malicious actors are aware of this fact. As such, attacks like BlueKeep that target RDP are on the rise. According to cybersecurity company ESET, the number of attempted RDP attacks increased by 768% in 2020, translating to 29 billion attacks. The majority of them were brute force attacks.
“When it comes to the old guard of VDI, DaaS and RDP solution providers, tighter security hasn’t been baked into their products at a core level,” adds Henshaw. Rather than providing internal remedies, they recommend external measures, like;
- Using VPNs
- Creating strong passwords
- Implementing two-factor authentication
- Performing regular software updates
- Using a remote desktop gateway
- Installing the latest OS patches
- Implementing a centralized audit trail.
“These extra steps add up to more than most IT departments can manage and/or ask of their users, and with advice like this, it’s a wonder that the number of ransomware victims isn’t 100%,” he writes.
Rethinking Security to Support the Hybrid Workplace
“It’s clear that hybrid work requires a complete revamp of how we think about and approach security,” says Henshaw.” With the shortcomings of past and current solutions in mind, here are some things to consider going forward:”
- Limit your attack surface. Rogue actors may exploit solutions with more moving parts if they have more points of exploitation. No matter how large or sophisticated the organization is, it needs solutions that eliminate unnecessary gateways and appliances that can become potentially unreliable.
- Control your ports. RDP ports are left open by default in many remote technologies, leaving your network open for brute force attacks. Locking down your ports by design should be part of your remote and hybrid work solutions, not left open haphazardly.
- Eliminate VPNs. Using a VPN, you can set up a secure tunnel between your device and the corporate network. The model relies on implicit trust from the user. However, VPNs can become a liability if your users are accessing your networks and data from a personal device comprised of malware.
- Keep it clean. Whenever logging out, always clear your user data. If the secure browser is compromised, the hacker would only have a limited view of a user’s session.