CIOs supporting a hybrid mix of in-office and remote workers, and those who float between, need to implement new tools and strategies to get it right. But they will also need to change how they think about hybrid work, which analyst firm Forrester characterizes as \u201cmessy\u201d even as it says 51% of organizations are moving in this direction.\n\nHybrid work is often thought of in terms of location, according to a November Gartner report. \u201cIf leaders focus on location alone, they\u2019ll miss much larger benefits \u2026 including flexible experiences, intentional collaboration, and empathy-based management,\u2019\u2019 the report cautions.\n\nAdopting a flexible, human-centric approach that puts people at the center of work will lead to better employee performance, lower fatigue, and intent to stay, according to the firm.\n\n\u201cEven if skeptical leaders are less concerned about fatigue and retention of talent in today\u2019s tight economic climate, they care about performance,\u201d says Graham Waller, a distinguished vice president analyst at Gartner. \u201cLeaders too often are making future of work decisions based on instincts and feelings today. This can be a big mistake as the way we used to work won\u2019t anymore.\u201d \n\nUnfortunately, when it comes to supporting hybrid workforces and anticipating how organizations will conduct work in the future, CIOs will likely make a number of mistakes before they successfully facilitate the optimal workplace for their organizations in 2023 and beyond. Here are the most likely culprits.\n\nShortchanging your return-to-office strategy\n\nRemote work caused a great deal of Zoom fatigue in 2022, driven by factors such as a lack of manager coaching on how to connect with teams remotely, says Rebecca Wettemann, principal at tech analyst firm Valoir Research, not to mention the exhaustion and burn out of channeling employees\u2019 every interaction through a screen.\n\nBut as employees have come back to the office anticipating the benefits of in-person interactions, many have been disappointed, thanks to an organization not fully prepared for their arrival, she says, despite, in many cases, mandates to do so.\n\n\u201cThe biggest tech fail was expecting folks to come back to the office without sophisticated scheduling for knowledge workers, who found themselves commuting to the office to find there was no one there they needed\/wanted to see,\u2019\u2019 Wettemann says.\n\nMoving forward, leaders need to include \u201cmore presence monitoring and prediction so when people do come to the office they can meet with teams in person,\u2019\u2019 she says. They should also incorporate \u201ca more data-driven approach to scheduling that ensures hybrid work supports diversity, equity, and inclusion, and a more line-of-work focused collaboration strategy rather than a one-size-fits-all-job functions approach,\u2019\u2019 Wettemann says.\n\nKim Huffman, CIO of global travel expense management platform TripActions, learned firsthand that not having a framework for what the return to the office would look like meant employees did not get the benefits of the in-person experience.\n\n\u201cThings get messy \u2026 when you don\u2019t have any structure around the return to work,\u2019\u2019 she says, adding that having no formal construct for returning to the office was a \u201clesson learned\u2019\u2019 for her and other TripActions company leaders, and since then, \u201cwe\u2019ve organized ourselves a little bit better.\u201d\n\nEroding the culture of trust and connectedness\n\nProductivity questions were one \u201cbubbling point of tension\u201d Huffman encountered as part of TripActions\u2019 return-to-office experience. On the one hand, workers who came back to the office felt like they were not as productive, while the people leading teams felt the same about people working remotely, Huffman says.\n\n\u201cIt has exacerbated this phenomenon of what really is driving productivity: Is it being in the office or being at home?\u2019\u2019 she says. \u201cThere are varying points of view that are being hotly contested across tech companies in the Bay Area right now, and it\u2019s going to be a very interesting journey to watch over the course of the next two quarters.\u201d\n\nBecause some people have come back to the office, Huffman believes there is still a stubborn perception that the ones who don\u2019t come back are not as productive. IT leaders need to anticipate this tension and get ahead of it, to ensure not only that employees can remain productive wherever they are but that the organization\u2019s culture of trust doesn\u2019t deteriorate.\n\nHere, the key is ensuring a culture of connectedness, Gartner contends. \u201cIT leaders and employees \u2026 overwhelmingly feel that culture connectedness is primarily driven by day-to-day work interactions, and not from being in the office,\u201d according to the firm, which found that 58% of IT workers strongly believe that meaningful connections are based on day-to-day interactions, not where they are located, with only 21% of IT workers agreeing that connectedness is driven by being in the office.\n\nFailing to level the playing field\n\nWith hybrid meetings on the rise, there\u2019s a delicate balance to maintain between how your organization serves participants attending meetings in person and those who attend remotely.\n\nUniversity of Phoenix CIO Jamie Smith, for example, has seen that hybrid meetings have \u201cdeepened the chasm\u201d between people who have been coming into the office and those who have remained remote. \u201cWe found people on the remote end felt they were less than \u2026 because they didn\u2019t have the option to come into Phoenix,\u2019\u2019 he says.\n\nTo counteract that, for every meeting with an in-person option, leaders will now do a second purely remote meeting \u201cso everyone feels they\u2019re on the same playing field,\u2019\u2019 he says.\n\nThe university uses Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, but plans to deepen its use of whiteboard technology with a tool called Miro that \u201cfeels like you\u2019re collaborating in the same room,\u2019\u2019 Smith says.\n\nSmith\u2019s IT team is always looking for tools to help the university\u2019s employees be asynchronous, he adds, given that they now have employees in more time zones. This means \u201cjust having to live with those realities where we didn\u2019t before,\u2019\u2019 which has \u201cforced us in this asynchronous mode,\u201d he says.