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Making the Shift to a Hybrid Work Environment

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Contrary to what many believed prior to early 2020, we now know the concept of the home office actually works. This is one of the most important insights of 2020. Granted, its implementation was somewhat ad hoc for most of us, but with systems and processes now in place, hardly anyone will claim that working in a home office is unproductive.

And while some governments are looking at enshrining home office into law, some employees are already wondering whether they’ll ever use a desk outside their own home again. While many are finding themselves in this privileged position of working exclusively from home if they choose to, there are just as many for whom Hybrid work will be the new normal.

But what makes us so sure that the new normal won’t simply revert to the old normal in a few months? Quite simply because almost every office worker has completed a crash course in modern communication in the past months. Never before have desktops been swapped for laptops in such numbers and know-how about VPN, online sharing, and video conferencing been gained so rapidly as in the last year.

At the same time, some employees have upgraded their home Internet connections and tested their private laptops for business use. In short, COVID-19 initiated a global home office system check, and the result is that it works.

What made the last year so impactful is that it wasn’t just one or two colleagues at home, but more or less overnight the whole team went remote. “Mary is not here, she’s in the home office” was not a rarity, it was the norm. The expectation shifted to everyone being in the home office using their conference line of choice. The result of everyone making this shift at the same time was that – after a few bumps in the road – this remote work environment allowed for optimal efficiency and increased work productivity.

The elimination of small talk, travel times, and making coffee has delighted companies and led to headaches for consultants who bill by the hour. International teams were suddenly fully integrated and gained a taste for more intense cooperation.

Suddenly it makes no difference whether your colleague in the top right-hand corner of the video call is 1,000 miles away, or on the next floor. Companies see a huge potential for cost savings in office space and new opportunities in the global talent search.

But many of them have also discovered that while the home office can be pleasant, there needs to be balance. Many crave the personal exchange of in-person meetings, desire a change of location, and there are even those that miss the journey to work.

At the same time, there are behavior changes experienced in the remote office environment. For example, the term “Zoom Fatigue” is something most people have experienced. With this in mind, the analysts at Quocirca made an interesting observation in one of their studies: More is being printed in the home office because reading printed documents is suddenly a welcome change from working at a screen.

These factors showcase why the hybrid workplace is the preferred work form of the future. Leveraging the right environment for the task at hand is immensely beneficial. For example, more intensive or creative work should probably take place in the home office, while prioritizing 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 whiteboarding brainstorm sessions.

Hybrid Work: Challenges for IT

Of course, hybrid work is already more or less being practiced, but there is still a lot of potential for increasing employee productivity. That’s why it’s worth taking a closer look at this new form of work.

Until now, a clear distinction was made between workplaces on and off the company’s premises. A frequent change between both must be seen as a new standard. This also means that employees should not have to ask burden themselves with what they are allowed and able to do at each location.

And with the adoption of the new hybrid workplace, we will see an increased in shared onsite workspaces where everything that binds a person to a specific location should be eliminated. Be it a phone, printer, desktop, or file server.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, seeking business continuity and disaster preparedness, the IT team for the City of Corona, located just southeast of Los Angeles, had already virtualized its servers. With about 80 percent of their infrastructure already in the cloud, the move to virtualize desktops 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 endpoints this solution put the City of Corona into a leading position to offer city government services, like policing, from a home office. Throughout the pandemic the City of Corona was able to keep their employees safe and productive.

However, with phones, applications and almost all other systems available virtually, printing remains one the few functions that requires a bit 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 private as well as public clouds.

Thanks to cloud printing, this can also be made far more flexible. The user is not interested in whether the printer is already within reach of the network. Why not print before you head to work or get that one last task off your mind in the evening and then pick up the printouts as soon as you pass by an appropriate printer, ideally without having to decide on which specific printer? This type of cloud printing solution should also support mobile printing because the more mobile employees are, the more they will appreciate mobile printing to fully be able to complete their workflows on a mobile device.

But what about desktops? To keep hardware requirements simple and, if necessary, to allow employees to commute even without carrying a laptop around with them, virtual desktops offer an ideal solution. With Windows Virtual Desktop, Microsoft has recently started offering virtual desktops entirely from the cloud. This enables IT departments to quickly provide desktops without having to upgrade their own data center or plan complex roll outs. If high-security requirements have to be met, the combination with Linux-based endpoint solutions are recommended, which completely locks the employees’ computers and only allows access to such a virtual desktop.

Finally, the connection and availability of a file server outside the company’s premises need to be checked. Using team online storage is a great option, but it’s also worth determining to what extent access to the file server can be enabled via technology such as Azure Files.

A rethink can also be made when it comes 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 in a similar way as you would find in coffee shops or home offices? Of course, such a Wi-Fi network should not directly lead to internal systems, but should only provide access to the public Internet. Internal resources should then be accessible via secure connections or a VPN.

These prerequisites ensure that employees can change their workplaces at any time, without changeovers and productivity losses. For the management of office space, it may be advisable to use management software from the coworking industry. This ensures, for example, that there is always a workplace available in the office when required.

COVID-19 has changed the working world forever. Fortunately, this mean that hybrid work is making its way as the new standard, leveraging the positives and avoiding the downsides of both working options. Decision makers can address the IT challenges ahead by understanding the various solutions that are at their disposal to ensure a smooth transition to support their organization’s home office and traditional office hybrid workplace.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Henning Volkmer is the president and CEO of ThinPrint, Inc., driving the execution of the company’s strategy as the leading innovator across print management, enterprise mobility, and improved collaboration for teams. He has established a broad technological background and has been at the forefront of technology trends for the past seventeen years. 

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