Updated: Mar 2
From a business perspective, where would we be without IT? Most would probably say worse off and some would say better off but irrespective of personal views, it is unquestionable that Information Technology (IT) and all its associated elements have for most organisations and employees, transformed the way we work. With a few exceptions, IT has become the metaphoric glue that holds businesses together. Most IT within the work environment is about communication channels, the transfer of information between systems, between people and between people and systems, all through the connectivity of hardware and software.
With the workplace for many businesses likely to be fragmented due to the move towards a fulltime or hybrid remote working structure, the need for this glue to withstand the businesses operational changes, has never been greater.
Implement the right IT solutions and the rewards for employer and employee can be significant with increased productivity and turnover and a more engaged, happy workforce with a quality work life balance.
We explore some of the potential challenges that WFH brings and some of the solutions.
The Challenges of IT when WFH
For some organisations, it may appear that sending employees to WFH armed with just a laptop will suffice, a relatively cheap solution to the increasingly accepted principle of a fulltime or hybrid way of working. However as covered previously (Acknowledging WFH Health and Wellbeing), this quick fix cheap approach, almost certainly will not be a cost effective solution in the medium and long term.
For employees WFH on a fulltime basis, a desktop PC will likely be considered the most practical and cost effective choice. For those WFH on a hybrid basis and requiring computer access in two or more locations, they could be furnished with a desktop PC at home and shared access to one in the conventional office. Alternatively, a laptop may be deemed the most appropriate solution, enabling them to take the device between offices.
Investment in IT hardware solutions to accommodate WFH is only part of the equation however, as without the most appropriate software applications, money and time may be wasted and employees may become disenfranchised due to poor connectivity and communication issues.
Much has been reported on the increased productivity levels of employees WFH which in part may be due to its novelty but in the medium to long term, how can this be maintained? There is a significant degree of trust associated with remote working arrangements but there still needs to be appropriate management of the not insignificant investment in the employees and the IT hardware and software assets they use.
In respect of managing remote employees and facilitating their job roles:
How can their productivity be effectively monitored and managed?
What are the most efficient ways of managing the workloads of individuals and teams?
What are the most efficient means of connectivity between employees, their peers, hierarchy, clients and suppliers?
How can the best and most efficient form of IT related support and advice be provided remotely?
Failing to address these fundamental aspects is likely to lead to reduced productivity, reduced employee health and wellbeing issue and ultimately a breakdown in employer and employee relationships. It really is a two-way street.
In respect of managing the businesses IT assets:
How can potentially significant security risks be mitigated?
How are the devolved hardware assets managed, maintained and replaced?
How are the devolved software assets tracked, monitored and updated?
How are lost, stolen or damaged assets managed and replaced?
Within a conventional office environment, many of these IT related elements have become just part of the day to day running of the business, often managed by an internal IT team or individual or a 3rd party IT service provider but when expanded beyond the office walls, a whole new set of challenges arise which will affect productivity and profitability if not carefully considered.
2021 marks the 50th Anniversary of the first ever email communication between people using different computers. This message was sent by Ray Tomlinson a computer engineer for BBN Technologies in USA, who was working on it as a personal side project to his paid work. An unintentional invention, of which it is projected around 320 billion will be sent this year alone.
Is the WFH Solution in the Cloud?
Understandably, the right hardware and software solutions will differ for each business but the one common denominator is the need to provide the right tools for the job, enabling employees to deliver, be productive and be satisfied in their work.
Whilst there had been an increase in the uptake of cloud based IT solutions pre-pandemic, the WFH movement has undoubtably accelerated the move away from traditional IT infrastructure to Cloud based computing and whilst it may not work to resolve all the issues highlighted above, it is likely that certain applications will deliver the desired solutions and in addition to this, potentially be a more cost effective solution to the conventional structure.
For those that have perhaps not yet considered such services, cloud computing is a virtual hosting solution where all servers, software and networks are hosted in the cloud, off premises instead of being accessible via physical hardware. Cloud based solutions provide far more resilience and flexibility than traditional IT systems and offer greater scalability, reduced hardware management, support and upgrades. So rather than investing money in purchasing physical servers in-house, data storage space from cloud computing providers is typically rented on a more cost effective pay-per-use basis.
Additionally, there is a decreased likelihood of downtime, meaning improved productivity, performance and increased profits in the long run.
