Challenges to overcome as businesses transition to working from anywhere

Kristine Dahl Steidel, Vice President, End User Computing, EMEA, VMware, lists the top three challenges the businesses have to overcome while transitioning to work from anywhere.

Kristine Dahl Steidel, Vice President, End User Computing, EMEA, VMware

With almost two thirds (62%) of UAE organisations saying they realize the benefits of remote work and can’t go back to the way they used to be, it’s clear that the concept of ‘work’ underwent a major shift due to COVID-19.

In the main, this forced change in working practices has been a success, and the hybrid approach in allowing employees to work from anywhere is now gaining ground.

But as we move from the short-term ‘band-aid’ IT fixes of the last 12 months to longer term solutions, these same teams are having to build the capabilities to support a more permanent distributed, ‘anywhere working’ model.

After a year of scrambling to make sure employees can be productive from home, and moving into the next phase of what work can really look like – to working from anywhere – what challenges do IT teams face? Investments in workspace technology have largely followed working models: office-first and remote maybe second or third. In a distributed working model, digital-first has to be the compass.

Here are the top three challenges they will need to conquer to ensure this transition works – for the IT team, for employees, for customers, and for commercial and talent competitiveness.

Challenge 1: From friction to frictionless employee experiences

The scramble to enable remote working was all about one thing – access.

Overnight, IT teams had to equip employees with digital tools and put in place processes and solutions that would give them access to applications and data to do their job. A year on and employees continue to be plagued by inconsistent, unconnected experiences across mobile and PCs. That’s because IT were building these processes and solutions on siloed, on-premise PC management tools unsuitable for an anywhere workforce.

Moving forward, IT teams need to ensure their workforce can reliably access applications and data, on whatever mobile or desktop device they are using and get IT support when they need it. Reliable connection is also key; poor experiences with VPNs can mean work slowing or stopping altogether.

The focus has to be on removing digital friction that impacts productivity. It helps improve employee wellbeing and provides a sense of connection. This in turn, helps companies retain and attract talent at a time when these experiences increasingly influence people’s choice of job and company.

Providing these frictionless experiences will require investment in a hybrid architecture, which offers a more streamlined, continuous experience. The future anywhere workforce is all about enabling a multi-modal work experience and giving employees a choice of devices with high-quality experiences.

Challenge 2: From fragmented security to zero trust

Overnight remote working meant taking trusted PCs, laptops and phones out of a corporate network and the protective ‘bubble’ of the office. Within the bubble, employees were able to access applications safely inside the data centre. Outside it, meant moving endpoints and applications out to a distributed edge where, if an attacker penetrated through one endpoint, the brand and collateral damage could be far higher. Removing the traditional corporate firewall protections and putting in bolt-on security solutions left IT systems, devices and applications vulnerable. It’s unsurprising that the rise in remote working in 2020 coincided with 80% of organisations experiencing cyberattacks.

Now, IT has to manage an increasingly bigger attack surface as users, endpoints and applications spread further and further out across a company’s network. CIOs and their teams recognise that current tools, reliant on the traditional network security approach with a static perimeter are ineffective. With mobile, cloud, IoT, and edge computing, the network has become blurred and there are now numerous entry points, making assets behind the perimeter increasingly difficult to defend.

As user, endpoints and applications become ‘anywhere’, so must security. It has to be the brains behind what you deploy no matter where the user is, they must be treated the same. That means zero trust.

How the security operations centre (SOC) conducts itself has also needed to adapt. No longer seen as ‘mission control’, the SOC must break silos down between teams and learn to collaborate and manage the security operations of the business remotely.

Based on the concept of “never trust, always verify” the zero-trust approach doesn’t trust anything either inside or outside an organisation’s network. It also removes the broad level of access that comes with a traditional network perimeter, which presents a large attack surface and lateral movement without scrutiny. But this only works if IT teams build security in from the start rather than bolting it on as an afterthought. They need to move away from the approach of trying to prevent breaches at all costs to building intrinsic security into everything – the application, network, anything that carries data – right from the start.

Challenge 3: From operational complexity to simplicity

The sudden move to remote work meant companies urgently invested in tools and applications that would help with collaboration, productivity and access – from team chat apps and video conferencing to remote desktop software and focus apps. At the time, they offered quick fixes to allow employees to do their job. But, integrating so many solutions in such a short space of time is not always successful and a year on, IT teams find themselves with a complex mix of multiple tools and siloed teams managing those tools.

To remove this complexity will require two steps. They need to first untangle the web that they have found themselves in by simplifying and streamlining. This means considering carefully which tools are being used the most and which aren’t. Secondly, they need to grow the variety of devices and platforms that are needed for the future anywhere workforce by looking at where there are holes in the employee experience or areas of friction.

It’s all about scalable solutions. Existing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), digital workspace and security solutions might have allowed employees to start working from home quickly during the pandemic, but can they scale for the long term, as a growing number of employees expect seamless remote-work experiences? If solutions can’t scale, distributed workers could be plagued with productivity-sapping availability issues while IT administrators become overwhelmed with complexity.

It’s also about automation. Modern IT needs to work for every functional group within the organisation – IT, development, operations, employees, information security. For example, automatically detecting and patching security vulnerabilities to help protect endpoints before they become enterprise-wide risks. It makes the lives of the IT teams easier and gives them back time to spend on realising the future anywhere workforce.

The new permanent

Change isn’t just about the physical equipment or experiences, it’s also about mindset. The crisis forced change at a rate that many didn’t think possible. But to make these IT investments successful long-term means also changing the cultural mindset within the organisation, removing traditional biases around remote working and recognising that work is what you do, not where you do it.

As the dust begins to settle on the last year, we can see more clearly where band-aid solutions put in place to temporarily solve challenges – rapid deployment of devices to home locations or sudden investments in different collaboration tools – have become opportunities for CIOs and their teams to establish a digital-first investment strategy for the future.

Employees have become comfortable with flexible working and the realisation that they don’t need to live in expensive cities to work for a certain type of company. If they wish to compete for market share, talent and recognition, organisations will need to invest now for what is a foregone conclusion – that anywhere working is here to stay.