Contrary to what many thought before the start of 2020, we now know that the home office concept actually works. This is one of the most important lessons of 2020. Granted, its implementation was somewhat ad hoc for most of us, but with the systems and processes in place, hardly anyone will claim to be working in it. a home office is unproductive.
And while some governments are considering putting the home office into law, some employees are already wondering if they will use an office outside their home again. While many find themselves in that privileged position of working exclusively from home if they so choose, there are just as many for whom hybrid work will be the new normal.
But what is it that makes us so sure that the new normal won’t just revert to the old normal in a matter of months? Simply because almost all office workers have taken a crash course in modern communication in the last few months. Never before have desktops been replaced by laptops in such numbers and the know-how in VPNs, online sharing and video conferencing has been acquired as quickly as last year.
At the same time, some employees upgraded their home Internet connections and tested their private laptops for business use. In short, COVID-19 has launched a comprehensive home office system check, and the result is that it is working.
What made the last year so memorable was that there weren’t just one or two colleagues at home, but more or less overnight the whole team left remotely. “Mary’s not here, she’s at the home office” was not a rarity, it was the norm. The wait shifted to everyone being at the home office using the conference line of their choice. The result of everyone making this change at the same time was that – after a few bumps in the road – this remote working environment allowed for peak efficiency and increased work productivity.
Eliminating chatter, commute times, and coffee brewing delighted businesses and caused headaches for consultants who bill by the hour. The international teams suddenly became fully integrated and developed a taste for more intense cooperation.
Suddenly, it doesn’t make any difference whether your coworker in the upper right corner of the video call is 1,000 miles away or on the next floor. Companies see enormous potential for cost savings in offices and new opportunities in finding talent on a global scale.
But many of them have also discovered that if the home office can be enjoyable, there has to be a balance. Many yearn for the personal exchange of in-person meetings, want to move to another location, and there are even those who miss the commute to work.
At the same time, behavioral changes are occurring in the remote office environment. For example, the term “zoom fatigue” is something that most people are familiar with. With that in mind, Quocirca analysts made an interesting observation in one of their studies: More printouts are printed in the home office, as reading print materials is suddenly a welcome change from working on screen.
These factors show why the hybrid workplace is the preferred form of working of the future. Taking advantage of the right environment for the task at hand is extremely beneficial. For example, more intensive or creative work should probably take place in the home office, while favoring an online exchange, at least once a day, motivates and helps prevent alienation. In turn, traditional office time will be reserved for more formal face-to-face exchanges, as well as informal interactions, such as team events and whiteboard brainstorming sessions.
Hybrid work: challenges for IT
Of course, hybrid work is already more or less practiced, but there is still a lot of potential to increase employee productivity. This is why it is worth taking a closer look at this new form of work.
Until now, a clear distinction was made between workstations inside and outside the company premises. A frequent change between the two should be seen as a new normal. It also means that employees shouldn’t have to worry about what they’re allowed and capable of doing in each location.
And with the adoption of the new hybrid workplace, we will see an increase in on-site shared workspaces where anything that ties a person to a specific location should be eliminated. Whether it’s a phone, printer, desktop or file server.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, seeking business continuity and disaster preparedness, the IT team in the city of Corona, located just southeast of Los Angeles, had already virtualized its servers. With around 80% of their infrastructure already in the cloud, the switch to desktop virtualization was made in 2019.
The Azure platform offered ideal compliance requirements for the city government. This then made Windows Virtual Desktop the logical choice when it came to virtualizing desktops. Combined with secure Linux-based terminals, this solution places the city of Corona in a leading position to deliver municipal services, such as police, from a home office. Throughout the pandemic, the city of Corona has been able to ensure the safety and productivity of its employees.
However, with phones, apps, and almost every other system available virtually, printing remains one of the few functions that needs a little more consideration. This is because the printer itself cannot be virtualized but must be available close to the user with a secure connection to data centers and to private and public clouds.
Thanks to cloud printing, this can also be made much more flexible. The user is not interested in whether the printer is already within range of the network. Why not print before you get to work or get rid of that last task in the evening, then pick up the prints as soon as you walk past a suitable printer, ideally without having to decide which specific printer? This type of cloud printing solution should also support mobile printing because the more mobile employees are, the more they will enjoy mobile printing to be able to fully complete their workflows on a mobile device.
But what about desktop computers? To simplify hardware requirements and, if necessary, to allow employees to move around even without carrying a laptop with them, virtual offices offer an ideal solution. With Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft recently started offering virtual desktops entirely from the cloud. This allows IT departments to quickly deliver desktops without having to upgrade their own data center or plan complex deployments. If high security requirements are to be met, combination with Linux-based endpoint solutions is recommended, which completely lock down employee computers and only allow access to such a virtual office.
Finally, the connection and availability of a file server outside of the company’s premises must be verified. Using Team Online Storage is a great option, but it’s also worth considering how far file server access can be enabled through technology like Azure Files.
A redesign can also be done with regard to Wi-Fi. Is it necessary to secure company resources via Wi-Fi? Or does it make more sense to set up a company’s Wi-Fi network the same way it does in coffee shops or home offices? Of course, such a Wi-Fi network should not lead directly to internal systems, but should only provide access to the public Internet. Internal resources must then be accessible via secure connections or a VPN.
These prerequisites ensure that employees can change jobs at any time, without change or loss of productivity. For the management of office spaces, it may be wise to use management software from the coworking industry. This ensures, for example, that there is always a working place available in the office when needed.
COVID-19 has changed the world of work forever. Fortunately, this means that hybrid work is making its way as the new normal, taking advantage of the advantages and avoiding the disadvantages of both working options. Decision makers can address the IT challenges ahead by understanding the different solutions available to them to ensure a smooth transition to support their organization’s home office and traditional hybrid workplace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Henning Volkmer is the President and CEO of ThinPrint, Inc., which leads the execution of the company’s strategy as a leading innovator in print management, enterprise mobility and improved collaboration for teams. He has established extensive technological experience and has been at the forefront of technological trends for the past seventeen years.