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Returning to the Office: How Three Organizations are Responding to Shifting Work Models

As more organizations are calling workers back into the office while others remain at home, the burden is falling on CIOs to make sure the whole workforce stays connected.
Bob Violino
Contributing Writer

In an argument still unresolved, many organizations are seeing employees coming back to the office while some are permanently shifting toward a hybrid work model. For CIOs, the ongoing adjustments can present logistical as well as cultural challenges, including how to best support their own staff as well as the entire organizational workforce with the tools and infrastructure required for seamless interaction.

For example, a company might have some teams back in the office half the time, but still need to take Zoom calls from their home offices on certain days. In other cases, employees might have been hired to work fully remotely and are now pushing back or quitting when asked to begin a hybrid schedule.

Given the evolving job market, organizations are assessing the need for flexibility in where people can work while ensuring overall organizational success. Three CIOs speak to these challenges and how their organization is approaching this shift toward balancing hybrid work.

Returning to the Office

At diversified manufacturer Carlisle Companies roughly 10% of office employees work remotely, 10% choose to work in the corporate office full-time and the remainder work three days per week from the office and two days per week from home.

Over the next year, the company expects to have most people working from the company office and a small percentage working full-time from home, says Jon Sigmon, vice president of IT. “We will likely hire additional full-time remote employees because of the job market,” he says.

Carlisle allows departments and groups to determine how best they can handle communication and collaboration with each other and with others in the organization

The IT staff works under the same model, “except that we are very loose with applying the policy and don’t track to ensure that people are not working more than two-days from home,” Sigmon. “The biggest change is the number of virtual meetings. In-person meetings are very rare, and the number of total meetings has probably doubled or quadrupled. Service levels have stayed about the same.”

The largest challenge the company has seen of late is the increasing number of meetings. “We have been discussing this as a leadership team and trying to find ways to reduce the number of meetings,” Sigmon says. “So far we have been unsuccessful.” In addition, team members are requesting more work-from-home days or full-time work-from-home status. The company addresses this with people on a one-by-one basis.

Carlisle uses Microsoft Teams for all of its virtual meetings. “This was rolled out at the beginning of Covid,” Sigmon says. “Without this technology, we would have been dead in the water.”

From a security perspective, the company has implemented tools to protect end users from malicious Web sites and attacks and to provide always-on virtual private networks for all endpoints. “One of our big concerns was the increased attack surface, with so many employees being remote while accessing our secure systems,” Sigmon says.

An Expanded Hybrid Approach

The Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN), an organization that creates education and employment opportunities for youth and young adults, recently expanded its hybrid work approach to better use office space and provide flexibility for employees.

“Previously we utilized a drop-in-as-needed approach,” says Michael Pompey, CIO. But PYN moved to a model where employees work some combination of two or three days per week at home or in the company offices, depending on the type of work and deliverables.

“I expect this arrangement to be in place for a while,” Pompey says. “We are facing significant staff shortages and resignations, and a key driver is staff wanting to have flexibility in their schedules.”

From a systems perspective, the organization supports the hybrid model via online collaboration and videoconferencing technology, including the Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Webex platforms.

“For meetings requiring a high degree of strategy mapping and interactive review, the meeting requester can request an in-person meeting for all staff,” if providing at least two weeks’ notice, Pompey says.

The biggest challenge of the hybrid work model from an IT standpoint is ensuring the connections between staff members are supported, regardless of the work structure, Pompey says. “With four different generations of workers in the environment, each has their own needs regarding how they value interaction, communication, and their approach to work,” he says.

Many of the processes PYN had prior to the pandemic were paper-based and well supported by an in-house approach to handling tasks, Pompey says. “Moving those to digital platforms is only part of the issue regarding digital transformation,” he says. “The mindset and the approach are the next areas that PYN will need to tackle to be successful in this next phase of our work.”

Infrastructure Challenges

The current work model at a healthcare company consists of mostly remote or hybrid workers (85%), and the company currently offers the option for employees to come into the office when they wish.

“Our office receptions, technical help desk and end-user support have onsite presence to ensure support for those who come into the office,” says the CIO at the company, who asked not to be identified. “Several departments coordinate a day of the week or month to come in to connect.”

Over the past year more employees have been starting to work in the company’s offices, the CIO says, and in 2023 there will be a greater shift toward on-site work. “Starting in the new year the management team [is] expected in the office 50% of the time, and will be coordinated with key management meetings,” she says. “We’re asked bring in our teams as well.”

The company uses Microsoft Teams for all meetings, but the quality is not always up to expectations. “Hybrid meetings are the biggest challenge, even with updated equipment, since the camera is never really great at picking up individuals,” the CIO says.

That’s not to say the online collaboration platform is not useful. “Teams has helped us engage via chat, file sharing and collaboration on files, plus video meetings,” the CIO says. “More training sessions are needed to adopt the newer approaches and tools to imbed in a more efficient way of working.”

The company needs to cut back on the number of meetings and emails sent out to employees, the CIO says. In addition, people will be discouraged from multi-tasking while attending meetings so they can remain focused.

Looking ahead to a largely hybrid workforce next year, “we need to have better meeting etiquette to ensure all are heard and all are participating,” the CIO says. “Also, for those not present in the room, it’s important to ensure they are engaged and not multi-tasking.”

Looking Forward

Overall, the trend of returning to the office continues to cause confusion and frustration among staff, but strong leadership and support from CIOs and other technology leaders can make the transition simpler and result in a stronger organization as these three CIOs have demonstrated.

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