Hybrid work, once a rare perk, has found itself firmly in the mainstream at companies like Microsoft, Spotify and Pinterest. As of February 2022, around 42 percent of employees in the U.S. work on a hybrid work schedule, according to research from Gallup. Considering that number was around one third of employees prior to 2020, that’s an upward trend to keep an eye on.
To many employees, it’s the best of both worlds — there’s the freedom to work from the comfort of your home and still enjoy the amenities of the office, like meeting rooms and free snacks, from time to time. While the flexibility can make work easier for employees, the hybrid work model presents a tricky logistical puzzle for those in charge of launching it.
“Teams need to work hard to ensure that ideas and input flow freely, and that remote and in-person workers are encouraged to participate fully — regardless of their working location,” said Sandra Moran, chief marketing officer at Detroit-based employee management software company WorkForce Software. “This can be more difficult when meetings are conducted with a blend of in-person and remote participants. Employers navigating this new normal hybrid work environment need to rethink what they offer to their employees, and [whether] they have the proper technology to do their jobs.”
What Is a Hybrid Workplace Model?
Around 83 percent of employees say that hybrid work is ideal for them, and 74 percent of employers in the U.S. say they plan to use, or already are using, a hybrid approach to their office plan. However appealing, this format also comes with unique challenges and obstacles. So, employers need to make sure they have the right tools ready.
“The past two years have been about rethinking traditional mindsets when it comes to working,” Moran said. “Leaders need to think about how they can build technology to support, not just manage, their employees — no matter where they are located in the world.”
For now, technology is keeping pace with the steady acceleration of hybrid work. The video conferencing industry alone is expected to grow in value to over 14 billion dollars by 2029. From managing workflows to supporting employee friendships, here are 11 tech tools that can improve the hybrid workplace.
What it is: Let’s state the obvious: Google is a titan and at some point in your career you’ve probably used Google Workspace. Rebranded from G Suite in 2020, Google has positioned itself to be a platform that caters to fully remote, hybrid and in-person teams. The platform adds new features on a rolling basis, and soon plans to launch one that allows users to join meetings within documents and spreadsheets for smoother collaboration. Some other features on the horizon include malware warnings for potentially compromised files and client-side document encryption to help companies better protect their assets and knowledge. One downside is that because Google Workspace is entirely web-based, it may not be as powerful as desktop software alternatives like Microsoft Office.
How hybrid teams use it: Unlike some other document or spreadsheet programs, Google Workspace’s cloud enablement allows for instant real-time collaboration. This means companies can use its suite of tools to share information and communicate without having to email attachments or deal with complicated access permissions. It’s a feature that Ginger Dhaliwal, co-founder and chief people officer of New York-based workplace flexibility platform UpFlex, says has made Google Workspace an indispensable tool for her team. With Google Workspace, she’s able to collaborate with her team on documents and calendars without having to switch between platforms.
What it is: Envoy is a software platform originally developed for hotel reservation management that other companies can now use to manage their physical office locations, maximizing their real estate usage and organizing when employees come to work in-person. With Envoy, employees can book desks ahead of time, making sure there’s a workspace ready for them when they arrive. Envoy’s tools also help users coordinate office deliveries, book conference rooms and approve guest visits among other capabilities.
How hybrid teams use it: Many employees aren’t showing up at the office like they did before the pandemic, so managing desk space that fluctuates daily is a new challenge. It’s one aspect that makes the hybrid workplace model more complex. Irene DeNigris, chief human resource officer at New York-based search intelligence platform Conductor, said the tools Envoy provides have helped her team mitigate a lot of the risks that come with running a hybrid workplace.
“We use Envoy for office guest registration and to assign tasks to people,” she said. “We’ve also used it to upload Covid vaccination records and test results, because right now we are testing people on a weekly basis before they come to the office.”
What it is: Jira is a platform from Australian software product company Atlassian that helps engineers and software developers keep tabs on bug issues and workflows in real time. Jira’s interface is straightforward. Plus, both managers and employees have a transparent view of current and ongoing tasks. Jira is a tool specifically designed for software and engineering teams and it is ideal for agile development teams. Many companies used Jira in-office before the recent hybrid work wave, but its project visibility features make it a particularly indispensable tool for hybrid tech teams that can’t have huddles in person.
How hybrid teams use it: For nationally or globally dispersed teams, instituting some central location for managing bug fixes and technical tasks is crucial to maintain progress on a higher level. Otherwise, developers waste precious time sorting through disorganized email requests or Slacking one another to repeatedly explain issues. Shane Franklin, VP of infrastructure at Conductor, said his tech teams, which are spread across multiple continents, rely on Jira to keep each other up-to-date on project progress even while working from different time zones.
“[We use] Jira for ticketing requests, and so people can look at projects related to company objectives, or even just if someone’s laptop is broken or they need a new mouse,” he said. “It’s a more centralized, cloud-based solution.”
