It's evident in this post-COVID-19 world that the elements that made up business-as-usual have changed and will settle into something new. The questions to be answered are: How are the tech tools people are using changing? And what do those changes mean for IT professionals?
In order to answer the second question, start with the first. Panelists featured in Interop Digital 2020's workplace experience track identified the shifting priorities for enterprise operations and workflow in a remote and hybrid workforce, then offered guidance for IT pros trying to put together plans for where to spend their time and money in the near future.
"As organizations look to digitally transform their business, the integration capabilities of team collaboration platforms have become increasingly important," said Tim Banting, principal analyst for workspaces at Omdia, during the Interop Digital session titled Team Collaboration: The Pivotal Platform for Productivity.
In Omdia's recent research, the most challenging aspects for organizations being able to support remote work were ensuring employees could work securely and in compliance with industry regulations; providing equipment to employees; and finally, providing adequate technical support.
"What has become apparent is that organizations need IT infrastructures that allow them to react quickly to changing situations. Technology such as premise-based phone systems is just not proving effective," Banting said.
Enter the collaborative workspace platform. These tech solutions – Zoom, Teams, Slack, Google Meeting and other systems that offer a chat-based interface, the ability to share and manage files, and integration with task-oriented apps – aren't linked to physical infrastructure in the same way a phone system might be. That makes them ideal for collaboration when coworkers (and their telecommuting infrastructure) are widely distributed.
With help from those collaboration tools, IT operations have essentially made years of tech transformation happen in a matter of months, moving from an IT model that was premises-based, relied on unified communications (usually based in physical infrastructure) and comprised of multiple products to an IT model that is cloud-based and focused on team productivity, hybrid workforces and the automation of business processes.
It helps, Banting added, that a perk of using cloud-based tools – including collaborative platforms – is that it's easy for IT operations to switch and there's not a lot of capital expenditure compared to the old-school requirements of in-office conferencing equipment.
He also said that having a centralized space for teams to work productively – a space not defined by geographical location but by a platform that allows email, calendaring, automation of business processes, file syncing and sharing, task management, and a form of voice/video communication – allows for "a focus on proving group productivity in a central workspace."
A lot of organizations have purchased multiple communications tools in response to the pandemic in an attempt to get their remote and hybrid workforce up-and-running quickly. IT professionals can expect to have to reassess their spending, look at how to best evaluate multiple collaborative tools and figure out one consolidated solution for both logistic and monetary reasons.
Colleen White, director of product for Fuze, also offered best practices for IT departments who are looking at supporting a remote and hybrid workforce in the presentation titled When Remote Work Is the Only Work.
"Security is an IT and end user problem in equal measure," White said. "Self-service for end users and insights to prevent and predict problems on the side of the admins will help [an organization] manage growing issues."
She also cautioned that rapid change can be painful and users can conflate changes in work habit with changes in tech tools used. "So it's not just enough for IT to replicate existing systems [for remote workers]."
Instead, IT needs to work with the company culture and encourage a blend of tech and culture edicts to address this issue. For example, encouraging users to put their communication apps into quiet mode allows them to set definite beginnings and endings to the workday, while making calendars public allows colleagues to easily set up check-ins.
"When you're thinking about supporting a hybrid workforce, be thoughtful about the ways your employees need to work. Consider the balance of tools and policy changes to ensure a productive work environment," she said.