Building the right digital workplace for a post-COVID world

By Spencer Pitts, - Future Workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown have exposed many of the outdated methods of thinking in how businesses’ workforces operate.

The world has seen how vulnerable society is to rapid changes. Organizations had to act at record speed, proving how vital agility is for business continuity and not just another industrial cliché we have heard a lot about prior to the lockdown

But now we’re moving beyond knee-jerk reactions into the next phase of workforce continuity, so it’s vital to understand what we’ve done well so far – and how we can improve going forward.

In this blog post, I’ll take you through the three phases of workforce continuity to explore how the workplace is changing, and what businesses can do to become more resilient in the future.

 

Phase one: The reactionary or respond period

The early days of the lockdown were marked by businesses focusing on rapidly getting WFH initiatives off the ground, as employers simply wanted to keep on operating sometimes at the expense of security and proper testing.

Desk-based office roles, or what you might call “standard” workers, had established routes to go remote that had been forged by the tech industry over the last few years. It took effort, but many organizations were soon working remotely as their primary location of work.

But for other businesses, such as those in retail and manufacturing, this wasn’t so easy. These industries led the way in reactive innovating.

The retail industry, for instance, repurposed a lot of staff from shop floors and warehouses to food production and delivery instead, to keep up with ballooning demand and changing government guidance and regulations.

This was probably the most challenging phase as people got used to new working conditions. However, there was also a lot of empathy between leader and workers. And the sentiment of all being “in it together” helped empowered people to achieve miracles.

Those first few weeks might have felt unnatural, but businesses were forced to move closer to their customers. As such, it became a great opportunity to start transforming customer experience.

 

Phase two: Sustainability concerns, the adapt period

Once workers had become used to their “new normal”, their happiness, productivity and security while working from home started to hold greater importance. In other words, how do we make this work for the long haul?

Many people had been willing to put up with more short-term unsustainable ways of working but over time, sustained working from home models began to cause fatigue as workers struggled to find a new work/life balance.

In response, some organizations relaxed contracts to four days a week. Others gave employees additional time off outside usual holiday quotas.

But the limitations of the rapidly set up remote technologies was also becoming a problem. Apps and virtual private networks (VPNs) weren’t sustainably scaled, Security relaxations were revisited, Support models reworked as the prospect of this being primary way of doing things for the foreseeable future.

What’s more, most enterprise systems were and still are in the main, specifically designed to be updated in an office scenario (enterprise network and security architectures). Now with the home as the primary base for most workers, they were unable to update their systems, exposing them to greater security risks, increases in support calls and potential reduction in productivity.  Looking after systems in one building now changed to looking after systems in thousands of small offices, i.e. people’s houses.

There are even reports of workers reverting to paper as some systems and applications still hadn’t been adapted to WFH.

Many businesses are still making their remote set-ups more sustainable. But despite these growing pains, it has become clear that work won’t just return to “normal” once the crisis passes – so a long-term strategy for a digital workspace with true security and employee wellbeing is vital.

 

Phase three: Time to rethink

Now is the time for businesses to start thinking about how they build a future not anchored to a physical office only. And the first step is to move away from the idea of work as a location to an outcome-based business model.

In the past, people were paid for their time and a traditional manager’s role was to act as overseer, making sure employees were working consistently while they were on the clock.

However, this mode of managing is simply no longer fit for purpose in the modern workplace. Firms are no longer paying workers for their time but for their experience, expertise and ultimately the results. So, leaders need to equally evolve and become more like coaches – flexibly providing support to workers with a mind on their wellbeing.

And whether it’s securely getting hardware out to new starters or trying to onboard remote employees, this is as much a cultural challenge as it is a technological one.

Creating a “digital workspace” – a term VMware helped coin – is now the primary goals of most organizations. Because businesses tomorrow will be judged by their ability to enable individuals to work when and where they feel most productive, and where the vertical industry allows them to be so.

And the ability to use technology to attract the right people and keep them, while cement company values among disparate workers will underpin digital workplaces.

 

The coming phase: the acceleration period

Certain technologies need to take greater importance in organizations if they want to continue to operate safely, securely and sustainably going forward.

When organizations look back, many will realize that a lot of the challenges faced by employees shifting to remote working came down to how they access their apps. It’s likely that these apps were designed in a time when nobody envisaged them being accessed (primarily) from anywhere but an organisation’s premises or office. As we move forward, it will therefore be paramount to modernize apps to be securely accessed and managed, independent of location.

So where will those apps be hosted? The most obvious answer for most but not all organizations is public cloud. On premise data centers have traditionally been used as a failsafe for IT teams’ disaster recovery. But today, businesses realize that they need to expand these functionalities out of just the IT team to encapsulate their workforce continuity plan.

Business customers of Horizon that are on VMC or Azure, for example, can approach any cloud vendor and easily increase their capacity. And even customers who have no digital workspace capabilities can get remote working initiatives up and running through cloud services quickly.

And the beauty of cloud is that organizations have the choice to flexibly scale down their capacity later, inserting more agility into their planning.

But as mentioned, many enterprise apps were designed to be accessed from the office. You don’t want all remote workers accessing apps on network routing through the data center, but directly to SaaS solutions. So, from a networking perspective, SD-WAN has become important solution for helping businesses connect.

Businesses can also save money while improving security by adopting a “zero-trust” approach. With the trusted location of the office gone, zero-trust means no person or location is imbued with inherent trust. Instead, devices trying to access the enterprise network always start from a point of no trust and build it up as they go.

With this, contractors and staff also have the freedom to use their own devices as each one always has to go through the same security hoops every time but without compromising user experience.  This will be the key point to address as we adopt a zero trust model.

 

Be proactive about the future

The partnership between VMware and Fujitsu led to a lot of the solutions we’re seeing today in digital workspaces. And while we didn’t see a global pandemic coming, it’s clear that the need for digital workplaces has become more relevant – and pressing – than ever.

We know that digital workplaces can make businesses more productive, engaging and ultimately resilient. As we enter a new phase in the pandemic, it’s vital that organizations take the opportunity to rethink, to become more resilient for the future and create a workplace fit for the post-COVID world.

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