In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry talks about how important it is to update your outdated tech before moving to a hybrid model.
A recent Office Depot survey revealed that companies are failing their remote employees when it comes to technology. According to data collected from more than 1,000 U.S. workers, many remote employees have had to upgrade their home internet to accommodate their workload — and foot the bill for this and other tech expenses. Hybrid workers also tend to spend an hour or more each week dealing with tech hiccups, and overall, say they don’t feel supported when it comes to troubleshooting issues.
In addition to the productivity loss, forcing employees to work with outdated technology and providing inadequate support may lead to organizational brain drain. Workfront’s recent State of Work report found that just under half of U.S. workers would consider leaving their job due to tech headaches.
When companies go hybrid without updating their IT tools and practices, it also leaves organizations open to cyberattacks. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article that called the hybrid workplace a “cybersecurity nightmare,” attacks spiked 238 percent in the early days of the pandemic.
Crisis Mode Is Over, It’s Time to Be Strategic
When COVID-19 hit last year, companies scrambled to go remote overnight. Many made do with the technology they had. Now, as organizations adopt a permanent flexible model, those Band-Aid tech solutions won’t cut it anymore. What’s needed is a digital transformation to update technology capabilities and rethink the role of IT support. Here are some best practices to get started:
Embrace the Cloud
Organizations quickly went remote at the outbreak of the pandemic, exposing many to high cybersecurity risks and revealing holes in their security infrastructure. Reality check: This year has already seen a 102 percent rise in ransomware attacks compared to 2020, and it’s a risky move to assume your business is immune or take cybersecurity shortcuts.
One common area of concern is how remote workers access what they need to get their jobs done. Traditionally, whenever workers logged in away from the office, they would access company tools and data via a secure VPN connection. VPN solutions are typically licensed and priced by the number of concurrent users, so this was sufficient when a small number of employees needed to remotely log in at once. When COVID started, however, companies found that their VPN licensing and infrastructure was not ready for thousands of concurrent users working all day long.
For instance, one of my company’s clients, a large manufacturing firm, ran into major bandwidth issues and security risks when all its workers began logging in from home on old equipment. There simply wasn’t sufficient infrastructure or licensing for VPN to be a long-term solution, so the company invested in thousands of new laptops and updated IT security policies to allow direct access to tools such as Office 365.
Most organizations going hybrid permanently will want to move their data from on-premise to the cloud. This solves the security problem (cloud service providers like Microsoft or Amazon have robust threat analysis mechanisms) and improves access for hybrid workers (who can more easily get to the information they need to do their jobs regardless of their location).
You’ll also need to rethink how you secure your data and devices. For instance, you can require extra information beyond an ID and password to login, secure access from mobile devices based on defined conditions, or assign access rules to classified information.
With Tech Tools, Think Quality, Not Quantity
In my experience leading a technology consulting firm, I’ve seen many clients go to one of two extremes when it comes to dealing with tech investments.
They double down on their legacy technology, which usually leaves remote workers unable to easily access the tools or information they need. Or they overcompensate, signing up for multiple cloud services or collaboration tools. They think by providing employees with numerous ways to connect and collaborate, remote work will be successful. The result is usually the opposite – people don’t know what tool to use for what function, and even something simple like scheduling a meeting feels like a minefield.
This is a common problem, according to a 2021 report by Beezy, a Microsoft 365 digital workplace solution, which found that 41 percent of employees are overwhelmed by the number of tools and technologies their job requires.
Instead, hybrid organizations should invest in a few tools that can work together and cover all your needs. My company, for instance, uses Microsoft Teams for communication, collaboration, meetings and even file storage and shared workspaces. Everything is on one platform. The fewer the tools, the easier to manage in terms of security and IT support, as well.
Consider the Employee Experience
By embracing the cloud and investing in the right number of quality collaboration tools, you’ll automatically be improving the employee remote-work experience. These steps take manual handcuffs off remote workers, so it’s easier for them to access the information and people they need to do their jobs. They can also make asynchronous work not only possible, but seamless – vital for taking care of business when everyone isn’t jammed into the same conference room together.
The steps above also make it easier for IT support to provide a positive employee experience. With easier remote access to machines and fewer software platforms to deal with, IT departments can more efficiently troubleshoot issues so employees can get back to crushing their to-do lists.
If budgets won’t accommodate a complete digital transformation right away, IT departments must still begin to rethink their support models to effectively aid a permanent hybrid workforce. For instance, it’s still possible for to take steps to improve the employee experience. Say last-mile bandwidth is a problem for some employees. IT could help those workers come up with solutions – maybe it’s 5G with a cell repeater or cell amplifier in your house. Or maybe it’s looking at the tools you’re using and utilizing ways to minimize bandwidth requirements. Microsoft Teams, for instance, allows you to turn off incoming video.
Outdated tech can cause major friction for employees, especially when they’re working from home and these tools function as the digital headquarters for the company. Neglecting to update your IT is like having an office space with a defunct printer – this may seem like a small inconvenience, but one that irritates employees daily, wastes their time and may ultimately cause them to look elsewhere for employment.
Where to start? Eliminating legacy solutions and their associated costs can free up budget to modernize IT infrastructure and unlock new capabilities, new tools and new ways of doing work.