With cloud computing being an external form of data storage and software delivery, it can potentially seem less secure than traditional local data hosting and so when choosing a provider of cloud based solutions, it is crucial to ensure they have optimum and robust security measures in place.
With employees perhaps WFH on some days and in the conventional office on others and colleagues working to different patterns, the ability to have access to applications on a wherever and whenever basis is a fundamental requirement of the new working world and cloud based solutions meet this need perfectly.
With what may seem like a fragmented workforce, the need for IT to continue to bond the business together, has never been more crucial and so utilising the most suitable cloud based software available is key to ensuring the issues highlighted above are resolved.
Cloud based IT solution consideration may include:
Hosted Desktops – They provide complete remote access solutions that enable secure working, regardless of device and location. They have the potential to be very cost efficient with savings available due to:
Individual Windows, Microsoft and other licenses not being required
Removal of traditional IT support and maintenance costs
PC replacement specification can be reduced or at worst maintained
Various indirect cost savings They reduce dependence on in-house IT support, come with automatic backing up and are fully managed and supported by the provider. They provide the users with a familiar Microsoft Windows environment on a virtual desktop where they can easily and securely access all their email, files, applications and storage. Access is via any PC, Mac, laptop, tablet or phone thereby enabling employees to access the office from everywhere and so are ideal for remote and flexible working, enabling employees to be highly productive. From the users perspective, there is no difference between a local desktop or a hosted desktop, except that the data is stored and accessed via the hosted environment. This means even the oldest device will benefit from fast cloud-based processing power. In IT talk, these are known as DaaS (Desktop as a Service) [ref. Atlas Cloud] The Cloud based IT benefits that Hosted Desktops solution offer, go way beyond the confines of this article and as we feel there are significant advantages for businesses of all sizes in all sectors, we are unashamedly plugging a virtual online event hosted by Atlas Cloud, entitled ‘Moving to a Hybrid Workplace Strategy’. This is taking place next Tuesday 23rd February (10.00am - 12:00am]. It is aimed at business leaders looking to seamlessly implement a hybrid workplace strategy from an IT perspective. Click here to read more about it and register your interest.
Task and Document Management software - To assist with getting work under control and boosting team productivity. This includes the organising of documents and tasks and enabling the use of secure eSignatures from suppliers, customers and colleagues. Key tasks and actions come from all directions, on different platforms and from different people and often need the input of others to complete them, especially when WFH. As such, this type of software can be invaluable for most sized organisations. [ref. Get Busy]
Collaborative Work Management and Project Management software – This enables users to run, manage and track everyday functions like projects, deadlines, schedules and other workflow processes and team collaboration, across a range of departments, including marketing, sales, R&D, IT, operations, customer support and HR. In IT talk, these are referred to as SaaS (Software-as-a- Service) [ref. Wrike and Monday.com]
Security software - With significant increases in cybercrime, ensuring remote workers have the most appropriate, up to date, flexible and robust Internet Security applications in place, has never been more important. This can cover but is not limited to prevention of Hacking, Viruses, Malware, Adware and Password security [ref. Eset]
Employee Monitoring software - Enables the employer to track and monitor how much time a remote worker spends on specific tasks or functions or perhaps on other non-work related functions i.e. social media. The WFH principle has raised the question of whether it is the indeed the completion of the task by the required deadline that is important or the time take to complete the task but this debate is for another day.
There are of course a number of other providers of similar cloud based services and also many other software packages that provide solutions to other requirements but these provide an indication of the type of options available to businesses of all sizes.
In summary, WFH does not work for all employers or indeed all employees but for many, a fulltime or hybrid form of WFH is likely to be a permanent feature in 2021 and beyond. By giving careful attention to identifying and implementing WFH compatible IT solutions, there is real potential for the business to benefit from reduced costs, efficient and secure working practices and therefore improved profits. In parallel, employees will benefit from a less stressful, more productive work environment, thereby contributing to a healthier and happier work life balance. The cumulative effect being that the business becomes a more appealing option for future quality employees.
The WFH Zone is the UK’s first online portal designed to assist organisations in the process of setting employees up to work from home in the most cost effective and ethical way. Our service provides a filter and search facility that helps employers and employees find quality suppliers of a range of Services and Products specifically associated with a work from home zone.
Fact: A disturbingly low 25.4% of people sent work documents to their personal email, presumably to get around deficiencies in their company’s IT set up. This could leave a lot of organisations susceptible to a data breach.
Source – Atlas Cloud