\n\nOverlooking the innovation factor\n\nAnd it\u2019s not just the employee experience that can be hindered by poorly conceived hybrid strategies. Innovation efforts can also falter when collaboration experiences are uneven.\n\nEarly on in hybrid work at consumer finance company Synchrony, CIO Bess Healy says she and other company leaders \u201cquickly learned that hybrid innovation requires a different level of facilitation to succeed.\u201dEvents that had previously been all day in person felt draining to team members on video, Healy says, \u201cso we split them up over multiple days. When we competed in events like hackathons, team members missed the camaraderie of eating together at all hours of the night, so we replicated that with meal credits wherever they are.\u201d\n\nCompany leaders also put a higher emphasis on \u201cplanned fun\u201d by playing games in person and taking a \u201cbrain break during an ideation event.\u201d\n\n\u201cThree years in, these changes have brought more people into our innovation teams than ever before, inspiring new ideas in metaverse, payments, customer experience, and more,\u2019\u2019 Healy says.\n\nNot reimagining the office to fit the new hybrid paradigm\n\nIt\u2019s important to give people an incentive to want to come back into an office and be together. One approach some organizations are taking is to design office spaces differently instead of just rows of desks or cubicles.\n\n\u201cOne of our offices is new and we\u2019re trying to build space where there\u2019s room for conversations and groups to get together, not just all desks,\u2019\u2019 says Huffman. Leaders should make it a priority to reimagine office layouts this year, she says.\n\nBeing slow to experiment with future tech\n\nVirtual reality is one technology that could have an impact on the future of work, and some IT leaders are considering the benefits.\n\nOculus headsets from Meta, for example, are being rolled out on a trial basis at the University of Phoenix, which has made the decision to go fully remote. This was a big mindset change for Smith, who felt pre-pandemic that \u201cface-to-face collaboration was better and high fidelity for creativity purposes,\u2019\u2019 he says. \u201cThen, when everything shifted to full-time remote, it went against my core beliefs, so personally, I had to lean in.\u201d\n\nSmith has come to realize that staying remote has not affected IT\u2019s ability to collaborate and teams have been able to remain productive and launch \u201ccomplex new products into the marketplace.\u201d He says that working remotely has increased his ability to access tech talent outside of the Phoenix area.\n\nBut when people were working in a hybrid model early on, there would be multiple conversations going on, and \u201cpeople on the remote end were getting the short end of the stick\u201d because they \u201ccouldn\u2019t get a word in edgewise,\u2019\u2019 Smith recalls.\n\nSo he hired his first audio engineer who revamped the majority of the university\u2019s meeting technology. The Oculus headsets are being tested by some teams in their daily standup design sessions to see whether they will help the teams work better. The idea is to understand whether \u201ctools get in the way or do they help?\u2019\u2019 he says. \u201cA lot of [collaboration] technologies are still pretty early in terms of capabilities.\u201d\n\nSome initial feedback is that using a physical keyboard in the headset is problematic, but Smith says the experiment will continue in early 2023. \u201cThe expense isn\u2019t that much but the question is, Is it a toy or something that fundamentally changes the [remote work] experience?\u201d\n\nNot bringing IT to bear on the office of the future\n\nIn addition to rethinking the office and having a sound return-to-office strategy, IT leaders would be wise to invest in technologies tailored to facilitate better hybrid work experiences.\n\nAt audio electronics company Shure, leaders have \u201cspent a significant amount of time listening to our employees about hybrid work\u201d and subsequently developed a plan called \u201cWorkPlace Now\u201d based on what they learned, says Robin Hamerlinck Lane, senior vice president and CIO.\n\nEmployees are free to choose a hybrid work model, and Hamerlinck Lane says company officials have made adjustments for the future workforce by providing different tools for them to adapt.\n\nFor example, \u201cwe moved to flexible seating in our global offices, so hybrid workers could still have a space to work when they came into the office. With the iOffice app, employees can reserve their workspaces in advance or when they arrive,\u2019\u2019 she says.\n\nIT has developed a ticket system where employees who work remotely can request a remote kit that includes tools to be able to work effectively outside of the office and still remain connected to others, she says.\n\nIn 2023, IT will roll out Teams in more conference rooms. \u201cWe are especially interested in leveraging camera views and panels that provide equality in our meeting experiences between offsite and onsite associates,\u2019\u2019 Hamerlinck Lane says.\n\nHybrid work is here to stay, and this also requires looking at adding new layers of security, she says. IT is also thinking about the company\u2019s telecom needs long-term. \u201cAssociates have migrated to mobile and\/or IP-based telephony, and so we need to look at evolving the traditional desk phone,\u201d she says.\n\nUnderestimating the power of low-code\/no code\n\nAmong several IT initiatives for Shure in 2023 will be prioritizing citizen development with low-code\/no-code, Hamerlinck Lane says. Another is building a platform on AWS to enable the company\u2019s development teams as software is migrated to the cloud and to support IoT products. Shure is also investing in Office 365.\n\n\u201cOur entire data program is built to enable data and end-user tools to allow end-user empowerment.\u201d\n\nKellogg\u2019s Senior Vice President and Global CIO Lesley Salmon agrees, saying that as the demand for apps continues to grow, citizen development will become the norm to help people work more efficiently, and they will soon start using Microsoft\u2019s low-code Power Platform.\n\n\u201cWe\u2019ll enable and encourage our organization to develop their own apps by building a community approach to learning and support,\u201d she says.\n\nAnd what better way to foster the future of work than to empower employees to improve work processes themselves.