The popularity and necessity for work-from-home (WFH) environments accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, but remote work is not new to corporate America. (In 2009, 40% of IBM’s 386,000 global employees worked from home.) Pre-pandemic, 17% of people worked remotely full time. Companies recognized that work flexibility equated to reduced office and real estate expenses, and they could attract remote top talent from outside of local markets, among other benefits. The WFH numbers spiked during COVID-19 lockdowns, inflating to 44%.
As communities and markets open up, businesses face challenges in an evolving WFH vs. work-in-the-office hybrid experience. Many employees believe that they have demonstrated an ability to work just as effectively, if not more so, from home. Studies show that they are correct. Reluctancy to deal with a commute, hesitancy about safety protocols, and resistance to new routines are just a few culprits. With 39% of workers open to considering quitting if forced back to the office, businesses face yet another operational hurdle.
A Hybrid Model that Accommodates Staff Without Compromising IT
Hybrid work is a viable compromise for those unwilling to pivot to fully long-term on-prem or remote environments. This presents CIOs who have struggled to sustain regular operations with stretched budgets and limited resources with a new set of challenges. They must evaluate needs and budgets properly and honestly to prepare for a dynamic hybrid future that is efficient and secure. With so many already working remotely, it may seem that maintaining a long-term hybrid approach will not require much change. However, consider the speed at which employees shifted to a WFH model. Many were, and still are, using their home computers to remote into on-premise setups. Shared workspaces and open networks at home can compromise access. And cobbled together software solutions that worked well for the short term may be draining resources, time, and money with redundancies and inefficiencies.
Considerations for Crafting a Solid IT Budget from the Top Down
Any lasting approach for hybrid work requires proper budgeting and operational planning from the CIO level. IT teams typically called on to do more with less without appropriate resources will be set up to fail without exploring the bigger picture. Budgeting should have a two-fold emphasis: trim unwarranted or outdated expenses while spending in areas of the greatest potential return.
Evaluate & Rationalize Your Tech Stack
IT personnel have worked tirelessly over the last year, cobbling together systems and setups to keep operations running smoothly. Now is the time to audit your entire tech stack. Start with every system in place and determine which still addresses needs and which may be outclassed by other solutions on the market. With so much turnover from the pandemic, there are also bound to be licenses and solutions that are no longer needed.
For example, customized platforms with a focus on ERP can streamline processes and reduce the total number of disparate applications that IT needs to support. This applies to hardware, too. CIOs can identify wasted resources and stop or phase out expenses designed for the office. They can and look for new ways to secure endpoints and access from home locations to ensure remote users are productive.
Align Solutions with Teams
Take a closer look at the types of roles that will become (or stay) hybrid. Are your customer support teams affected? If so, you may need to invest in systems that support frictionless customer experiences and enhance team communication. Will marketing and sales shift? If so, then you will need digital-first solutions for facilitating and reporting on new campaigns virtual events.
Digital transformation can sound like another buzzword, but it is truly becoming the lay of the land. In fact, 39% of CEOs have made this the main priority for their CIO and tech teams moving forward. The key is to find solutions that enable collaboration and creativity to deliver transformation with the measures the business requires to evaluate performance and outcomes.
Go Scalable and Automated
Thinking about saving by keeping legacy systems? That is one way to slim down a budget, but it might not pay off in the long term. Upgrading to new software solutions with easier-to-manage updates, security, and integrations can create efficiencies and savings. Thirty-six percent of CEOs are looking to improve productivity with automation, and they’ll be looking to their IT teams for solutions. Technical debt becomes a target of transformational business strategy when teams seek innovation but are restrained by outdated legacy system software.
IT teams should explore automation as well. Consider ticketing and help systems that can alleviate the strain on infrastructure support groups juggling demands from a decentralized workforce. This will open your critical resources up to focusing on top-end tasks.
Focus on Cybersecurity
Vulnerability management programs may not come cheap, but the cost of inadequate security can be much more staggering. Post-pandemic, 89% of CIOs report having shifted priorities to cybersecurity, in part because cybercrimes increased 600% in the last year.
Where did all of these threats come from? The threats have likely always been there; it’s the remote or hybrid work structure that opened the doors for malicious activity. From phishing to malware, such threats have had a much greater attack surface as traffic moved from campuses to home networks, and the limited security oversight got easier to exploit. All CIO IT budgeting moving forward should include efforts to bolster security to protect operational and data integrity.
Explore Emerging Tech
Change management and training are an obstacle especially for larger organizations working with hybrid setups. However, with so much in flux, now may be the best time to explore new trends in emerging technology and how you can build them into your future.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence can support hybrid workers by automating workflows and streamlining redundant tasks. Companies can also incorporate new systems like Tableau to provide better data-driven decisions for teams and management alike.
A Hybrid Workforce Requires a Hybrid IT Budget Approach
Budgets have traditionally been set in stone from the onset of a year or fiscal calendar. CIOs make plans, allocate funds, and stick to the script. Given the dynamic nature of hybrid working and the faster pace of technology evolution, tying oneself to a rigid budget can stymie growth and adaptability.
CIOs can benefit from a budget designed to adjust to organizational needs. This does not mean ballooning expenses or frivolous decision-making. Rather, taking an agile approach to spending that iteratively evaluates expectations against actual outcomes allows for space to review, reallocate, and refine investments. The result is a hybrid budget that funds set costs while shifting as workforce demands advance.
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