Do you have good technology solutions for hybrid working? Many organisations had to scramble to get the right solutions in place when everyone was instructed to work from home in March 2020, but however those were addressed, we now have different challenges.
To ensure that people feel they are having a good and effective working experience wherever they are working, we need to have equity in terms of online collaborations. If people connecting remotely have a different experience to those “in the room”, then we won’t achieve the much desired sense of inclusivity that will enable people to feel empowered to choose where they work.
The last thing we want is for people to be driven back to the office because online meetings are so poor. So what can we do? Meeting room technology, Wifi and booking systems seem to be key.
AWA Host: Karen Plum
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Hello everyone. As organisations are sorting out their new working arrangements, those adopting hybrid working need to consider the experiences that their people will have when they come into the office. Part of that experience will be determined by the technology that allows them to work smoothly with colleagues, either in or out of the office. So what do we need to make that happen? Let's find out.
INTRO: Welcome to the Changing the World of Work Podcast where we provide insightful, practical content to untangle and demystify workplace change. I'm Karen Plum, director at Advanced Workplace Associates, where we combine science with nearly 30 years’ experience, helping organizations change the way they work, for the better.
In this episode, I wanted to talk to someone that's been at the sharp end of delivering technology to an organization during this pandemic period, to find out what the challenges have been, how they’ve been addressed and what they would advise someone that's still trying to get their hybrid working technology sorted.
So I'm joined by Paul Wood, Infrastructure and Operations Manager at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, based in the UK. With over 20 years’ experience in technology in a variety of sectors, Paul has helped many organisations implement technologies to support what we would now call hybrid working. Paul has a very strategic approach to deploying technology, and we started off by chatting a little about his world.
00:01:38 Paul Wood
It's making sure that what technology is providing gives the business what they need to actually function. And of course with Covid that was a completely different ball game, 'cos lots of organizations would have been in a position where they weren’t embracing the whole remote or home working. They were in a very traditional footprint with a desktop PC set, desk and phones and stuff like that.
00:02:01 Karen Plum
And I think with technology always there's a difference in language isn't there between technology experienced practitioners and the world of business? We don't always speak the same language, do we?
00:02:13 Paul Wood
No, that can pose issues if you don't explain things in the right way. So I can read off a load of acronyms that won't mean anything to people unless they're involved in that sort of area, but essentially what we need to be giving the business is the tools they require to actually function and work in a way that allows them to be comfortable working, if that makes sense.
00:02:40 Karen Plum
Yes, in a sense you want the technology to be invisible, don't you? You don't want the technology to be getting in the way.
00:02:47 Paul Wood
It should be an enabler, not a distraction, so you shouldn't have to know how something works to use it. It needs to be simple and a very easy process to follow. The likes of Microsoft, Amazon, Google releasing a lot of new technology in the back end that the end user will never see, they're just gonna see something that works and is an effective way for them to move forward and access data. But everything in the background is changing on a day-to-day basis still.
00:03:18 Karen Plum
Yes indeed. So at the start of the pandemic, many organisations weren't prepared for having everybody working from home, and I know a lot of organisations had to scramble to get the equipment to people, to upgrade connectivity, those sorts of things. What was the experience like at CIPD?
00:03:39 Paul Wood
It was a very interesting one. I started two weeks before the pandemic at CIPD. I came in with a four year plan, to move them into an agile working environment where they didn't have desktop PCs, desktop phones or set desks, which is what they had when I joined. And obviously Covid happened my four year plan was condensed into six months because we had to get laptops in, working with our suppliers that were fantastic in helping us.
So we got all the laptops in, docking stations, screens, keyboards, mice that we could ship to people houses. We had to get a new way of building laptops sorted out, again using Microsoft AutoPilot with White Glove.
00:04:20 Karen Plum
Oh AutoPilot and White Glove - tell me more about those.
00:04:23 Paul Wood
So AutoPilot is Microsoft’s way of deploying machines across the Internet. So if I shipped you a laptop that had gone through the AutoPilot and White Glove process, you'd get a laptop shipped to your home address, the laptop when you powered it on would ask you to log in with your credentials and it would then finish building the laptop as you.
00:04:42 Karen Plum
Aha! Right, OK! This sort of arrangement presumably takes a while to set up, and there must have been bazillion organizations trying to access it at the same time. So how long did it take before people were equipped to be at home?
00:05:00 Paul Wood
We had a historic platform set up for our remote access anyway, so that was another thing, like literally within the first few weeks of being there, replaced and we rolled out the new Microsoft version of it, which is all cloud based. Which then was called Windows Virtual Desktop has since been renamed Azure Virtual Desktop.
This allows you to log in from a home PC through either through office.com or through a Microsoft Windows Remote desktop application installed on any device and you can get to it and it's as if you're on the network. So you have a full blown machine, but you've got access to however you set the screen up in the profile, they'll be saved so you can do your outlook, everything you could do on a PC in the office or a VPN you could do from anywhere.
Within six months of everyone having to work from home, we got everyone a laptop. When you're in that sort of situation, it's not just the technology that you have to think about, it's also the health and safety and the wellbeing of people at home. And so all these areas got together very quickly and basically formulated how we're gonna support staff. Luckily for me, and lucky for them, I had the previous knowledge to actually know what we had to get through the door and what was the best thing to do in which stages. After six months of everyone having to work from home, everyone had a laptop.
00:06:17 Karen Plum
Presumably when you were kicking off all of that initiative, you were doing that from home, were you?
00:06:20 Paul Wood
No, so the first two weeks that I was in the office on the on my own with the facilities and post room. Because you were allowed to have essential workers, essentially working in the location, so we were getting all the kit shipped to us. I was then building everything through the process, working with facilities and post room and getting things posted out. So it was, that first six months I was just in the office every day. Luckily for me, the office is not that far from my house, so I would just cycle or run into the office
00:06:50 Karen Plum
But you were on your own – must have been a bit surreal, wasn't it?
00:06:52 Paul Wood
It was, but it actually, and this as I say really, I know that Covid’s been a very bad situation for many, many people, but from a technology standpoint, it's actually allowed technology to show how powerful it is and how it can help organizations move forward and move away from – “you must be in the office to work, you can't possibly do the same job from home” - where the past few years proven, most people in most roles in office based scenarios can do the role from anywhere, doesn't matter where they are.
And it's down to then how you’re managed and how you actually associate how someone’s performing from a remote scenario, instead of just watching them in an office. So the micromanagement aspect has to be trained out of managers. So for me Covid was the best thing that ever happened because it allowed me to accelerate what I wanted to deliver for CIPD.
00:07:42 Karen Plum
Yes, and it's done that in a number of different fields, hasn't it? It's really just accelerated a lot of the things that many of us have been plugging away out for years, which you know, if you're going to look for positives from this pandemic, then certainly this is one of them.
00:07:58 Paul Wood
From a business point of view is going to be the fact that you now don't have to employ people that are actually next to where your offices or within a certain ring fence of where your office is, 'cause there could be anywhere in the globe and still perform the role for you. Businesses now have a globe to get resource from not just an hour’s circumference of London or wherever your office is.
00:08:17 Karen Plum
It sounds like when you were transitioning into that ability to have people given laptops that you were future proofing, taking a leap into what you felt you might need in the future, so you weren't necessarily just looking short term.
00:08:34 Paul Wood
In technology, you're always looking to what's going to be coming down the line and not just trying to fix something short term, because you fix something short term you have to then change it again in, not the final future. So everything that I've done within CIPD over the time I've been doing all this work since I've been there, has all been exactly that future proofing.
00:08:54 Karen Plum
I'm going to challenge you a little that perhaps that view is a little bit rosy, because it all requires money, right? Budget and resources, and being able to have the luxury to look forward and to plan sounds like what everybody should be doing, but I'm sure it doesn't work out like that in a lot of organisations or IT departments?
00:09:17 Paul Wood
Agreed, I mean budgets and resourcing are two things that I'm always looking at now as well. From a budgeting perspective, I think the pandemic has shown many organisations that there was a shortfall potentially in the spend and the budget that was given to technology. And they can now see obviously the pandemic’s made it very clear that if you haven't had investment or haven't had the budget in those areas, that I would have thought over the past two years people have been rethinking how they budget.
You've also got to sort of have the conversations with SLT (senior leadership team) and things like that, where you try and explain that short term investment will give us a long term reduction in costs because you need to look at what it's going to cost you moving away from the traditional way of thinking how things should be housed and looking to the future how you can future proof what you're trying to do.
00:10:09 Karen Plum
It seems to me that a lot of the support functions like technology, HR, facilities, corporate real estate, have all been regarded as very sort of tactical deployment areas without necessarily a seat at the top table, or an input into strategy. Would you agree that the pandemic has again accelerated those functions to be vital now for organizations?
00:10:39 Paul Wood
Definitely, I mean, I can't see how any organization now would not be having all these different people feeding into the decision-making process, and the same for like buildings now I mean, lots of companies will have big swathes of office space that they've not used for two years. And it's understanding what's going to be the best and most cost effective way, depending if you’re tied into leases or you own the place, how do you now recoup money or make money out of these areas? Because your staff don't need to be in them.
00:11:14 Karen Plum
And just if we bridge the strategic to the tactical, now with the move towards hybrid working more and more with people splitting their time in different locations, the role of the office, which I think you've been hinting at, is changing, and therefore if we're going to be able to have communities of people in the office and elsewhere, there are going to be times when they need to be working together, albeit that they're in different places.
Now this is not news for any global organization that has people connecting a cross the planet - they've been doing it for years, but that doesn't mean to say it's been well organized for years. You know, I'm sure we've all sat in those toe-curling meetings where the people in the room can't hear you, they forget about you. In what ways has technology improved over these last couple of years, to give a more equitable experience to people in both locations - in the room or out of the room?
00:12:15 Paul Wood
I mean, there's two things - education of how to use the technology is a key thing. And then having the correct technology that works for your organization. All these different application stacks now have all the things in them built into them that would make a meeting inclusive.
So if you've got people working from home, you've got people in the office, how you run the meeting is important. So I always now advise people not to use whiteboards in meetings - like flip charts and things - because it doesn't work, it just doesn't feel inclusive.
Use things like whiteboard in Teams or an application called Miro where anyone and everyone can be in the same application and all working together so it doesn't matter if you're in the room or not, you can have the Miro board shared on the screen in full screen and everyone be it remote or in the office, has input and you can see who's moving what on the screen and it's a live environment.
Doing things like that, making sure the technology you have feels inclusive, so if someone in the room is talking, see if you can get an application - I use Team’s examples like Poly. Their kit will zoom in, through voice recognition, to the person talking. So if you’re remote, you're not just looking at a whole room of just people sitting there. The person talking is zoomed into and you feel like you're actually having that person answer the question.
And the same can be said for the person at the other end. So when that person's looking the other end, they they're the ones that everyone else sees on the screen. Having simple things like this and like I say using Miro or whiteboard to allow for collaborative working just gives a better experience.
We have two units on the wall that you don't really see on one side of the screen. On the other side of the screen we have the cameras and then you've got three very discreet microphones down the middle of the room. Technology’s moved so far from what that it was that now you can just buy a piece of kit, put it in a room and you'll get a much better experience using the certified hardware, because it's all designed to work with the stack that you're using – the application stack - so Teams and stuff like that.
00:14:28 Karen Plum
Is it easier to pick up how to use this stuff? You don't need a lot of training or a lot of experience to be able to get a good experience out of it?
00:14:36 Paul Wood
The beauty of the solution that we're using, is it's all Teams integrated, so if you know how to use Teams, you know how to use the meeting room, because when you create the meeting, you make it a Teams meeting and you make the room as part of this a) as the location and an invite to the room. So when you go into the room, you're presented on the hardware we're using, you get a panel in the room and you can see all the meetings, you can see the JOIN button, “Your meeting”, you press join, the meeting starts and the room is live.
