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Shadow IT’s Clue to Hybrid Employee Engagement

Shadow IT has plagued organisations for years – long before hybrid working became firmly established. With the shift to Working from Home (WFH), the use of personal devices and applications that fail to adhere to corporate standards has exploded – even for those companies that have accelerated the deployment of Unified Communications (UC) solutions over the last couple of years.

Yet, while the security and compliance risks associated with shadow IT are well known, how many companies are actively considering the implications for employee productivity, collaboration and morale? Are employees using new corporate solutions at home or still preferring their own work around options? Are they frustrated because performance drops off every afternoon, or feeling isolated because the new corporate platform lacks features they have previously used to connect with colleagues? Without the ability to monitor the entire, end to end infrastructure, including WFH, an enterprise will be blind to the true extent of shadow IT and, critically, key indicators of employee engagement.

With the right for WFH set to become enshrined in UK employment law, employee experience management is now critical and businesses need to both understand and improve the quality of the hybrid working environment, insists Jason Barker, SVP EMEA & APAC, IR.

Hybrid Experience Crisis

Elon Musk et al may be adamant that staff must return to the office, but the reality for the majority of UK businesses is that employees now expect hybrid working. The problem for large enterprises is that hybrid working environments are still not meeting the needs of employees.  For example, almost 60% of women who work in hybrid environments feel they have been excluded from important meetings; stress levels are rising, and burn out is driving high levels of attrition. Trends such as ‘Acting their Wage’ may be a TikTok Gen Z cliché; but lack of productivity and engagement of the younger WFH workforce is a huge issue.

Businesses clearly have an array of cultural and operational challenges to address to create a hybrid working model that engages all employees. But too few have recognised the impact of Shadow IT and a company’s lack of control over the UC tools preferred by diverse individuals across the business. Over the past few years, employees have taken a proactive and often innovative approach to making WFH work for them. And while companies have fast-tracked UC deployments to improve the overall employee experience; from Zoom to Dropbox and WhatsApp, many still prefer the ‘emergency’ options to the new corporate standard.

The result is a not just a significant shadow IT problem – with the associated security and compliance risks – but a complete lack of corporate understanding about employee activity. Are individuals engaged with the business? Are they productive? Motivated? Or about to leave? With the UK still suffering a significant lack of skills – access to labour (75%) and skills (72%) continue to top business’ labour market concerns, according to the CBI – the hybrid working experience is fast becoming a critical component in employee engagement and retention.

Understanding Hybrid Performance

With employees returning to the office for a few days each week, the hybrid experience should be seamless. Individuals should feel productive, engaged and motivated irrespective of working location, whether home, head office or local satellite hub. Few businesses know if this is the case. While IT teams routinely monitor UC performance across the organisation, information is collected on each individual system. With 10,000s, even 100,000s of employees using multiple solutions, it is impossible to gain an accurate and complete picture of system usage or performance.

Furthermore, this monitoring rarely extends outside the core office environment, leaving the business completely blind to the WFH experience. From calls dropping out when children return from school and plug into games and streaming services, to a widespread resistance to adopting the new corporate UC standard, a lack of visibility across the entire hybrid environment is creating significant business risk.

Monitoring UC Experience

A single view of the entire UC environment is now critical to both accelerate problem resolution and better understand the hybrid employee experience. Understanding how, when and where individuals are using different aspects of the UC solution set will provide companies with new insight into the way staff are adapting to the hybrid experience – and quickly flag up potential problems.

Monitoring every aspect of the infrastructure and providing a single view of performance enables IT to rapidly understand – and resolve – issues that are affecting workers in any location. From underperforming Wi-Fi, to problems with local network providers, or specific application glitches, better visibility is key to improving the timeliness of IT support.

But it also will quickly highlight issues with UC adoption and shadow IT that could impact the employee experience. If employees are failing to engage with the company’s preferred platform – 85% of businesses use two or more meeting platforms (according to Cisco) – questions can be raised about the education and training process. With native monitoring tools providing information limited to a single solution, it is impossible to gain a clear picture of the way individuals are interacting with different systems. Are employees able to personalise the platform to work in a way that they prefer? Is one department creating significantly fewer calls via the platform than the rest of the business – indicating a reliance on an unauthorised solution? Or is it just poor Wi-Fi that is affecting performance, not the UC at all? Granular understanding of UC usage can help the IT Operations team prioritise investment and drive strategic investment.

Strategic Hybrid Planning

Monitoring the entire end to end UC environment also provides useful information for other parts of the business, including both Human Resources (HR) and Facilities Management. For HR teams, for example, early insight into IT problems that could be affecting employee morale can enable proactive intervention and support. In addition to segmenting information by geography or business group, it could be analysed by age, allowing HR to understand how different generations are experiencing and engaging with the hybrid environment.

With so many companies now offering hot desking options, this information is increasingly used by Facilities Management teams tasked with ensuring a building is not only safe and secure, but also as productive as possible. Infrastructure and collaboration platform management are now Key Performance Indicators, with UC usage information providing essential insight to support business decisions.

Are employees avoiding certain buildings, putting pressure on space in other locations? And, if so, is that because calls keep dropping out or the Wi-Fi is too slow? If employees have to work in an office location one, two or three days each week, it is important that the office is designed to support a truly effective collaboration. Any frustration about the quality of the working environment, in any location, will rapidly affect morale. Providing Facilities Management teams with fast insight to usage information will give early indications of problems and allow essential infrastructure change.

Conclusion

Hybrid working, in one form or another, is here to stay. Organisations must ensure the quality of the employee experience to safeguard productivity and collaboration and, critically, boost staff retention through enhanced morale. Proactively monitoring the entire corporate environment provides not only insight into immediate UC performance issues that need to be urgently addressed; but also vital understanding of how, where and when different groups and individuals are engaging with the business.