As local and national governments wrestle with ways to ‘re-open’ society and ease restrictions on businesses, those businesses, too, are busy redefining what ‘work’ is going to look like for their workforce.
Twitter has been in the spotlight for announcing that it will let employees work from home indefinitely, sparking endless debate about the future of office space and employee productivity in a WFH environment. Other companies, like Google, have expressed an eagerness to bring employees back to their campuses, but it’s likely to be long and staggered. In reality, it could take many months for employees to return, leading the search giant to give employees up to $1,000 each to purchase WFH equipment until they come back.
This all begs an important question. What should companies do to prepare for the future?
Obviously, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Every organization will approach re-opening differently. But there are signs that a lot of thought is going into how all of this will take shape. One thing is certain; flexibility is key. That means giving employees more say in how and where they work, and it means providing them with reliable, scalable tools that enhance user experience.
When it comes to managing work-from-home employees, some companies, like Zapier, have been doing it for a long time. Organizations that choose to go fully remote are freed up to find talent anywhere in the world. This also eliminates costs associated with physical office space, and reduces the time employees waste while commuting in traffic.
What the experts say
Many analysts seem in favor of a larger remote workforce. Cost is a major driver, leading analysts to believe that remote working policies will continue even after restrictions are lifted. Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight summarized this by saying, “There’s a good chance that lots of businesses will see the opportunity to reduce their office space costs through broader support for remote working in the long term.”
That’s not to say that it will be an easy transition. AARP has cautioned employers to consider older workers, who may live in places with limited broadband access, making remote work difficult or impossible. Even with large improvements in recent years, Internet penetration in the US is not ubiquitous, estimated to reach around 88.7 percent of the population in 2020.
This brings up an important point. Ensuring that employees have the right tools, applications and equipment to do their job is critical to any successful WFH program.
“Companies with knowledge workers must have in place viable solutions for working from home, including collaboration software like Slack or Microsoft Teams, video and presentation solutions like Skype or Zoom, along with security for remote endpoints. If you’re not ready, your business continuity will be in tatters.”
– J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester
WFH is already a success
In addition to the general disruption of life, working from home has come with a steep learning curve for many people. In the U.S., most companies have long preferred to have employees in an office, while work from home policies were generally used as a reward for a limited number of employees.
Despite this, the rapid shift to a WFH environment has largely been successful. According to a recent report by workplace-monitoring company, Prodoscore, based on 100 million data points taken from 30,000 U.S. workers, productivity in March and April 2020 was 47 percent higher than the same two months in 2019. The biggest gains were due to higher use of cloud-based business tools, chat applications and email. Use of telephones was up 230 percent, email usage spiked 57 percent and CRM usage grew by a very significant 176 percent. On top of that, the study found that the average worker started work at 8:32 a.m. and finished at 5:38 p.m.
Ready, set, go
There have definitely been a few teething problems over the past few months as companies struggled to support their newly remote workforces. Many workers complained about severe network slow-downs, caused by overloaded or misconfigured corporate VPNs that simply weren’t able to scale to meet the sudden volume of traffic.
IT teams simply weren’t prepared to have all of their employees go ‘mobile’ at the same time. As they now look for alternative solutions to help reduce network chokepoints, they should abandon legacy VPNs in favor of VPNs that are built to enhance remote access. These solutions not only include traditional features like data encryption and optimization, they also offer aspects of zero trust network access (ZTNA) to ensure that stolen credentials or compromised devices don’t allow bad actors to breach the network.
Scalability has also been a huge issue for VPNs of late. The legacy VPNs used by many companies have typically been hardware based, meaning that more hardware must be deployed in order to support more users. Not exactly an ideal situation when the world is locked down. And certainly not a sustainable way to enable a remote workforce.
Finally, a VPN simply doesn’t have to be ‘always on’ or ‘always off.’ Intelligent VPNs are capable of automatic load balancing and split-tunneling, allowing SaaS data – like Office 365 or Salesforce – to go directly to the internet, while corporate data store on-prem is forced down the tunnel. This would allow those Zoom calls to bypass a congested corporate network and reduce the frustration felt by many employees (and their IT teams).
Are we there, yet?
The future of work looks a lot different than what most of us expected. The upside is that workers are still able to be productive even when circumstances aren’t ideal. It’s now up to IT organizations to lay the groundwork for a much more flexible and worker-centric environment that is going to take Digital Transformation in a whole new direction.