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Paul Wooldridge: The rise of the hybrid workforce – Three tech areas for businesses to master

Written by Paul Wooldridge, Future Workplace Practice Lead at SoftwareONE UK

The changes happening in the workplace over the past few months have been seismic. Some organisations were already allowing remote working at least one day a week, but for many employees, this was a new way of working – and it’s a popular one, with 73 percent of workers believing companies must embrace flexible working arrangements long-term. Workers are not going to go back to pre-pandemic patterns of office working, even when COVID-19 is out of the picture; facilitating flexibility and ensuring a smooth transition for ‘hybrid workers’ from office to home, and back again, will be a top priority for businesses.

When working remotely, employees need easy access to files and apps, the ability to communicate with co-workers, and high-quality support to deal with IT issues that may arise. For a hybrid workforce to be truly successful, companies must ensure a seamless user experience regardless of where workers are located. So, what are three of the key technology areas organisations must master to enable the hybrid workforce?

1. Manage VPN usage

A crucial component in facilitating a seamless shift from office to home working is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). This enables employees to connect to the internet safely by encrypting their internet traffic, and gives them secure access to documents, applications and resources stored on company servers. Since the COVID-19 pandemic upended businesses at the beginning of March, VPN usage is soaring; NordVPN alone has seen an increased usage of 165 percent. But the problem is that many VPNs weren’t designed to accommodate such high volumes of remote worker traffic, which can cause malfunction and poor performance.

IT teams can deal with this by creating boundary groups that are configured to identify which distribution points are responsible for which systems. For instance, a boundary group can be set up for several workers using the VPN, so that when installing new applications or dealing with software updates, content is downloaded from one particular distribution point. This helps to ensure traffic is distributed evenly across the network and reduces strain. For enterprises with a high number of remote workers, this type of load balancing may be more difficult, so they may choose instead to configure the VPN so it is possible to download some software updates remotely but make larger applications only available to download on-premise.

2. Make sure collaboration tools are adopted

With a distributed workforce, it is especially important to maintain a collaborative environment and facilitate productivity. COVID-19 forced many businesses to embrace tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack to ease the transition to remote working during lockdown; however, the shift was extremely rapid. In most cases, organisations simply didn’t have the time to train users on the full range of features before driving adoption. As a result, they are often not being used to their full potential.

As the lines permanently blur between home and office working, organisations need to educate and empower employees on the capabilities of collaboration tools – going beyond instant messaging, video meetings, and collaborative file sharing. Online adoption and change management workshops ensure these technologies provide maximum benefit to the hybrid workforce, with the IT and HR departments coming together to ensure employees are up-to date with the latest features. Without this, use could stagnate, meaning employees are losing out on capabilities (such as SharePoint lists recently being added to Microsoft Teams) to help manage group work more effectively.

3. Provide the right support

Having employees move constantly from the office to working from home will cause IT teething problems for businesses. From the necessary licenses each employee will need depending on the applications and software they use, to productivity levels impacted by technical difficulties, high-quality IT support will be a cornerstone of the hybrid workforce. Many businesses rely on in-house IT teams to handle technical problems; however, the complexity of different technologies, vendors and the sheer scale involved in modern enterprise IT is overwhelming. In fact, three in four CIOs say IT complexity is making digital performance impossible to manage.

To overcome this and provide the best possible IT experience for staff regardless of their location, businesses need the right help in place. Having agents available around the globe at all hours will ensure teams can call upon support services at any time, without fear of getting subpar service in the middle of the night. Equally, for large enterprises, having local language availability is crucial to providing the same level of help across different regions. Local agents will help your team communicate their issues confidently, without a language barrier, and the support team can pass that information on in the vendor’s preferred language for a simple resolution. Ultimately, proactivity is key when it comes to IT issues. Businesses need to consistently check their environment for potential issues that could later become a problem, as this will help to limit any possible disruption to workers.

Past the point of no return

The reality is that the hybrid workforce is here to stay. Organisations need to get the right technology and processes in place to ensure employees can do their job to the same standard as before, regardless of where they are. From VPNs and collaborative tools that maintain productivity levels, to high-quality IT support, mastering these three areas will help organisations provide a flexible and seamless IT experience for its hybrid workforce of the future.