How to reconfigure for hybrid work

While many businesses are reopening offices, staff are reluctant to come to the office every work day. We look at how to support hybrid work patterns

Almost every day there are discussions about how working practices are changing. It is not new; nor is it something that came about due to 15 months of coronavirus lockdown measures. But the mobile revolution, pioneered by Blackberry – which allows people to send and receive work email from anywhere – is changing the balance of power between employer and employee.

Kashif Rahamatullah, national Google cloud practice and alliance leader at Deloitte, said: “The pandemic has forced us to work from anywhere. There are significant opportunities for us to be productive in our individual homes.

“This opens up aperture to define the kind of work we are doing, and what tools are required to be productive. Do people all need to be in one place to be productive?”

Rahamatullah said he has spoken to companies looking at dividing their workforce into three types: those who will always be remote, those who will always want to work in an office building and those who will work in the office two or three days a week. Other businesses are also reassessing their expansions for new buildings and reallocating existing facilities.

Auto Trader uses Slack as its messaging platform. Discussing how the company operated during the coronavirus pandemic, Russell Warman, head of infrastructure and operations at Auto Trader, said: “As with everybody else, we were asked to work from home at the end of March 2020.”

He added that the company has already provided its people with laptops with the ability to connect back to the company’s business systems. Prior to the pandemic, the company used a variety of communications platforms, including Slack, Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business, but with the lockdown, he said: “The whole organisation came together on Slack. We set up communication channels, both to provide business updates and for social activities.”

For instance, Auto Trader established Slack communities for catering, fitness and others around pets and hobbies like photography. “We used persistent chat to keep in touch,” said Warman.

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While Auto Trader has been using Slack’s instant messaging functionality for a number of years, it has not made use of persistent chat. Warman said Slack was introduced to the company by its 250 developers, but the company quickly recognised how useful it could be across the business. Some of the Slack functionality that the developers used is now being put to use elsewhere at Auto Trader.

“We have tried to replicate some of the workflows from software development across people in other teams,” he said. “Our IT support team provided training to use automation in Slack such as the workflow for dealing with new suppliers.

“We have channels for the teams,” added Warman. “My direct reports share the work being done for the day, and we chat around problems that may come up.”

One of the benefits of capturing the team meeting in Slack is that people who may have not been present during the original conversation, can catch up on the conversation thread.

Inside the IT function at Auto Trader, Warman said: “We use a lot of automation around managing incidents.” The company has automated sending alerts to other teams, which is analogous to programs like in MongoDB. “It fires an incident, pulls in operations engineers and infrastructure team to build an incident team. You also get a timeline when you do an incident review.”

Slack will become a core part of hybrid work at Auto Trader. Through the company’s Connected Working initiative, he said people are thinking about how they return to the office. From the start of September, staff are being asked to return to the office one day a week. “Hopefully people will come in later in the year more frequently,” he added.

As and when this happens, Warman expects the company will find that it has to maintain communications across a hybrid workforce, where there are a lot of people in the office along with many people at home. “We will facilitate communications and we should encourage people to continue to use Slack for conversation rather than speaking to someone at their desk,” he said.

Collaborating across hybrid teams

Deloitte runs a hotdesk booking system, which enables people to try to find seating next to other members of their team. Rahamatullah said the company has also made more use of team meeting rooms.

“When you come together you have more access for team meetings,” he said, adding that he believes office spaces will need to incorporate more team meeting rooms. Such rooms would require audio-visual equipment to allow remote team members to join meetings.

Looking at how Auto Trader embedded a connected working culture, Warman said the company reconfigured its offices to support team meetings with meeting rooms that can seat 16 people. It also swapped out its point-to-point Cisco Webex communications platform for Polycom Studio.

The reconfigured office space provides a flexible working area and people can connect their laptops to the Polycom system.

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