What it is: Confluence is a technical documentation platform that essentially serves as an internal wiki for storing and updating company knowledge. It’s designed to standardize and automate technical documentation processes so that there are no gaps in communication pipelines. Another benefit of Confluence is that, because it falls under the Atlassian product umbrella, it can be synced with Jira so that records of technology updates and bug fixes can become a part of a company’s knowledge base and get saved for future reference.
How hybrid teams use it: Because their specialty is the ever-changing world of SEO, DeNigris said that Conductor’s tech teams rely on Confluence to keep track of what works and what doesn’t. Her employees can add their own notes to Confluence’s platform, which acts as a digital encyclopedia for their processes, policies and terminology. Confluence makes it easier for other team members to steer clear of avoidable mistakes and use past knowledge to solve future problems.
“In Confluence, everybody has the power to update the [company] wiki,” she said. “Everyone can share information and update their teams on projects. It can help your data to persist, whereas on Slack and elsewhere data is more transient.”
What it is: Excalidraw is a digital alternative to a whiteboard. Remote and in-person teams can share ideas and sketch out potential projects. The platform has a paid option that comes with more advanced features but for free smaller teams can access a version with essentials like drawing tools, text editing and image attachment. A few notable tech companies using this brainstorming tool? Netflix, Datadog, Facebook, and Swappie.
How hybrid teams use it: Managing brainstorms and meetings with hybrid teams is one of the more difficult challenges that come with hybrid workplaces. At Conductor, DeNigris said it’s been vital to find a way to uplift every employees’ perspectives and insights, without letting distance and location be a barrier.
“Because as we are more distributed, we want everyone to feel included and valued equally,” she said. “Just because we’re collaborating out on the office couches, that doesn’t mean our employees in Ukraine or Argentina are no longer invited.”
Excalidraw users can’t save or store their whiteboards for future use, which is a pretty big drawback if you want the option to collaborate on or keep records of brainstorms in the long term. This aside, Franklin said that Excalidraw has helped his company bridge the gap between in-office and remote employees by mimicking the look and feel of a traditional whiteboard, which each employee can add to as ideas come to them.
“The digital whiteboard contributes to a lot of collaboration across multiple time zones,” he said. “Multiple teams or groups can join and create their own notes, whether you’re trying to organize the day’s plan or brainstorm projects.”
What it is: By now, nearly everyone is familiar with Zoom. It was a lifeline at the beginning of the pandemic, but it also quickly became a source of screen fatigue. Now, it’s one of the most common apps for video conferencing. During the pandemic, the company’s users jumped by 2,900 percent, according to Business of Apps. The platform offers HD video conferencing solutions for hosting 1:1 meetings, team huddles, and company-wide scrums, as well as collaboration features like breakout rooms and chat boxes. Unfortunately, Zoom’s subscription costs and inconsistent encryption mean it may not make sense for companies on a budget or who need to share confidential information during video meetings.
How hybrid teams use it: More broadly, Moran said that video conferencing in general has helped her company maintain quality interaction while working in a hybrid model.
“WorkForce Software employees are all over the country and world, and it’s important that people are getting that face-to-face time, even if it’s through a screen,” she said. “In a hybrid world, it’s critical for building moral and developing company culture as well.”
Zoom and other video conferencing tools help facilitate meetings, but they can also do a lot more. At Conductor, Franklin has relied on Zoom to encourage employees to build friendships and connect with others from home. Since the company’s remote employees can’t have the same kind of spontaneous conversations or lunchtime chats, he says Zoom has been the next closest option for fostering an inclusive culture.
“We’re looking to have Zoom meetings running on screens in the lunch area,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a planned activity — if I’m at home, I can just log into the meeting and see how people are doing.”
What it is: Loom is an asynchronous video communication software that allows users to pre-record videos with messages for their peers. The company’s site bills Loom as a tool that lets users “send quick videos when calendars won’t line up and you don’t have time to type a wall of text.” Loom lets users record themselves talking through their webcam and sharing their screens, which they can then send to their peers and coworkers so they can watch them at their own pace.
How hybrid teams use it: It provides a low-effort way to communicate in a conversational way without having to coordinate availability or schedule video meetings. A company’s New York-based employees may hold a company-wide scrum at a reasonable 1 p.m. ET, but for their peers in New Delhi, that means potentially sitting on a call past midnight. Loom allows users to re-record takes of a video as many times as they need to, a feature that gives the program an edge on screen recording. Loom users can also add notes in a video to ask the video’s creator for clarification on specific points as needed. Dhaliwal said that Upflex has adopted Loom to share updates across hybrid teams without making employees jump on a call.
“It’s all about asynchronous work for us, because we do work on multiple time zones,” she said. “So how do we make sure that everyone has the information that they need? I love Loom, because you can video record anything you want and share it with people. It’s a lot easier to document things that way.”
What it is: Donut is a free Slack-integrated bot that provides users with opportunities to connect socially and build relationships with their peers. Relied on by companies like GitLab and Culture Amp to build employee rapport, Donut sends out reminders about employee birthdays, anniversaries, or other milestones so teams can celebrate their coworkers. The bit can also encourage employees to connect with peers or mentors one on one, ensuring that social bonding and networking doesn’t fall to the wayside.