So anyone who's joining that meeting will be joining the same meeting you've just started, so it's as if you're sitting at home, or you’re having a Teams call with someone else - just something between two people. It's exactly the same thing because it's designed that way, to be user friendly - so you don't have to learn a whole new application, it's just the Teams that you use every day.
00:15:30 Karen Plum
For somebody listening to the podcast, in an organization where they haven't got their meeting room equipment sorted out and they're still having these dodgy meetings with people remotely, I mean, you know, my worry is that if the experience is poor, people are going to find themselves having to come back into the office because they just can't cope with those sorts of meetings.
Presumably there are other alternatives that organisations could look at, and you know really if they have a small budget or they don't know where to start - how would you advise them - without your CIPD hat on?
00:16:05 Paul Wood
Look at what you use already. Say for instance you're using Google. OK, what does Google offer us that we can incorporate and use and then look at the hardware that we could possibly purchase to do that with and to improve it - not necessarily a whole solution, just what hardware could we buy that will improve the experience and make it an inclusive experience for remote and internal.
It's all about as you say, if you don't have the budget then you've got to look at what's the easiest way to get to where you want to get to. And I agree with you that if you haven't got an inclusive experience in place, then yeah, people are going to have to come back to the office because they won't feel they're getting what they need from the meetings remotely.
There's lots of free things out there you can go through. There's lots of web forms you can go to, to find out all this information. But Google and like you got Zoom or WebEx, to name a few, you obviously got Teams, but all these areas will have a variant that isn't going to be a massive cost investment. It's going to be, the cost investment is around if you want to put proper hardware into a meeting room, that's where you get the cost issue.
Some of them are gonna be very expensive, but nowadays vendors are releasing hardware like at an entry level where it will be a much better experience for people to use it and they work across all solutions, so..
00:17:21 Karen Plum
So there are lots of options. I wanted to ask Paul about training, but we need to take a quick break here and I'll be back with more questions for Paul after this message.
00:17:36 ADVERT: Are you changing the way your organization works? Maybe you're trying to see if hybrid working is right for your business or needing to train people to work or manage in the virtual world. Perhaps you're trying to work out how much space you need once you adopt different ways of working, and what types of environments will work best?
At Advanced Workplace Associates, we work with companies around the world, helping people figure out the answers to these challenges, based on what they want to achieve for their business. Our friendly team of consultants blend workplace science with creativity, to help you create the best work experiences for your people.
We gather the evidence needed to decide on future ways of working through a range of studies, and provide change management support when you're implementing new strategies.
If you'd like to talk to us, there are details in our show notes. We look forward to hearing from you.
00:18:31 Karen Plum
Welcome back. In my experience, technology departments are often excellent at delivering new stuff, but organisations don't always follow through with training people in the use of these things. So we've got lots of gadgets and gizmos, new meeting room kit or whatever it is, but people might not know how to use it. I wondered what Paul's experience had been, over this pandemic period.
00:18:55 Paul Wood
A lot of things changed over the pandemic. Lot of how office space works has changed. So I’ll use Wi-Fi as an example. Wi-Fi would be a key investment again for me, because everyone’s now on laptops, they're not using desktops. They want to be about to work anywhere in the office, so you need a solution where the Wi-Fi is going to be different to what they were using before, so again, how do you train people on that? And the answer that we came up with was that we go through and we write documentation.
A very sort of bullet point with pictures, and we added that to a central SharePoint site like an Intranet site and then also we did an induction piece, so every single person coming back into the office went through an induction. Now that induction could have been with them in the office where I didn't feel comfortable coming into the office we actually did it through using the Teams kit, so I did a whole 45 minutes or an hour meeting where I was going through how the new technology worked, showing people how it worked and this is the same for printing, the Wi-Fi, how the Teams kit works.
