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Mark Skelton: The fundamentals for a hybrid workplace

Mark Skelton, CTO at CANCOM UK&I, discusses the tech fundamentals needed to ensure the success of a hybrid working environment

Business and employees have all but confirmed that a hybrid working model will become the dominant way of working following the pandemic. Despite a few road bumps, the transition to remote working has been successful, with many businesses beginning to see the potential to regain losses and match their pre-pandemic growth. Similarly, the vast majority of former commuters have embraced the remote working model so strongly that most employees don’t want to go back to the office full time again.

The physical workplace is not dead, however, and will play an important part in rebuilding the economy. Office and remote working can and will exist to produce great results, but this will rely on the right IT investments being made at the right times.

Namely, it is key that we do not repeat the mistakes that defined IT in 2020, in which rushed digital transformation projects traded the short-term ability to work from home, for long-term infrastructure and cybersecurity issues. Equally, businesses cannot simply look to quick fix solutions that may have enabled remote working but may not easily translate into hybrid working.. Optimising the use of technology for hybrid working will require a seamless blend between remote and office work, and businesses will now need to plan for a workplace that is inclusive, flexible, and secure.

Ensuring a connected workplace

With many staff hoping to maintain a certain amount of post-pandemic homeworking, businesses need to ensure that connecting from any location is as smooth as possible, and exchanges with colleagues are seamless. However, the real challenge will come when people are able to meet in person, with others dialling in from afar. If the process is not straightforward and hiccup-free for those dialling in, it can have a serious effect on collaboration among teams, with office and home-workers becoming two separate groups. It can also lead to unequal employee representation, with some people’s thoughts, ideas or opinions being overlooked. Smart meeting rooms will therefore be an important investment for businesses looking to go hybrid.

These intelligent spaces integrate hardware and software to create a productive meeting experience for participants, whether they are joining the meeting from the office or remotely. There are new tools appearing every day to compliment these spaces, such as Microsoft’s employee experience platform Viva, and intelligent collaboration devices such as Microsoft Surface Hubs or Poly Meeting Room solution, which record and take notes during meetings. Effectively linked together, these tools can help create a seamless working environment and eliminate the risk of those staying out-of-office falling behind. In the not-too-distant future, we will see AR and VR integrate into meeting room spaces to take that experience to the next level and give collaboration another dimension.

Securing the transition

As businesses swiftly responded to lockdown measures and switched employees to a home working dynamic, so too did cyber criminals, who switched tactics to exploit COVID-19-related fears. Working from home quickly became a gateway to new forms of data theft. In a survey of workers from Deloitte, a quarter of respondents noticed an increase in fraudulent emails, spam, and phishing attempts since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. Fraudsters are watching behaviours, devising scams to fit perfectly into the ‘new normal’ – from false Microsoft Teams notifications to Royal Mail scams taking advantage of the increase in home parcel deliveries.

Given the speed with which we had to adapt to home working, it could be forgiven that corporate IT infrastructure was inadequate for a short time while people got used to the new way of working. However, those who are lagging behind withsecurity infrastructure could pay dearly. For those looking to a hybrid workplace model for the future, staff and data security is paramount.

Creating a security strategy involves several elements, one of which is staff education and ongoing training. With 52% of businesses admitting that employees are their biggest weakness in IT security, comprehensive education of the risks out there and how to spot them is an essential building block to a secure IT infrastructure. This training should be regularly updated to represent the changing conditions of the workplace. Cyber criminals will adapt; therefore, so must organisations and employees. Once a cyber defence has been deployed, it’s then crucial to regularly check that the security measures are effective. In 2020 in particular, many solutions were rolled out under significant time pressures and IT staff now need to evaluate these solutions and adjust them if necessary. If businesses now operate with more cloud-based storage, it’s fundamental to check that is this properly managed and protected from attacks. It’s crucial not to forget to validate the security of service providers, suppliers and partners too. After all, supply chain weaknesses can lead to major cyber and data breaches.

Striving towards greater inclusion

One of the great casualties of the last year has been workplace culture and a lost sense of community among workers. While office culture was due an overhaul, there are concerns that a permanent remote-only way of working will leave some staff excluded and missing the key social element of work. Employee wellbeing and job satisfaction are also more difficult to track when teams are remote. This is where behavioural analytics tools can play a key role, by analysing behavioural patterns to understand employee activity and help ensure remote working is enjoyable and sustainable for everyone.

The insights that are unlocked by this technology will be invaluable in 2021, as they can also provide businesses with insights into employee working patterns. When these tools are combined with data sources, such as networks and smart meeting rooms, this provides business leaders with an all-important overview of employee engagement. From here, it’s possible to evaluate the true feeling of employees and understand if anyone does not feel included, and why. In addition to being separated by geography, some social groups are more at risk from becoming isolated than others, and business leaders must take extra steps to ensure that everyone feels invested in. Technology plays an essential role in this. Armed with the right tools and data, leaders can take effective steps to include staff members in this new way of working.

‘Going to work’ may never take on quite the same meaning as it did before, and businesses leaders must remember that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach that will meet every need. The process of hybrid working will require us all to learn and evaluate our own unique goals and challenges. Like all IT investments, this will also mean that strong foundations need to be laid around security and connection, with the entire team being involved in the process. Eventually, once we’ve hit the hybrid working nail on the head, I think we will all wonder why it was not the norm to begin with.