How hybrid teams use it: In a hybrid workplace, how can you encourage employees to bond beyond work-related tasks? The answer is complicated, but Franklin from Conductor said that Donut keeps his team connected even while working from many different locations. It also helps new hybrid or remote employees feel welcomed from day one.
“For new hires, Donut can set up random meetings and allow people to get to know others,” he said. “Everyone is so immersed in their day-to-day jobs that they sometimes don’t realize that the social aspect of networking is also very important, and can accelerate getting things done. We want to encourage people to create those relationships.”
Donut’s impact on Conductor’s workplace culture has strengthened employee bonds and built lasting trust between teams and their leaders, said Franklin.
“Simon Sinek says ‘trust happens between the meetings,’” he said. “Non-planned interaction, whether it’s work related or non-work related, can build that trust and make people feel comfortable sharing ideas with each other.”
What it is: Slack launched in 2009, but as a mainstay of tech companies today it feels as if it’s been around much longer than that. Slack transformed work communication making it easy to send messages about work related tasks, organization updates, or just to chat. On Slack there are separate channels to organize teams, departments, ERGs and social groups. Slack users can also create channels for sharing pet pictures, offer music recommendations, post vacation photos, or discuss other hobbies. The platform lets users indicate whether they’re on vacation or taking sick time, and can integrate with other tools like Google Calendar to notify coworkers about their availability.
How hybrid teams use it: Slack is one of the most popular workplace messaging platforms available, with over 100,000 companies implementing it on their teams. From Dhaliwal’s perspective, Slack isn’t a nice-to-have — it’s indispensable.
“I don't think we can live without Slack,” she said. “It’s a wonderful platform where you can talk and share and celebrate easily. You can send quick, short messages that don’t clog your inbox.”
Slack’s accessibility and efficiency are part of why it’s become such a relied-upon tool, though it isn’t the only one out there. Google Chat, Discord and RocketChat are all alternative communication platforms that offer many of the same features Slack does, with their own idiosyncrasies. Overall, Moran emphasized the importance of workplace messaging software, and how it can give hybrid teams a boost.
“Smart communication technology, for instance, can speed up employee productivity, helping employees to communicate more efficiently,” she said. “[It can] tick off tasks faster to improve business outcomes and even strengthen workplace bonds through a sharing platform.”
What it is: To simplify it, Airtable is basically a fancy spreadsheet that companies like HBO and IBM use to keep employees on-task and track progress. Within Airtable, employees and managers can communicate about updates without leaving the platform, and leave notes on each other’s tasks to provide direction or guidance. The platform’s automation tools can be modified to send out Slack messages or emails when certain records are edited, and can integrate with hundreds of different apps including Salesforce, Hootsuite and Zendesk for more consistent workflows. It also offers a variety of templates such as grids, spreadsheets, calendars and Kanban boards that users can choose from based on their preferred workstyles.
How hybrid teams use it: As far as workflow management platforms go, Airtable appeal comes from its built-in flexibility, said Dhaliwal. Each user can customize their view to fit how they work best, instead of being limited by a traditional spreadsheet format. This, she said, makes it a uniquely efficient tool for hybrid teams, where flexibility reigns.
“Airtable has wonderful workflows built into it,” she said. “I think everyone’s work is so different, and you need tools that are flexible, as opposed to traditional applications that force you to work their way. Airtable gives you the components to create the workflows you need.”
What it is: CBRE Host aims to make workplace experiences as comfortable and seamless as possible. Its mobile app lets employees request desk and office locations as well as supplies like whiteboards and monitors to get their work done effectively. It can even let users control workplace aspects such as lighting and room temperature in meeting rooms to make spaces more comfortable.
How hybrid teams use it: Real estate is expensive. If companies are spending money on office space, they want to make sure it’s getting used. But in a hybrid work model, Dhaliwal said it can be hard to convince some employees that making the commute is worthwhile. Host CBRE’s technology is AI-enabled, and can learn over time and give leaders a clearer picture of which employee services are in highest demand.
“Companies now have to work a lot harder to get people to come into the office,” she said. “[Host CBRE] collects data and really tries to figure out how to create a more personalized office experience.”
For a hybrid model to truly be hybrid, you have to encourage employees to utilize the office space available to them by making it as accommodating and appealing as possible. CBRE Host tackles this problem by giving employees more control over their space — they can tweak everything from the supplies at their disposal to the warmth of their office. The CBRE Host platform can make interactive office maps, order catering, and enable keyless employee entry to make the office more inviting and easier to navigate. It also provides tools with which companies can keep track of their employees’ most common requests, so they can anticipate them before they occur.
“A lot of companies are now investing in employee experience applications to create more holistic services for their employees,” Dhaliwal. “That way, they have everything that they need, and are given a sense of safety and well being.”