A Flexible Approach to a Hybrid Working Environment

wearing masks in the office

By Brian Rhatigan
Almo Pro A/V

Whether you have recently attended Almo’s E4v learning experience or have been keeping up on industry topic discussions — undoubtedly conversations about what the return to the physical office will look like have been in the forefront. If you are like me, you probably feel there are more questions than answers at this point and will be paying close attention to this fluid situation.

If we go back in time one year, the notion of working from home for many was a novelty, not the norm. At the time, I figured, “OK, this should be an interesting experiment for the next few weeks, which turned into months, and has now been the case for over a year.” A quick Google search tells me that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic. Now it seems getting back to the office could be as experimental as the abrupt shift to working remotely.

Can you imagine if we were faced with this scenario just a few short years ago? Think about it; the first iPhone was introduced in 2007. FaceTime came along a few years later in 2011 (but wasn’t widely used until a couple of years later), and while videoconferencing has been around for a long time, these were expensive and sometimes complicated systems not widely available to the masses. This changed with software-based systems like Zoom, Skype, MS Teams, etc. making video calling easy, inexpensive and widely available to anyone with an internet connection. While they were starting to gain popularity, most noticeably in the last four to five years, the pandemic caused these platforms to become household names almost overnight. Heck, I consider Zoom to be a verb now. “Hey, I’ll Zoom you later!”

What have we learned? I gather each of you have your own observations and answers to this question, but there is likely some common ground here. Some industries suffered, some excelled, and some remained flat. When possible, innovative businesses found ways to adapt to the drastically changing conditions, but the biggest thing that I observed was that communication did not stop and fortunately technology allowed us to stay connected, collaborate and continue to operate. The experiment worked in many cases, but with a price.

Where are the water cooler chats? How do you mentor new and existing employees? Has creativity and the random creation of new ideas suffered? As human beings, we have the natural tendency to want to be around other people. I don’t have all the answers, but I can say with a high degree of certainty that the return to the physical office will not be as abrupt as the shift to remote work was. The notion of the “hybrid” working environment that we have been hearing so much about seems to be the natural progression. Another obvious takeaway is unified communication platforms and the associated hardware are here to stay and will continue to be part of our everyday lives both when working at home and at the office.

With this in mind, two important factors you should consider when selecting videoconferencing cameras and audio devices are quality and portability. When this all started and people were adjusting to working from home, it was more acceptable to have less-than-perfect audio and video, however as we move forward this is no longer the case. Since more and more important meetings will be held virtually the quality of the audio and video not only will determine the meeting experience and flow, but can also reflect on the participant’s employer and could be something that leaves either a positive or negative impression.

I think it is a safe assumption that in scenarios where employees will be splitting their time between home and the office they will not have the luxury of being provided two fully furnished workstations with multiple monitors, a quality camera, microphone and speakers — but instead have this setup in the location where they will be spending the majority of their time. However, when not in the primary location and the laptop is likely the only device being used, it is important to still maintain the same high level of audio and video quality during virtual meetings. Portable devices will allow users to easily move the audio and video hardware between the home and the office.

Are you still working from home? When do you plan on returning to the office? Will it be in a hybrid fashion? What hardware do you plan on using?