And we actually did an induction around the building, so Facilities with Technology walking around with them went through like this is how you come into the building, this is where you're going to go to now, this is all the different settings we've put out as well, 'cause obviously we went from using four to one floor and that one floor had lots of different seating arrangements or settings
And it's taking people through and guiding them and then making sure everything you've gone through in these inductions there's on the central SharePoint site or the Intranet site, so anyone who wants to get information can search for it, and it can be easily sent as part of an introductory pack to people joining the business.
00:20:36 Karen Plum
I was interested as you were talking about the induction back to the building. Clearly a lot had changed and you said “obviously we went from four floors down to one”.
00:20:46 Paul Wood
Yeah, because - so this comes down to communication within the business as well. So there was a survey done where like how many people would want to carry on working from home and based on the information that we got back, and there was lots of other questions and see how to formulate this end result. But it came back saying, OK, well we're gonna redesign one floor and that one floor will have lots of different seating arrangements or settings. So we've got places with one screen, dual screens, no screens touchdown spaces, small medium meeting rooms and collaboration spaces.
All these different sort of settings we've now got across this floor. One thing we haven't talked about is booking systems I mean..
00:21:25 Karen Plum
And particularly if you're reducing the footprint of the building, so you've gone down because you've surveyed the staff and you know that 2/3 of them want to come in a couple of days a week or whatever. So you've downsized, you've got fewer desks, so in the management of those desks is obviously much easier if you have the ability for people to be able to book.
OK, to wrap up then Paul, if you're not wearing your CIPD hat and you're talking to a friend in another organization, not a technology expert, if they came to you and asked you what's the bare minimum we need to have in place so that people can work smoothly together when some are in the office and some of them are out of the office, 'cause I guess that's what a lot of organisations are grappling with, with the notion of hybrid working. What might you say?
00:22:16 Paul Wood
I’d say the key thing for that, is having the correct or a decent solution for your meeting rooms. The main reason for that is again collaboration and inclusion. You want the meetings themselves to run smoothly and everyone to be involved. That, for me, it's key, and without that it's, you're gonna have a problem going forward.
So I say, the key thing is gonna be definitely the meeting space hardware and making sure that everything that involves the meeting itself, is in such a way, and designed in such a way that everyone who's in the office and remote feels included. That way you're gonna have much better meeting experience as opposed to people on the other end of the phone being forgotten or the people on the Teams call, the meeting call being forgotten.
The only other thing I'd then suggest would be the Wi-Fi in your office because having a bad experience in an office when you come in, where you can't connect to the office network or you can't get to a printer, or you'll you have issues with Teams or video calls meetings in the office compared to being at home isn't gonna work going forward. You need to invest in those two areas. They'll definitely be the two areas I'd say the meeting space and your actual Wi-Fi environment.
00:23:33 Karen Plum
Yeah, it sounds like that's spot on because we know that very many people are finding working from home works really well for them, so why am I going to come into the office? I'm only going to come into the office if it's going to be at least as good an experience and hopefully better. And so if I come in and it's rubbish then I'm just not going to bother coming in and then we're depriving ourselves of having those face to face interactions which we know everybody wants, they don't necessarily want them all the time, but they do want some.
So making sure that that's a good experience and equalizing the experience when people are remote. I think those absolutely, I'd agree with you that if you do nothing else then focus on those.
00:24:19 Paul Wood
Yeah, completely agree.
00:24:20 Karen Plum
Alright, well thanks so much Paul for spending time on the podcast with me, it's been a fascinating canter through the world of technology during and post, well, we're hopefully post the worst of the Covid. So thanks very much for joining me.
00:24:35 Paul Wood
Thank you for having me, thank you.
00:24:38 Karen Plum
So the meeting experience is key, and I think most people would agree. Having a rubbish experience when you're not in the room will eventually force people back to the office and torpedo your efforts to create a smooth hybrid working arrangement.
Technology has come on in leaps and bounds, so there are plenty of options to explore, if you're on this journey.
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