How to prepare for a permanent remote workforce

The organization of the future is taking shape now, and much is changing in the look and feel of the workplace. Notably, there will be far fewer employees in the office as companies like Twitter, Google, and Facebook, among others, have already announced that employees can stay remote permanently if they want.   Naturally, there have been growing pains, given the speed with which companies had to move employees to working remotely. A recent study of US full-time employees shows that 34% said their companies are not prepared to work from home, while a staggering 77% claimed their companies haven't implemented work-from-home protocols. But some good has emerged from remote work. People are becoming energized as executives institute changes, including empowering "previously untested leaders with big responsibilities," according to McKinsey. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, "organizations felt too bureaucratic, too insular, too inflexible, too slow, too complicated, and often more focused on profit than on people."SEE: Life after lockdown: Your office job will never be the same--here's what to expect (TechRepublic)

Companies are now mobilizing to implement more digital technology, automation, and artificial intelligence, the research firm said. "Bold experiments and new ways of working are now everyone's business."  Establishing a remote workforce clearly poses significant challenges in demanding logistical and technical changes that companies are often unprepared for, according to global IT solutions provider Technologent.

"Most SMBs lack the IT infrastructure and security protocols to ensure widespread and secure remote and mobile data access," said Mike McLaughlin, CIO of Technologent, in a statement. "And that's only the first of many technical considerations to make work-from-home viable."   For example, during one week in March, business app downloads increased by 45% compared to the previous week-amounting in 62 million downloads (dominated by Google Hangouts Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom Cloud Meetings, McLaughlin said.   While Zoom soared to 200 million from 10 million users in roughly three months, growing challenges related to installer, routing, encryption, and "Zoom bombing" have led to major security issues for users and companies.  Zoom's example shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the need for security preparation for a permanent remote workforce, Technologent said.

Security needs for a work-from-home world

To prepare for a permanent remote workforce, companies need to ramp up their security technologies, Technologent said. "The average cost of a single business data breach increased to $8.64 million in 2019, which poses an even greater threat to companies without adequate remote workforce security infrastructure and protocols," the company said.  Avoiding that worst-case scenario means finding ways to deal with:

As companies search for security and hardware solutions for a remote workforce rise as high as 613% in search impressions, IT service desks grapple with how to deal with user ticket problems that risk straining the team or going unanswered, Technologent said. This includes tackling remote setup challenges, such as:

Maximum security of data both at rest and in transit is a bigger problem beyond the network-with every remote user a potential vulnerability access point, Technologent said. "Protecting that data via conventional means such as firewall and end-to-end encryption, takes on a whole new meaning when having to scale-up across an entire company."   The goal is to develop systems and protocols for protecting data and application storage pathways as well as permissions between the network, data centers, the cloud, and desktops/mobile devices, Technologent said.

"When bandwidth and Internet Service Provider (ISP) broadband challenges are also taken into consideration, businesses are ideally positioned to embrace remote workforce challenges and reap the benefits," the company said.

Embracing remote workforce challenges and benefits

Spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have been motivated "to amplify and accelerate small, fringe experiments that were often previously confined to digital and analytics teams," according to McKinsey.

However, normal approaches to serving customers, working with suppliers, and collaborating with colleagues-or just getting anything done-all failed, the firm said.    "As companies adopt new ways of working at speed and at scale, three lessons are emerging: A vindication for flatter, faster, nonhierarchical structures and approaches; the need to turbocharge decision making; and a reminder of the role of talent in making everything go,'' McKinsey said.   The research firm suggests organization evolve to cross-functional teams to tackle challenge that operate outside the hierarchy-but still stay connected to leadership; come to a better understanding of the types of decisions executives make and let some be made by a smaller, senior team; and to "treat talent as your scarcest resource."   Attention to the human element is critical, agreed Nicola Morini Bianzino, global chief client technology officer at EY. Establishing a completely remote workforce can be isolating and teams can have difficulties communicating effectively and efficiently, he said.

"At EY, we believe that technology should build trust and drive growth, help to unlock human potential,'' Morini Bianzino said. "Technology is playing a big role in how we connect remotely, so it's equally important that organizations take the time to invest and educate themselves on technologies, so it accelerates the human enterprise to create new ways of working and build a better working world," he said. Company IT teams will need to accelerate their use of public cloud, virtualization, and software-defined WAN to remove networking and data/storage complexities, Technologent said. "But beyond the challenges of a rapid redirection for remote workforces are just as many (if not arguably more) opportunities. For example, each office worker costs $22,000 more annually than a remote worker, and studies show that remote workers are happier and more productive when given the right framework." Part of keeping them productive means continuing to support professional growth in employees through virtual learning, Morini Bianzino said. "Since the pandemic, consumption of EY online learning content has increased by almost 40%, proving that people are seeking ways to sharpen their skills and continue learning, even while remote."   From a technical standpoint, remote access, security, communication, and collaboration are all intertwined in a comprehensive IT strategy for technological needs for a work-from-home solution, Technologent said. These aspects of the strategy require an integrated approach for a permanent remote workforce that is robust, flexible, resilient, and secure.   According to McLaughlin, businesses will need to take a comprehensive and holistic approach to solve these challenges, empower their remote workforce, and ultimately benefit from a work-from-home world.   "Businesses may have to pivot quickly. A support partner for businesses across all these areas will be vital to developing secure network/application access, along with the technology and tools for collaboration with a permanent remote workforce," McLaughlin said.   Software solutions can ensure that infrastructure is distributing workloads between data centers, the network, and beyond its edge into public clouds and back to adequate home remote setups for quick and secure access, he said.   "That's a tall order-but with the right planning and support partner, businesses and their workforces can be positioned to grow, expand, and profit in a post-COVID-19 world."

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