The age of hybrid workforces is here

By Katerina Mansour - 22 July 2021

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly altered the traditional work environment. In 2019, only 5.4% of employees in the EU-27 usually worked from home. In 2020, surveys worldwide showed this number increased drastically. Indeed, a Eurofound survey from July 2020 indicated 48% of respondents were working remotely at least part of the week. Between lockdowns and concerns over one’s safety, a large portion of those who could work from home did so as much as possible. This combination of in-person and remote work has created what we call hybrid workforces.

However, working remotely doesn’t just affect the location of a company’s employees. It has repercussions on a wide variety of issues:

  • the quality of employee collaboration and communication,
  • employee engagement,
  • employee wellbeing,
  • and cybersecurity.

In this article, we’ll look at four key areas of importance when managing hybrid workforces. While the pandemic is at the centre of the conversation, hybrid workforces will continue to exist in the foreseeable future.

Employee engagement

Employee engagement is about an employee’s commitment to their company in terms of its team, vision, and goals. During a global pandemic, when most (or all) of your workforce is at home, maintaining engagement is a challenge.

The beginning of the pandemic was mainly characterised by companies laying off personnel. Every week there were new headlines about corporates laying off staff. However, over a year later, we’re seeing more departures coming from the employee’s prerogative. The pandemic turned out to be a wake-up call for many employees worldwide. Some discovered new passions, others realised they didn’t like their job anymore. Many fundamentally disagreed with their company’s way of handling the crisis. The circumstances and reasons behind a departure can vary greatly. Yet, ensuring strong employee engagement could help prevent or at least delay an employee’s resignation.

In the wake of the pandemic, it has become crucial to put in place strategies that foster engagement. Supportive management styles are a must to maintain good employee morale. Creating a positive remote work environment and instilling trust in the leadership’s ability to weather the storm is also vital.

Beyond good managerial styles, employee engagement can also be monitored and improved through training and regular feedback. Collecting employees’ feedback on the company’s strategy and operations can help them feel more involved and heard. A survey showed that highly engaged employees are 2.3x more likely to say their organisation takes their feedback seriously than actively disengaged employees.

Startups solutions for employee engagement

2daysmood employer dashboard

Startups like Bleexo and 2daysmood (rated by Early Metrics) help companies frequently survey their employees anonymously. These surveys can be used to gauge a variety of factors: mood, engagement, satisfaction, etc. Knowledge is power, and in this case, the feedback collected can help employers assess current employee engagement levels. That information can then help define a strategy on how to improve engagement.

Providing access to training and coaching is another approach that can increase engagement. These resources help empower employees and nurture their career advancement. They can make employees feel more valued and invested in their organisation.

Early Metrics has rated several startups, like ChallengeMe, Skore and Skillbase, that support companies in better sharing knowledge internally and training teams, with both internal and external content. Many startups, like Strivr and Gleechi, also aim to make training more fun and immersive by leveraging VR technology.

Employee wellbeing

Closely tied to employee engagement is employee wellbeing. Indeed, while they are quite similar, they are two distinct topics. Employee wellbeing refers to a person’s mental and physical health. It can have a positive or negative impact on an employee’s engagement, but is also key to improve overall satisfaction. Indeed, it has become apparent that companies should do more to overcome the stigma of mental health in the workplace to ensure greater employee wellbeing and performance.

A Gartner survey from the fourth quarter of 2020 showed that 29% of employees described themselves as being depressed due to the pandemic. The same survey showed that 49% of employees who indicated their organisation had a mental wellbeing programme partook in it in 2020. Furthermore, while many reported working from home was beneficial to their mental wellbeing, it took a toll on many workers’ physical health. A survey of UK workers showed that those working from home exercised less (46%), developed musculoskeletal problems (39%) and experienced disturbed sleep (37%). Ultimately, when you’re suffering from mental or physical hardships it’s harder to be fully productive and engaged in a company.

Beyond improving engagement, an added incentive to invest in employee wellbeing is the reduction of absenteeism. Healthier staff means fewer sick days. Considering the data on how much sick leave is taken due to mental or physical health issues, this is a factor employers should not ignore. Indeed, according to CIPD, mental health-related absence is the most common form of long-term sickness absence in the UK. In a 2020 CIPD survey, 37% of respondents said stress-related absence had increased in the last year.

Startup solutions for employee wellbeing

Tictrac’s mobile app

A plethora of startups have been creating employee wellbeing solutions for several years now, thanks to the growing awareness of its importance. The pandemic spiked those awareness levels and provided them with a boost in users.

