After battling the disruption and damage imparted by COVID-19 over the past year, businesses now face a new battle: employee resistance to returning to the way things were. While the forced shift by companies and workers to work from home nearly overnight disrupted well-established working norms, the routines, flexibility, and financial perks of remote work now outweigh employee desires to head back to the office.
Over 40% of our workforce ended up working from home offices and kitchen counters, and the majority of these folks simply want to stay there. With 29% of working professionals preferring to quit rather than go back to the office, companies face a major hurdle. Forcing everyone to return with zero flexibility or attention to concerns for safety, childcare, or emotional well-being is a recipe for diminished morale and potential turnover.
Hybrid Work Presents Long-Term Infrastructure Demands for IT Teams
While there is disagreement (mostly between management and employees) on exactly how remote work impacts productivity, executives are realizing that a blend of remote and in-office work—a hybrid model—may be the best path forward for all involved.
As corporate teams rejoice, the IT teams and CIOs charged with making hybrid work run smoothly and securely may be singing a different tune. The once temporary remote approach is here to stay. And as a more permanent reality, flexible and enduring infrastructure changes must be implemented to accommodate it.
Creating Safe Spaces for Hybrid Work Across the Business
How do considerations for hybrid infrastructure differ from the work-from-home setup that most companies have embraced out of necessity?
In many ways, it’s about mindset. Having the time to plan, which we were not afforded when the pandemic hit, offers operational, security, and financial advantages. We also have over a year’s worth of data and experiences to pull from, knowing what worked, what didn’t work, and what can be improved for longevity’s sake.
Start with the machines. A disheartening 69% of workers used their personal computer to do their work from home. This opens up your network and your data to the risk of breach and regulatory non-compliance. You need to consider the threats this endpoint can present lurking outside your established protocols and firewall.
Identify the workers who are still using their own computers and will be expected to continue in hybrid roles. The cost of issuing them either a second machine (one for work and one for the office) or an upgraded laptop they can take with them between locations, may outweigh the potential for losses. These machines can be locked down at an admin level to secure access, downloads, installations, and monitoring software.
Is your inventory of subscription services and software solutions truly complete? It’s possible that managers and teams have created new accounts to manage their workflows while remote. It’s imperative that IT understands which users are accessing which platforms to ensure compliance and security. This shadow IT can create data leaks that you may not know about until it’s too late.
This is also an excellent time to audit the necessity of the systems you do have in place already. Are the people who requested or used them still employed with the company? Do the usage numbers justify the expense and upkeep? Reducing licenses or eliminating outdated or irrelevant platforms can reduce security gaps and save a bit on the bottom line.
Everyone is tired of hearing about Zoom meetings. But with hybrid work, the need for teams to connect from anywhere will remain present. Consider whether the systems (Slack, Teams, and yes, even Zoom) you implemented at the start of the pandemic still serve your needs. Could another platform consolidate these, reducing upkeep and access points?
After the year we’ve all had, many of us are still in a reactive frame of mind. Instead, being proactive here will have distinct advantages. Vetting up-and-coming collaboration tools can foster new ways for teams to collaborate. Could an intranet or shared scheduling space put people at ease about corporate cleaning procedures? Perhaps a single platform for video, chat, and whiteboarding might make everyone more productive.
Hybrid workforces bring more security gaps than a typical in-office infrastructure. Penetration testing is more vital than ever for a robust vulnerability management plan. When staff work from home, you don’t just have to worry about their laptop. They’re likely working from an unsecured WiFi or mobile network, one that has a myriad of devices connected to it.
From printers to smart thermostats, potential threats have an exponential number of new ways to worm their way into your systems and data. Create, implement, monitor, and update your vulnerability testing to identify endpoints you may not even have considered. You can prioritize threat management based on those most likely to be acted on maliciously and take protective measures both inside and outside your network.
As you implement infrastructure changes to support hybrid work, design with flexibility and scalability in mind. Employee headcounts may fluctuate as the economy and personnel adjust to a new normal. Look for a balance between operating lean (i.e. you can reallocate laptops) and being unprepared (i.e. you don’t have a machine for the newest hire).
Executives may trim down real estate. According to PWC, 87% of executives expect to modify their real estate allocation and plan in the next year. Keep this in mind as you make any physical purchases for networking or equipment. You may benefit from more cloud-leaning and flexible options (VoIP over landlines, 5G over ethernet) when the time comes to reduce office space or relocate.
IT Teams can appreciate the move from a crisis-driven approach to a forward-looking one with a bit more time to adapt. The hybrid workspaces of tomorrow require executive empathy and employee buy-in, but they also need a firm technology foundation and the appropriate protections to back them up.
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