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Why waiting for someone else to define hybrid working could be catastrophic for IT

Written by Tim Mercer, Vapourcloud

With the Government’s ‘Plan B’ restrictions having come to an end and compulsory self-isolation rules also due to be lifted imminently, Covid is in the process of being recategorised as an endemic that we live alongside. But one thing is for sure – hybrid working patterns are going nowhere. In fact, the mass approval for this new-look employment landscape will perhaps remain indefinitely, with employers and employees alike acknowledging the multiple benefits of this flexible approach.

Almost two years on from the first lockdown, this long-term continuation of a hybrid model is unlikely to worry many businesses, particularly from a tech point of view. The rapid shift to remote working was admittedly an initial struggle – to say the least – but fast forward to 2022 and most colleagues now have the tech they need to operate, collaborate and thrive. Right?

Well, in theory, yes. Most employees can now get online, via a device, whether they’re working from home or in the office. They can send emails, conduct video calls and, in most cases, access company documentation – and so much more.

But how many UK businesses implemented little more than a sticking plaster approach, when they were forced to close their doors and send staff home? Is the equipment that was bought overnight to keep everyone online, truly fit for purpose? How many colleagues are still using their own personal devices, contrary to the guidance of their employer’s BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy – if one exists, that is?

How fragmented have companies’ tech stacks become, thanks to the kneejerk implementation of video calling and other collaboration platforms? Where has this left traditional calls? Are employees using their own devices for voice communication too? Do organisations have a data gap as a result? And how much are these fragmented technologies costing businesses?

And then there’s network access. Are remote workers still connecting to corporate environments via their home broadband, using a domestic router with the same password it had when it was installed years ago? What does this mean for their bandwidth? Scarier still, what does this mean for companies’ network security?

When it comes to the IT implications of hybrid working, all of this – and so much more – is just the tip of the iceberg. The list of questions goes on and on, but the gist is clear. This has been – and continues to be – a complex situation that organisations and their tech teams have dealt with as best they can, often in the face of unmanageable time pressures, budget constraints, varying degrees of digital literacy among the workforce, cultural resistance, mental wellbeing challenges, and of course stretched resources.

However, if ever there was a time for the much-referenced phrase ‘new normal’ to really mean something, it’s now. If we’re to believe what we’re told – that Covid-19 restrictions will ease completely – then we can plan confidently, strategically and with an eye on the longer-term horizon once again.

HR departments are doing it. They’re defining and refining flexible working policies that represent how they intend the workplace to look and operate, from now on and way into the future. They’re communicating it in everything from employee handbooks to new recruitment ads. Line managers are talking to their teams about it too.

But IT leaders need to at least have a seat at the table when such discussions are taking place. Not because the hybrid working model isn’t a good one. Not because they disagree with its validity within modern organisations. But because the ongoing resilience of both the corporate network and users’ endpoints, will remain in jeopardy, if some core IT considerations are not at the heart of decisions made, moving forward.

So many businesses have opted for technologies they thought they needed, under pressure, or technologies they felt they had to adopt because it was all that was available at the time. Now is the time for companies to review their estate, and IT should drive this conversation.

Elsewhere, some major technology projects have been stalled – if not shelved completely – because organisations’ budgets have been deployed on other unexpected tech investments. But does this render the current infrastructure unfit for purpose, whether from a capacity, sustainability, security, disaster recovery, or agility point of view?

It is perhaps only when something goes wrong – from a major outage to a cyberattack or significant data loss – that eyes will then fall on IT to ask, why didn’t we act sooner?

So, if we’re to prepare ourselves for a world that is no longer dominated by fear of Covid-19, let’s ensure our businesses and the IT within them, can also remain healthy when this disease is nothing but a distant memory.