As Covid restrictions ease in the UK, businesses and staff are turning their thoughts to how the world of work will look going forward.
As we know, many office workers have been fully remote since the pandemic hit and are not keen to go back to pre-Covid ways of working. Employees increasingly want flexibility with regard to when they are required to be in the office, with more than 60% of UK workers surveyed by O2 Business earlier this year believing remote working should be the default.
But are businesses really ready for this remote working future? The same survey shows 65% of workers are confident their employers are prepared for the future of work, but this suggests there are still around a third of businesses that may struggle.
Companies ranging from NatWest to GiffGaff and EY are planning for more flexible working policies going forward, with some even mandating some remote working as they cut back on office space. But this move towards flexibility requires more than just packing staff off with a laptop and wireless mouse, as happened at the start of the pandemic.
While software and connectivity are important, businesses will also have to rethink their technology strategies, requiring hardware vendors, service providers and users to be aligned. Here are some post-pandemic technology considerations.
1. Wireless connectivity that can cope with telecommunication
A major pain point for workers in the office prior to the pandemic was slow internet connection. The need for fast and reliable WiFi, especially for smooth communication with remote employees, will force businesses to boost their wireless connectivity, according to Brett Green, general manager at cybersecurity company Exclusive Networks.
“Office wireless networks are usually designed to cater for densely populated areas, centred around banks of tightly packed desks or meeting rooms. [Networks] are tuned to provide enough performance for good internet and email experiences,” explains Green.
“Now, we’re less focused on the density, due to the reduced footfall and more interested in providing flexible working spaces around more open layout environments that can deliver high-performing connectivity that supports video collaboration.”
2. Remote patching regardless of location
Workers operating from multiple locations means IT departments don’t have the visibility over devices – who’s using them and how – that they did pre-pandemic. Companies have also become more susceptible to attacks from cybercriminals, with the number of cyber security threats faced by businesses up 20% in 2020, compared with 2019, according to data from specialist internet service provider Beaming, in part caused by the shift to remote working.
“Corporate resources are no longer restricted within a physical perimeter that IT departments can monitor and secure,” says Nigel Seddon, vice-president of EMEA West at IT asset and service management solutions firm Ivanti. “As more employees use personal devices and networks to access business applications, the line between business and personal data becomes blurred.”
Businesses can educate employees on how to secure their devices to mitigate cyberattacks when accessing the office network remotely, but this won’t eliminate cybersecurity risk altogether. They will also need to invest in the right tools to offer remote support, such as remote patching, which allows patches and updates to be installed on any application, software or device operating on a network.
3. Real-time monitoring of devices to improve worker experience
For remote hardware maintenance, Green is expecting to see a shift in investment towards real-time monitoring of user computing. This will enable businesses to access information, such as battery health, processor efficiency and how the memory is being used, on a worker’s laptop. The data can be collated and analysed to provide a user experience score for each remote employee.
“Instead of relying on remote workers to report their problems, the IT service desk becomes a more proactive function, identifying those with poor user experience scores and using remote tools to identify the problems,” explains Green.
The IT department can inform the user of the problem and provide them with a solution. But in the situation when there’s no quick fix, businesses could alert field service technicians in the area to carry out maintenance, rather than send someone out from the office, reducing IT downtime.
A big advantage of using a combination of real-time monitoring and remote patching is that workers won’t have to send away their devices and wait for them to be repaired and returned to them. Instead, they will be able to work from the office or at home seamlessly and, hopefully, without much of a drop in productivity.
4. Leasing devices to reduce e-waste
The pandemic has nudged many businesses to accelerate their digital transformation ambitions and to embrace the Internet of Things. A downside of wider adoption of wireless and connected technologies, though, is that there are more devices both in and outside the office. This means more toxic electronic waste.
One solution to the problem is dematerialisation, argues Andy Tomkins, sustainability engagement manager at Canon EMEA. In an ideal scenario, a business would lease electronic equipment and devices then, at the end of the lease, the hardware provider would recall the products to be repaired, recycled or remanufactured.
“When a lease comes to an end, the manufacturer takes back the used device and refurbishes it as new for the next customer. By redesigning products in this way, [hardware] manufacturers can re-use parts from old devices to build new machines,” says Tomkins.
Leasing technology is not suitable for every company, with its use depending on a particular business’s technical requirements. But bumping sustainable practices, including electronic waste policies, to the top of the business agenda makes commercial sense and helps reduce carbon footprints.
In order for this to work, however, hardware manufacturers will have to be on board, stresses Tomkins: “All the products available under this model will need to be designed with maximum recovery of raw materials in mind.”