Working from home – who’s got the remote control?

How to improve the digital experience in the age of mass remote-working

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Sponsored Remote working was the exception for business rather than the rule, certainly before the Covid19 pandemic. There’s plenty of evidence to show it was something businesses had perhaps learned to tolerate rather than to encourage. A 2019 IDC survey commissioned by VMware found that remote working policies were less common than other flexible working practices - only 40% of the most forward-thinking companies allowed telecommuting, whereas 57% allowed flexible time and 51% allowed flexible roles.

Even in enlightened organisations there was uncertainty and wariness about how staff would collaborate, whether they could be supported and supervised effectively, and whether they could be trusted to be as productive when working remotely.

The pandemic has changed all that. It forced businesses to test their business continuity planning and embrace remote working out of necessity rather than choice. For many the move to remote working has been wholesale - for example, the Financial Times recently reported that all 8,000 staff from KPMG’s London office have been working from home and that Lloyd’s of London closed to its underwriting room for the first time in its 300-year history and that staff could continue to trade remotely.

This unavoidable move to a fully distributed workforce and the resultant success of remote working has led businesses to rethink their reluctance: the widespread mistrust of remote working is disappearing fast. And it will be tough, if not impossible, to roll back to the idea that presence in an office is paramount once the pandemic is behind us; the belief that work can’t be done remotely has largely been debunked. A move that was borne out of necessity is now recognised as enabling, empowering and forward thinking.

And while the mistrust may have not completely disappeared, there’s been a distinct shift towards support of remote working - a Gartner report in July shows that that 82% of business leaders say their organisations plan to let employees continue to work from home at least some of the time post Covid19, while 47% plan to allow employees to do so permanently.

By anyone’s reckoning remote working is here to stay, so businesses need to have the right strategy and structure to support it now and into the future. This means a focus on improving the employee experience as a long-term ambition and leveraging a digital first strategy to support a distributed workforce. As we look forward it’s certain that the gap between those able to use technology to flex and adapt quickly to new circumstances and those who cannot do this will widen.

Requirements for a digital workspace platform

What should all these companies who want to support their staff to work remotely be doing? How can companies use technology to engage the entire workforce virtually, and how can a distributed workforce be supported such that the business can stay strong and resilient? Where would the weak points be? What are the challenges?

There are some immediate and obvious new challenges. Security becomes a much more complex issue as the threat attack surface is much bigger. According to the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IATAM) many business may have rushed to get their employees to work remotely without thinking through how they secure their most sensitive data. It makes businesses potential sitting ducks for breaches, hacking, and the misuse of data, so ensuring there is a robust firewall and that passcode protections are in place is a solid first step.

IATAM also advises that companies sign out and track all IT assets being taken home and to make sure that employees are educated on how to manage company equipment and data responsibly. IATAM also suggests that businesses consider asking employees to sign NDAs about the data they have access to outside the office, that businesses monitor employee data use and tighten up their BYOD practices. Brian Madden and Shawn Bass at VMware have also put together some useful guidelines to help with remote working security and planning.

They say some realism about expectations is needed when massive numbers of users are thrown into a home working environment quickly, and that it helps to consider three different aspects of remote working to achieve this - users’ physical home environments, your company’s cultural environment, and potential technological issues. ‘Stabilize, Reopen, Grow’ “You can’t do everything at once,” says Salesforce. The company has published a series of best practice guidelines in The Covid-19 Response Playbook, covering how you make decisions, how you work, how you engage customers and how you serve Society. It also recommends that organisations break down the challenges into three phases – which it calls ‘Stabilize’, ‘Reopen’ and ‘Grow’.

OK then. Let’s apply a three-phase framework to mass-scale remote working. The initial phase is simply to respond to the problem, so that employees are equipped and productive and that business operations can be maintained. This step may entail meeting challenges such as complex endpoint management and manual support and guarding against employees becoming disengaged and unproductive as they wait to be onboarded.

The next step, should look at adapting the business infrastructure so it can support a surge in remote workers. Infrastructure may be too rigid to cope with a fully distributed workforce in the long term, it may deliver inconsistent performance which limits employee efficiency and productivity, and security strategies and policies may need to be reviewed and adapted.

The last step should look at how the business can deliver a personalised and consistent experience to remote workers, one that they find engaging, and which is secure, flexible, and underpinned by a scalable and elastic infrastructure. This is the digital workspace experience that is so foundational for future of work determined, remote organisations, as it puts the employee experience at the forefront and is central in making them feel valued and trusted.

“While there are no hard and fast rules governing the design of a digital workplace, leading practices do exist,” writes Deloitte, the professional services consulting firm. It has devised a useful digital workplace framework that provides “organizations with a tool to understand their current digital workplace and identify areas of opportunity to support a better way of doing business by helping you think holistically about the tools you use in your workplace”.

But in essence, a digital workspace experience should:

  • deliver access to any app on any device without compromising security
  • give remote workers with flexibility in their choice of device and deliver business-critical virtual desktops (VDI) and applications to any corporate-owned or BYO device
  • secure application access with a Zero Trust access control model, no matter whether applications reside in the cloud or the data centre
  • be underpinned by an elastic infrastructure that can scale to meet changing remote work demands

Delivering a digital workspace experience may mean a holistic change in the way end-user services are delivered by IT, but it’s a change that will make the organisation stronger and more fit for the future than before. The apps and data that employees need to work productively must be delivered and supported across any device, and this means making use of modern cloud-based management technologies which simplify device management and can scale with the organisation.

If this sounds daunting, then there are a number of providers with expertise and platforms that can facilitate this change to a digital workspace. VMware Workspace One, for example, integrates access control, application management and multi-platform endpoint management into a single platform and is available as a cloud service or on-premises deployment. It offers employees a personalised experience with access to any app on any device, with zero trust security and secure password-free single-sign on.

Importantly a digital workspace experience enables a business to break through traditional functional silos and put its staff in the driving seat so that they feel valued and trusted. It means that the business can be more flexible and agile, able to shift its business models and adapt to new circumstances more quickly - a skill whose importance has been highlighted by the pandemic. And by putting its employees first a business is also putting its customers first.

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