Written by John Dathan
Senior vice-president and general manager of Insight Canada

We’ve seen a lot of change in how we go about our work, and we may look back on this as a rare positive resulting from the pandemic. For now, it may seem like more headache than appreciation as the evolution of the workplace accelerates into a mix of what we once knew – office life – and the remote work we’ve become so familiar within 2020.  

That transformation is the hybrid workplace, which allows us to securely work from anywhere, on any device, without a decline in productivity. When we eventually solve the COVID-19 dilemma, 82 per cent of business leaders say remote work will persist to some degree at their organizations, and 47 per cent will allow it full-time, whether from home, client worksites, coworking spaces and everywhere in-between (even the neighbourhood coffee shop’s public Wi-Fi). While enabling employees to be at their best in a variety of settings creates exciting opportunities, it also presents several challenges from both IT and works culture perspectives.

Does IT become overburdened having to dual provision on-premises desktop setups with remote ones? How do you hold effective meetings when some people are remote and others are gathered in the same conference room? How do people stay fully engaged and avoid burnout from more sedentary home-office lifestyles? How do you re-create the benefits of impromptu hallway brainstorm sessions when everyone is dispersed? 

The answers aren’t simple, but preserving the meaningful connections your workforce engages in daily should be at the heart of the modern, hybrid workplace while providing a safe environment to make it happen. Here are four keys to building that foundation:

 

Keep IT secure  

When the Canadian government recently experienced a comprehensive cyberattack on online portals, it was a pointed reminder that nefarious actors are more active than ever. In the simplest terms, there are more opportunities for vulnerabilities as employees access work networks from remote locations, including poorly secured home or public Wi-Fi. 

The hybrid workplace calls for additional layers of security beyond the traditional office environment, and now is the time to patch holes created during the initial rush to mobilize workforces earlier this year.  

Some effective ways to shore up risks include implementing: virtual desktop infrastructure, VPN, and cloud-based identity and access management tools; multi-factor authentication; telework policies, including malware protection and restrictions on certain applications; and a tagging system to track how files are transmitted. Organizations also can arm hybrid workers with physical tools like SD-WAN devices or corporate Wi-Fi hotspots to address the uncertainties of home or public networks.

In an ideal world, managed cloud services provide modern architectures that fully enable zero-touch deployment, remote device and application management, patches and device troubleshooting, and better control over data access and governance. 

 

Create physical and virtual collaboration hubs 

The need for personal interaction will never vanish. It’s the basis for thriving company culture and instilling collective purpose. Yet one of the drawbacks of dispersed working is the loss of the impromptu meeting or watercooler chats where ideas are swapped and lasting connections are made. 

Virtually re-create team-building engagements like whiteboarding sessions or ad hoc social meetups (e.g. virtual happy hours) through collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams. Devise virtual meeting standards promoting harmony, such as using video during conference calls, chat and hand-raising features to ensure everyone has a voice or doesn’t talk over one another, or creating a uniform meeting experience by having everyone connect through the same platform even when some of the group is physically together in the same room. 

Further, the physical workplace will evolve into more of a collaboration hub as people complete individual tasks away from the office then return on-premises for client meetings or more resource-intense projects. The hybrid worker will share hotel-like workspaces rather than designated desks, and intelligent technology like Internet of Things-powered cameras and sensors will steer on-site patrons to safer social-distancing practices while helping keep facilities virus-free, much like what this independent brewery is doing. 

 

Take care of your people

Near the end of August, we reopened our offices in Montreal and Toronto to select teammates who prefer a more traditional setup. While I’m personally not quite ready for trains or planes yet, as I’ve begun making the drive from Ottawa to both places, I’ve realized how much I valued the thinking time inherent to the work commute. If I could go back in time, I’d advise myself to schedule “unplugged” thinking time into my day that’s phone- and PC-free.  

Caring about the wellbeing of our employees, particularly those adopting more permanent remote options, means establishing similar best practices akin to scheduling the reflective time that used to be part of our travel routine. That means allowing for flexible hours, breaks throughout the day, and setting personal boundaries when recognized work hours are over. 

People also don’t move enough at home – where once they walked around to directly interact with co-workers or customers, now they stay locked to their seats spending all day connecting through a screen. At Insight, we’ve turned our health and wellness activities, such as yoga sessions, virtual. Home-office ergonomics also are a factor, and some companies provide stipends for new home-office equipment like stand-up desks.

 

Instill trust across the business

Adopting permanent changes to how we work means total buy-in from your people. If there isn’t trust in the new technology you’re introducing or the protocols put in place to enable it, then you’ll never really get the most out of modernization. 

Every business function needs to have a voice in the strategic vision of a hybrid workplace. For example, learning and development teams need to be at the forefront of digital collaboration tool adoption. They understand how different teams work best and can coach them on features that best meet their needs. Human resources can educate employees on remote-work policies and available resources. 

Similarly, IT teams should work hand in hand with operations and legal on implementing solutions designed to ensure safer work areas. If, for example, thermal cameras and contact tracing devices are installed to help detect and prevent the spread of viruses on-premises, the technology should align to policies protecting individual privacy.  

IT can bring greater value to the organization by serving as the glue binding business stakeholders to its users. Communication and transparency are vital in every respect, and every component of the business needs to operate cohesively to ensure that employees have the information they need for peace of mind and sustained confidence in your organization. 


John Dathan, senior vice president and general manager of Insight Canada, helps organizations of all sizes implement intelligent technology solutions to manage today and transform the future.


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