What technologies do remote workforces need?

Technology has come to the rescue throughout the Covid pandemic. Proving that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, huge swathes of the office-based global economy have switched to remote working – reducing their daily commutes to mere metres in their own homes, and fitting their working hours around the demands of their home/personal lives.

While many companies and industries have had the capacity to enable WFH for a while, the scale of the wholesale adoption, even by many less traditional business models, has been remarkable. We can have little doubt that if this pandemic had hit us ten years ago, before the wide uptake of cloud computing, the economic impact would have been far greater.

Thanks to remote working, productivity has been largely resilient despite all the challenges, and work has largely continued throughout the pandemic. However, a byproduct of the WFH revolution is a number of almost existential questions: Is there any need for major cities anymore? What happens to the office? Will anyone dress smartly ever again? And crucially, what technology do you actually need to enable an effective remote workforce?

The first and immediate needs for remote work are those of connectivity, security and collaboration. These are some of the key enabling technologies:

Basic IT Hardware. A desktop or laptop computer, a stable wifi connection, mouse, and smartphone, plus a set of earphones or a headset. These should be supplied, subsidised or reimbursed by an employer.

‘Hybrid’ IT Support – The old IT support model was based upon having a fixed number of IT support staff on site to provide support for that building. Clearly this must change in a remote work environment, with a new system.

Smart Lockers – A centrally located IT hardware-vending smart locker can be a wise investment to dispense and distribute IT hardware out of business hours, in a self-service and covid secure manner, and as part of a redesigned ‘hybrid’ IT support solution.

VPN – a virtual private network is critical – this provides a secure information conduit through public internet connections.

Network Security & Protection – It’s crucial to keep your data safe, so make sure that you have backup solutions, protection against hackers, plus firewalls and antivirus protection. Always opt for business-level solutions and keep on top of updates.

Cloud-based Collaborative software – Such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Cisco Webex Teams or Google G Suite. Shared documents with trackable changes have been a game-changer in terms of productivity, visibility and accountability. The benefits are so clear there will be no ‘going back’ post pandemic. 

Project Management Tools – These are essential pieces of software that enable efficient collaboration, delegation and co-operation. Platforms such as Trello, Monday or Asana, allow you to assign tasks and deadlines remotely, and keep track of workflow with a clear visual interface.

Video Conferencing platforms – We are all now surely familiar with Zoom, Webex and Slack –  but there are still regular issues during calls. Investing in some basic training for employees can pay dividends in productivity gains.

A New Paradigm for Remote and Hybrid working

While software solutions have risen to prominence, helping employees to hold virtual meetings, remote project management and collaborative work – one of the office-based delivery models that still requires transformation is IT support.

The existing system for IT support, based around a fixed number of on-site IT personnel providing support for staff in the building, no longer meets the needs of a remote workforce. The challenge is increased by the fact that remote work tends to be spread across non-standard work-hours, that wrap around childcare, home-schooling or other individual responsibilities.

This hybrid model requires a new hybrid support operating model, encompassing a mixture of flexible IT support staff, remote helpdesk-based software support, and if required, a network of Smart Lockers to enable replacement hardware provisioning outside business hours, and in decentralised locations other than the office.

A recent survey of almost 1000 firms by the UK Institute of Directors (IoD) shows that 74% plan on maintaining the increase in home working, and more than half planned on reducing their long-term use of the workplace.

Roger Barker, Director of Policy at the IoD was keen to stress that there were important human considerations to address regarding remote work: “Working from home doesn’t work for everyone, and directors must be alive to the downsides. Managing teams remotely can prove far from straightforward, and directors must make sure they are going out of their way to support employees’ mental wellbeing.”

The absence of a physical shared work environment may require a reduction in hierarchy so as to allow for employees to feel they can share their thoughts and enhance creativity. Ultimately, an entirely new working culture, with its own standards and orthodoxies is going to emerge from the shift to remote working – and the wise business organisations will be the ones who make sure they are instrumental in creating it.