Let me count the reasons why remote working is here to stay. People want to work in different places, at the times that suit them, on whatever device they choose. Three reasons that can be summarised as wanting to work anywhere, anytime, anyhow. And why not? Fast connectivity has enabled it, tech companies have built the capability for it, and the pandemic has showcased it.
In a recent Gartner® report, ‘How Digital Workplace Leaders Can Optimize Workplace Experience’1, it has been revealed that according to the Gartner, Inc. 2022 Digital Worker Survey, “employees prefer spending less time in the office compared to 2020 (36% currently, down from 38%)”, as more embrace the hybrid working approach. And, according to IDC Info Snapshot, sponsored by CCL, Building Resilient Modern Workplaces Doc # AP241424IB, May 2023, 83% of New Zealand organisations say they will be “increasing or maintaining spending on hybrid workplace services in 2023.” However, many say they do not have a clear road map in place on how to get there.
While it might seem like an elegant way forward, many employers grapple with hybrid working. Their concerns are summed up by Microsoft as ‘productivity paranoia’, the idea that leaders think their people don’t work as hard when they aren’t physically present in an office. In research that included a survey of 20,000 people globally (including New Zealand), trillions of Microsoft 365 data points, and insights from LinkedIn, Microsoft found employers and employees are divided on the benefits hybrid and remote working brings.
According to a Microsoft report ‘Hybrid work is just work, are we doing it wrong?’, “there is a stark disconnect between the portion of leaders who say they have full confidence their team is productive (12%) and the portion of employees who report they are productive at work (87%).
“Productivity paranoia risks making hybrid work unsustainable. Leaders need to pivot from worrying about whether their people are working enough, to helping them focus on the work that is most important.”
- "Hybrid work is just work, are we doing it wrong?" , Microsoft report
The report suggests leaders need to be proactive in assisting their people to prioritise work that is most important, to set clear expectations, and to find ways to recognise and reward employees’ impact, not just activity. In other words, ensure the lines of communication are as open online as they are in person.
In a talent market that remains tight despite rising inflation and other economic ill winds, what is consistent in all reports is that hybrid working here to stay, so it must be a seamless experience which enables employees to thrive.
The good news for New Zealand organisations adopting hybrid and remote working, is that modern workplace technology solutions are readily available and easy to enable due to the power of the cloud. In addition, with public cloud providers such as Microsoft and AWS building large datacentres in Aotearoa, data sovereignty issues will be largely resolved, thus extending the ability to unlock more capability. IT leaders can now catch up with peers in other countries, with the advantage of learning from their first-mover mistakes. The focus being on giving employees all the flexibility they need, with all the right guardrails in place.
At the core of the modern workplace environment is security. Modern work requires a fundamental shift on how security is approached. The traditional approach that everything needs to be wrapped in layers of security to decrease risk is fast becoming outmoded, as is the perimeter-based model (safety behind a corporate firewall) that was in favour when the office was the primary workplace. In its place is the Zero-Trust model, revolving around identity and the 'Never Trust, Always Verify' mantra, where authentication is hardened, attack surfaces are closed, and users are granted access only to information and systems they need based on their identities and roles.
Instead of authentication happening only at the perimeter, it happens continuously, restricting access between apps, services, and systems in order to account for insider threats and compromised accounts. In addition, this approach enables Secure Access Service Edge so employees can safely access legacy applications in modern workplace scenarios. This means leaders can continue to pursue a cloud-first strategy without being held back by clunky legacy systems which may take years to fully replace.
With the Zero-Trust security model in place, it’s possible to enable a multitude of devices, including those belonging to an employee with no organisational control over the device. This means that regardless of where an employee is located, if there is good connectivity, they can work on any device with the organisation having confidence in their security posture.
Next up is Information Protection and Governance. At the core of all organisations, is their data. By implementing good information protection and information governance strategies, organisations can allow themselves to remain highly productive and able to collaborate, with confidence that the data at the heart of their business is protected and governed appropriately. Here is when you need to allow for future growth and change. For example, if you decide you won’t allow files larger than 500 MBs in your SharePoint environment, that will catch up with you at some point. Shadow IT scenarios are common for organisations that don’t enable productivity and collaboration tools as employees look for alternative tools to get their work done that your organisation has no control over. By allowing employees to get the most out of their digital toolsets with the correct protection and governance in place, everyone wins.
Now comes the fun part – collaboration tools and the productivity suite. While organisations will have these in place now, chances are users may not be aware of all the tools at their disposal. An example is the scheduling capability in Outlook, where employees can indicate their current and future location, whether that be working remotely, in the office or somewhere else. When setting up a meeting, the employee can look to see when all attendees are next in the office if they desire an in-person discussion.
The push to more self-service, lightens the burden on IT and enables greater productivity. In Microsoft Teams for example, users can easily set up their own virtual team, create document libraries and start sharing and collaborating on documents with people internal and external to their organisation. In the past this would have required raising a service desk ticket or IT involvement to enable these kinds of scenarios
Most productivity suites for remote working enable IT to run reports into how users are connecting and what tools they are and aren’t using. This data can be useful to determine what education users might need to unlock greater value.
While there is a temptation to produce guides and videos on how to use tools, I’m a big fan of letting people find their own way and utilising the readily available material that modern workplace technology vendors make available, leaving scarce IT resource for those who really need a hand. Soon that kind of support will be taken care of by AI assistants, that might also perform routine admin tasks such as scheduling meetings for people leaders and their teams (which is why letting people know where you are in Outlook will become even more useful).
AI, along with VR and AR advances in areas such as meeting room experiences, are why IT leaders need to look at least three months out for what’s coming next. Change is a constant in the modern, digital world, and if you get behind you risk having to undergo spikes of intense activity that can be unsettling for employees. Better to have an environment of steady, continuous improvements.
Now that the workplace is anywhere, more than ever employees expect their organisation’s tech to line up with what they enjoy as consumers – it’s why Microsoft introduced business-appropriate GIFs into Teams. And its why, if you had to choose a GIF to describe your approach to hybrid working, I’d recommend you make it an embrace.
If you are ready to step up your modern workplace experience and dial up the impact of your workforce our team are here to help you deliver a seamless hybrid working experience.
You can also find the full IDC Info Snapshot, sponsored by CCL, Building Resilient Modern Workplaces Doc # AP241424IB, May 2023 here.
George Frost works with enterprise and government businesses, guiding them in maximising their productivity whilst implementing intelligent cloud-based security and compliance solutions. He brings extensive knowledge and experience across Microsoft enterprise platforms, identity management, Modern Workplace technology, device management, IT governance and cloud security technologies.
1 Gartner, How Digital Workplace Leaders Can Optimize Workplace Experience, Sohail Majumdar, Tori Paulman, 23 August 2023.
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