It is now a given that the Covid-19 pandemic advanced business use of technology by five years, and that we are now in a world of hybrid work. But sometimes, just because it is a given, doesn’t mean it is true.
And the problem with hybrid work is that it is merely a new way of describing the way many have operated for a long time.
“We should just remove the word hybrid from it and just call it work,” says Joe Baguley, cloud provider VMware’s vice president and chief technology officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa. During a visit to South Africa, he told Business Times that this was one of the most frequent conversations he was having about current technology trends.
“The problem is, when you call it hybrid working, it’s still calling it out as being different to what people normally do. Whereas what people normally do now, is – that. When I talk to customer bases, you’ve got that 80-20 split you normally have in most markets, except that the 20% is split into two 10s. One is the one end of the market, which is where everyone’s working in an office. The other is the other end, where everyone’s working at home.
“And in the middle there’s this 80% of people doing some in the office, some not, some not quite sure what’s going on, some people in the office every Thursday for no other reason than it’s a Thursday – and you were just a bit weird.”
The comment is worthy of stand-up comedy, but it highlights the inappropriate use of the term hybrid to describe a future trend. Baguley says he is in constant discussion with managements, both within VMware and at customers, and has come to an inescapable conclusion about the substance of these discussions.
“This conversation is not the workplace of tomorrow, but what does the workplace of today look like?” says Baguley.
And in that context, the question becomes one of how companies can attract and retain talent.
“In some cases, we have cultures that are 30 years or 40 years out of date, where people assume that people have to be in an office to be productive. And it’s not necessarily a technology thing.
“The challenge people are now finding is, how do I measure the value of the people I’m employing? Because previously I measured the value of employees by how often they were in an office. ‘Oh, they’re in the office nine to six, great, that’s the metric I’m going with, they were present.’ Now it’s moving to, ‘How do we make them successful?’ ”
A second major challenge in defining the workplace as hybrid according to technology used. is that the technology simply hasn’t met its promise. And this has resulted in tremendous workplace confusion, says Baguley.
“If the technology was good enough, we’d already have been working the way that we ended up working in Covid. But we were forced to do so, and the technology was forced beyond its capabilities at the time. So, a lot of the technology we’re still using is beyond where it should be used, like Zoom and all those things.
“Maybe they’re not quite ready for how we’re using them or we’re not quite ready to use them in that way.”
Bagley admits that he is excited about the prospect of working through this conundrum.
“For me, the exciting thing as a technologist is looking at what is that technology thing we need? I don’t know. But it’s a quest for what it is that’s going to enable us to work successfully in the way that we’re now trying to work.
“There’s something about physical human interaction and connections that people are still searching for, that the technology hasn’t stepped up to do yet.”
* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee