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How to use UCaaS to fuel hybrid workplace strategy

As employees weigh whether to return to the office, companies are determining the role UCaaS can play to encourage workers to make the transition.

As the pandemic continues to shift course in 2021, enterprises are evaluating how to welcome employees back to the office, while providing a safe environment. This change isn't a simple matter of flipping a switch, as many employees have become comfortable working at home.

During 2020, both businesses and employees learned that remote work can be effective, and this was, in no small part, enabled by collaboration technologies, like unified communications as a service (UCaaS). Yet, not every worker can remain at home full time, and many will want to go back to the office, especially those living in close quarters.

This shift is fueling a hybrid workplace strategy, where both workers and employers alike must strike a balance between both settings. UCaaS has a central role to play, but the needs of each setting are different. Let's explore three challenges posed by returning to the office and how UCaaS can address them.

1. Return-to-office challenge: Safety first

More than anything else, before workers can return, enterprises must address workplace safety related to the pandemic. Not only must basic hygiene measures be in place, but workers must believe they can safely return to the workplace. For those who have adapted well from working at home -- and don't miss the long commute -- returning to the office is more of a choice than a requirement, so a safe workplace is absolute.

UCaaS supports a safe working environment by providing options for touchless communications. Aside from everyday telephony on personal devices that nobody else uses, text is an efficient channel that reduces the need for people to meet face to face, especially when integrated with other collaboration applications. Video provides an even more immersive alternative for in-person interaction, enabling workers to collaborate as they come back to the office.

In addition, more advanced UCaaS offerings support conversational AI, where workers can perform many collaboration tasks by voice, further reducing the need for contact with peripherals and office furnishings. For scenarios where in-office meetings are still needed, AI-driven sensors provide alerts when capacity limits are reached or social distancing is compromised.

2. Return-to-office challenge: Better UX

Providing a safe space isn't itself enough to entice workers back to the office on a large scale. IT decision-makers must recognize that UCaaS is one of the key reasons why remote work was effective. An unintended consequence was to make working from home a long-term scenario for many. Once workers discovered how well they could collaborate using UCaaS, the natural appeal of working from home has led many to question the need to return to the office.

This presents a challenge for some businesses as they try to bring more workers back to the office, especially if they're using the exact same UCaaS platform in both settings. For workers who are comfortable at home, it won't be enough to offer the same capabilities. Instead, the enterprise must offer a better office experience -- one that can't be replicated at home.

Working from home isn't for everyone. When measuring long-term retention and everyday performance, most workers are happiest when they feel part of the team.

While UCaaS applications may be the same in both settings, the in-office experience is enhanced by other factors that are limited or even missing at home. Consider the merits of enterprise-grade network connectivity and data security, an office-grade desk phone, a current model PC, a proper desk and chair, dedicated meeting rooms, a photocopier/scanner, good lighting and a quiet environment. In isolation, UCaaS works well anywhere, but by considering these factors, the return to office offers a better collaboration UX than staying at home.

3. Return-to-office challenge: Building culture

Working from home isn't for everyone. With long-term retention and everyday performance, most workers are happiest when they feel part of the team. During the pandemic, many new hires have never met their co-workers in person, and it's too early to tell how they will fare over time. We are social beings by nature, and the importance of workplace culture shouldn't be underestimated. No doubt, this will be a strong appeal for returning to the office, and while the allure of being around co-workers again will invariably fade for some, for most, collaboration will improve.

Again, this is where UCaaS is a key enabler of a hybrid workplace strategy. The same applications used by workers to communicate and collaborate can be used in a social context to build culture and encourage deeper forms of employee engagement. The pandemic has led to a rethinking of our work-life priorities, where both physical and mental wellness are now part of the workplace fabric. When workers are in the office, it's much easier to address these needs to help people bond together. UCaaS is well suited to support them, with applications that span dedicated team/workgroup collaboration spaces, notifications for fitness breaks and alerts when team milestones are met.

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