Startups like Unmind, 7mind and Tictrac (both rated by Early Metrics), offer solutions like lifestyle coaching, mood tracking, meditation sessions, daily workouts, and gamified mental health exercises or training to help employees monitor and improve their wellbeing.

Other startups tackle the physical repercussions working from home can have. Noonee offers the “Chairless chair”, a wearable exoskeleton chair aimed at workers who stand a lot during the day. Betterback sells a lightweight type of back brace that workers can wear while sitting in any chair. It stabilizes the pelvis to ensure proper posture and provides lumbar support.  

Digital collaboration

Survey responses of biggest struggles with working remotely
Buffer’s 2020 report on remote work

Ensuring smooth collaboration between different teams and coworkers can be challenging when everything must be done remotely. Considering remote work and digital collaboration are far from being new, there were already many solutions on the market. The pandemic arguably popularised many pre-existing tools and offered the opportunity for newcomers to take a jab at optimising remote collaboration.

Platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams saw a sharp increase in users. According to data from BCG, the total time spent on video conferencing solutions increased 3-5x during the pandemic in businesses surveyed. As a result, Zoom generated $2.6 billion in revenue in 2020, representing a 317% increase year-over-year.

Beyond video conferencing, digital project management tools also grew increasingly relevant. Being able to manage stakeholders, tasks, deadlines, progress and setbacks remotely became a necessity during lockdown periods. Indeed, the adoption of project tracking platforms such as Asana and Monday.com soared thanks to the pandemic. So much so that Google announced in September 2020 the launch of a new tool, Tables, to compete with these up-and-coming productivity tech players.

Startup solutions for digital collaboration

While you might have good communication tools like Slack or Zoom, these are limited. They can also end up being part of an overwhelming number of apps and tools employees need to keep track of.

Startups like Unily, Nifty and Jamespot (which was rated by Early Metrics) help centralise all information in one place and provide various communication and project management tools so that employees can easily collaborate and manage projects within one platform.

Cybersecurity

Survey responses illustrating the impact of Covid-19 on business security
Malwarebyte’s “Enduring from home” report of Covid-19’s impact on business security

Last but not least is cybersecurity. Employers have a certain level of control over their cybersecurity at the office. However, that control faces challenges with hybrid workforces. Workers are using their laptops in various locations, with Wi-Fi connections that might not be safe. They may also use their professional laptops for personal browsing more often at home.

Research published by HP showed that 70% of office workers surveyed admit to using their work devices for personal tasks. It also showed 71% of employees are accessing more company data, more frequently, from their homes than before the pandemic. This combination seems particularly risky considering human error is the leading cause of cybersecurity breaches. In fact, a Tessian survey even showed 47% of employees cited “distraction” as the reason they fell for a phishing scam while working from home. Yet, a Malewarebytes survey revealed 44% of surveyed businesses didn’t provide cybersecurity training focused on the threats when working from home.

Adequate cybersecurity training is a must when managing hybrid workforces. Adapting the company’s IT charter, or sending it back out to employees as a reminder could also be a useful step. However, while knowledge of cybersecurity risks and how to avoid them is vital, long or dry training seminars or e-learning videos aren’t always very helpful.

Startup solutions for cybersecurity

To tackle this issue, startups like Cybsafe help companies measure cybersecurity awareness and provide personalised training. The goal with solutions like this is to raise awareness but also understand and correct a worker’s online behaviour to prevent incidents. Not every employee has the same level of knowledge in terms of cybersecurity, thus having everyone go through a one-size-fits-all training programme risks being ineffective.

Furthermore, while awareness is key, so is prevention. Through exercises, simulations, continuous feedback and access to recommendations, many startups help companies both reduce risks and understand what employees think about specific cybersecurity issues. As a result, employers can evaluate how these factors might impact their organisation and take action accordingly.

Beyond training and the use of standard solutions (antivirus, VPN, etc.), there are many cybersecurity startups offering software that can prove invaluable for hybrid workforces. Cyberwatch (rated by Early Metrics) offers comprehensive software to detect vulnerabilities and monitor information system compliance within a company. Confluera provides an extended detection and response solution. Cybereason develops endpoint detection and response solutions, which are key in times of remote work. Indeed, 91% of surveyed IT decision-makers believe endpoint security has become as important as network security.

As found in our Future of Work report, the pandemic has accelerated many trends that were already growing pre-Covid, including the emergence of hybrid workforces. Ultimately, innovation and adaptability are two factors often cited as key for a company to survive times of uncertainty, such as the Covid-19 crisis. Startup innovation will therefore be essential for companies to adapt their ways of working and foster successful hybrid workforces.

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