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The Present is Hybrid: How COVID-19 Has Reshaped Work and Education

The COVID-19 pandemic flipped the world on its head in 2020, forcing an abrupt shift to remote work and virtual classrooms almost overnight. Now, even as the acute phase of the crisis recedes, it’s becoming clear that the future of both work and education will be increasingly hybrid – combining in-person and remote elements. While there is still debate about the ideal balance, most experts agree that the hybrid model is here to stay. On AVWeek episode 663 host Tim Albright chatted with Kristin Bidwell of Audiovisual Consulting Team, Brock McGinnis from Nationwide, and Danny Hayasaka of Call One about a recent article on AVNetwork.com.

“There’s this divide,” explains Hayasaka. “Many organizations were flipped on their heads and had to make decisions very quickly. They transitioned to cloud platforms that they never would have thought of engaging with before.”

This rapid shift proved that work and learning could continue remotely leveraging the right technology. And it opened up new possibilities. “Some would argue that hybrid is actually even better in some cases because now you open up the doors for a lot more inclusivity,” Danny notes. “I could be in Idaho or North Dakota and still get a role at a larger organization, doing it virtually, versus having to pack up and move just because of work or school.”

While the benefits of flexibility and expanded access are significant, the transition has not been without challenges. One common issue is inadequate technology. “You can be in a classroom or meeting space and it’s not working because you have a webcam at the end of the room connected to a laptop, and the audio is poor because you’re using a Bluetooth speaker off Amazon,” describes Danny. “Then people say hybrid or virtual is no good because it’s a poor experience. But when you get the right technology, it completely changes everything.”

Getting that technology right is essential for hybrid success. With the proper setup and equipment, both in-person and remote participants can be effectively included. “Technology makes it all better,” Danny adds. Leading brands are innovating to enable high-quality hybrid experiences, but many organizations are still catching up in adopting the latest tools.

When it comes to the balance of in-person versus remote, approaches vary widely. McGinnis shares that his company has engineers and project managers work from home most of the time, only coming into the office one day a week. “That one day is very special,” he explains. “We don’t actually count on getting any work done,

because we spend time with each other. Part of it is social bonding, part of it is information sharing and problem solving.”

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This underscores that offices and campuses still have important roles to play, even if they are no longer the default location for work and learning. In-person is ideal for certain activities, while the convenience of remote is preferred for others. The key is being intentional about when and why to come together physically.

Some suggest that the very term “hybrid” may be becoming obsolete, as it simply represents the new normal. “Hybrid started before COVID. COVID just accelerated the opportunities because we had to find the technology to accommodate it,” argues Bidwell. In many cases, it has already become standard. “My team is fully remote, we work across five different states. We’re perfectly content working from home and collaborate very well online.”

For organizations still finding their footing with hybrid, Kristen advises: “Companies just need to decide – are we doing in-person or not or hybrid? Then you can build your culture around that.” Trying to keep options open only prolongs the uncertainty for employees. “Every company needs to decide what works for them, and make that decision already so we can move forward.”

Even traditionally conservative institutions are embracing the shift. Albright shares the example of an insurance company that recently constructed a new building to house only half of its 5,000 local employees at a time. This shows how deeply hybrid has embedded itself in future planning.

Ultimately, the pandemic proved that with the right technology and intentional culture building, hybrid work and learning are not only viable but in many ways preferable to the traditional default of all in-person all the time. The future is hybrid – combining the best of both in-person interaction and remote flexibility. The organizations that develop effective hybrid strategies and invest in the right technological and cultural infrastructure to bring them to life will have a crucial advantage in the years ahead. The only question that remains is how long some will take to accept it.

To listen to the full episode of AVWeek 663 click here.

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