Friday, 7th August 2020

Working from home is here to stay: Key next steps for IT departments

By Jamshid Rezaei, EVP IT & CIO at Mitel.

Did you ever think you’d actually miss going into the office? Spontaneous encounters in the elevator, chats by the watercooler, birthday celebrations with colleagues. For the time-being at least, these are all still off the table for most of us. The world of work has adjusted to a ‘new normal’ of remote working. A world that many in the pre-Coronavirus era predicted would come eventually, but take years to arrive, not days.

In the first few weeks of lockdown, many CIOs and IT leaders scrambled to ensure that their employees could get online and working as fast as possible, and this resulted in businesses trying out an unprecedented variety of communications and collaboration solutions. But now that we’ve been living with remote working for a while, we have the breathing room to take a longer-term view.Even though the lockdown is easing, working from home continues for most office workers, so it’s important to take time to consider your IT strategy fully. Here are three key areas to reflect on.

Laying the groundwork

The truth is we’re in this for the long-haul. We can expect long-term changes to the way we work: a recent survey from Global Workplace analytics revealed that up to 77% of the US workforce wants to work from home after Covid-19. I expect the figures in the UK are similar, signalling that changes CIOs have made, or are making, to their infrastructure and technology policies, to support remote working, will need to become permanent.

With this in mind, I recommend using the next couple of weeks to monitor and test employee behaviour in the face of these challenges. Based on the insights you gain, you can figure out the best way for your organisation to drive adoption of, and engagement with, the right communications and collaboration tools to help replace some of the in-person office experience.

The shadow IT threat

When lockdown began, the immediate priority was to get employees working from home quickly, on a mass scale. This led to unprecedented levels of shadow IT, where staff were mixing approved enterprise-level software with consumer-based applications, resulting in many potential security threats.

Make no mistake, there are benefits to bringing new applications into the fold, enabling the business to move quickly, embrace innovation and drive productivity in challenging times. However, we do need to remain vigilant to the risks. Four years ago, Gartner predicted that by 2020 a third of successful attacks experienced by enterprises would be on their shadow IT resources.

There are many options on the table for IT departments looking to tackle this threat. What is different about the present scenario is that it affords IT departments the chance to carry out a real-life benchmarking exercise of available solutions. CIOs also have the opportunity to test the robustness and security of any solutions currently being used by monitoring how well they work under extreme conditions. However, it’s critical that having gone through this phase of testing different solutions, CIOs land on a consistent solution across the organisation to ensure efficiency, integrity and security of the business communications platform, as well as full compliance with data protection requirements.

Internal alignment

In parallel, IT departments should work hand-in-glove with HR and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that business continuity plans are kept up to date, incorporating the many lessons that have been learnt so far from the Covid-19 crisis across the organisation. One of the biggest takeaways from the crisis is that we live in an unpredictable world, and time spent preparing for the unexpected will pay dividends further down the line.

I firmly believe that there is a bright side to the current situation for CIOs and IT leaders. It presents the perfect opportunity to build a better understanding of employee communication and collaboration needs in different environments, and how the IT organisation can help support those needs more effectively, ensuring the best possible outcome for everyone involved. Throughout history, crises have led to fundamental changes in how we organise our societies and businesses. This one is no different. We’re seeing the value digitalisation can bring to virtual communication and collaboration, and our work habits and practices will never look quite the same again.

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