Debate: Optimising hybrid working
Four industry experts weigh-in on this month’s big question: “What will be the main consideration for CIOs and CTOs in the hybrid workplace?”
Blend man and machine
Make no mistake, the robots are coming. But far from taking our jobs, they are more likely to become part of the team, doing the mundane, manual work and freeing humans up for more strategic and creative activities.
This trend was accelerated thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic with automation and robotics international trade rising in 2020 as many businesses invested in solutions to improve efficiency and keep workers safe. Technology adoption in 2020 was 25 times faster than pre-Covid. Many of these changes will remain permanent, which poses a new challenge for business leaders: how can they ensure they have the right mix of man and machine in their teams?
Working in a hybrid team will be a new experience for many humans. For some, it’ll prove disorientating and managers will have to step up to reassure their human team members that their careers are safe and valued. Indeed, 37% of UK employees are concerned that automation will make their jobs worse. In the US, 67% of tech workers fear their jobs will be lost to AI. The first priority for leaders, therefore, is to ensure that nobody feels sidelined by their new robot colleagues and that their work (and satisfaction) improves through automation.
The next task is to ensure the right team is built. Focusing on the business and project goals will help achieve this. Look at what success looks like, then shape your people and automation strategy based on this. A skill-based approach will help you place people where they are needed most. Break projects down into tasks that can be allocated either to a man or machine. Look at who or what can do what task in the best way (quality, timing and cost-wise). The optimum team mix will soon become clear.
Upskilling will also play a key role. All workers in the future will need a basic level of digital and data skills to work effectively with AI, robotics, and automation. They need to make informed decisions about implementing AI, acting on an algorithm’s recommendation, and more. There can’t be a black box when it comes to learning digital skills. Everyone must be empowered to work in our machine-driven future.
Shift to multi-cloud
Organisations have been migrating from on-prem to the cloud for years, adopting a hybrid approach that helps them achieve more agile operations and really get the most out of their software, applications, and data.
Then COVID-19 came along. The global pandemic solidified a trend that was already proving increasingly popular, with even more organisations embracing hybrid IT solutions to deliver smoother-running operations, regardless of the societal and political landscape.
With cloud providers offering a wide array of services, however, choosing a single solution isn’t necessarily the right answer for your business. IT professionals should be looking towards hybrid IT in 2021 and asking whether multi-cloud could prove a worthy investment for your organisation, your employees, and your customers.
Sure, there are challenges when it comes to multi-cloud; it can be expensive, complex, and — if done badly — confusing, but overall, the benefits are clear cut. Multi-cloud offers more flexibility, a greater array of services, and better reliability to cost-performance optimisation.
That’s not to say your organisation should automatically embrace multi-cloud — it may not be the best solution for your business — but it should definitely be something IT professionals are considering, assessing their organisations’ needs and current infrastructure to determine the best approach.
Start with security
The hybrid workplace offers tremendous opportunities for both employees being empowered to work how they want and employers benefitting from cost savings when reducing total office space — however, this change is not without risk.
For me, the key considerations as a technical manager break down into engagement and security. While more challenging, it’s both possible and important to foster good team relationships and communication — building a supportive and collaborative environment to ensure that employees still feel part of a team. Without efforts in these areas many employees will feel disengaged which will undoubtedly lead to increased attrition and lower output.
Crucial to the long-term viability and success of the business are the deployed security controls and policies. We’ve already seen the impact that the hybrid workplace has on such attacks as phishing due to the increased difficulties when working at home: distractions, lack of team-mate support, insecure devices, and more.
It’s important to understand what gaps there are in existing controls and what controls simply don’t work for the hybrid workplace — reviewing and revising those controls regularly to ensure that they are keeping up with the changes in the business.
Many of the technical considerations are the same within a hybrid workplace — patching systems, employee training, consistent anti-virus/malware coverage, backup policies. They are, however, more important than ever.
Location tech is critical
Security and safety look different now. Organisations are responding to the current health concerns of the pandemic and designing robust systems to withstand future health and environmental crises.
One of the realities of getting back to the workplace is that CIOs and tech leaders are going to have to work with the facilities side of the business around how they enable employees to come back safely and, just as importantly, that they feel safe back onsite.
Physical access is a prime area of interest. Crowded entrances, lifts and shared working spaces are a threat to safe social distancing and towards people feeling comfortable being onsite. Likewise, some security processes, such as issuing visitor passes in reception areas, have always relied on face-to-face contact.
In the hybrid workplace of the future, different people will need the office at different times. Some of the biggest challenges organisations face today are the needs to keep a watchful eye on occupancy levels, contact tracing, physical distancing procedures and improved hygiene to ensure a safe workplace.
Real-time location services technology is playing a key role in automating how organisations monitor people’s proximity to others and measure localised density in real time. It is also dramatically simplifying contract tracing by enabling detailed and automated record-keeping of where an employee has been in a building, with whom they interacted, and even if they have been complying with disinfecting requirements such as the usage of hand sanitation stations, for example.
This is where building managers and CIOs can work together to implement Mobile Access control and roll out new technology solutions and policies across the organisation that can support social distancing and provide movement tracking.
A mobile-first approach to access security fits into the broader picture of a post-pandemic pivot to an app-centric workplace that connects users to an ecosystem of data-driven services. By making the smartphone the centre of an office access-control system, your company can give employees the convenience they crave on a secure, standards-based platform that makes it easy to know who’s accessing which areas when.
Mobile access provides a stronger, safer and more convenient alternative. Most mobile devices rely on two-step identity recognition — be it through pin code, fingerprint or face — which creates a strong basis for authorisation. What’s more, an individual is likely to be much more careful with their smart phone — an expensive device they take everywhere and rely on for many everyday activities — than a single-use smart card or fob.
The recent surge in the ‘Pingdemic’ is evidence that this area is crucial in helping businesses to remain open