Hybrid Work – 5 Keys to Building an Effective Hybrid Workforce
Ryan Easter couldn’t believe he was being asked to run a pandemic business continuity test.
It was late October 2019 and Easter, the IT Director and a Principal at Johnson Investment Counsel was being asked by regulators to ensure that their employees could work remotely with the same capabilities they had in the office. In addition, the company needed to validate hybrid work capabilities where up to 50% of personnel were unable to do their jobs, forcing others to pick up their internal functions and workload.
“I honestly thought that it was going to be a waste of time,” said Easter. “I never imagined that we would have had to put our plan into action. But because we had a tested strategy already in place, we didn’t miss a beat when COVID-19 struck.”
In the months leading up to the initial test, Johnson Investment Counsel developed a hybrid work strategy with their technology partner Evolve IP. The plan covered a wide variety of integrated technologies including voice services, collaboration, virtual desktops e.g. desktop as a service (DaaS), disaster recovery, and remote office connectivity.
“We manage about $13 billion in assets for clients across the United States and provide comprehensive wealth and investment management to individual and institutional investors,” said Easter. “We have our own line of mutual funds, a state-chartered trust company, a proprietary charitable gift fund, with research analysts and traders covering both equity and fixed income markets.”
Easter continued, “It was imperative that our advisors could communicate with clients, collaborate with each other and operate the business seamlessly. That included ensuring we could make real-time trades and provide all of our other client services. Having a fully-functioning hybrid workforce with services that were integrated was one of the keys to our success.”
Five months after their successful hybrid work strategy was evaluated by regulators, the program was put into a year-long test by remote workers and stressed-out clients.
“One day we were in the office and the next we were working from home. There was one major change however, our advisors were the busiest they have ever been. The stock market was swinging wildly and we needed to be ultra-responsive – both in terms of being accessible, but also being able to move quickly in the markets. Our systems and the plan operated perfectly,” said Easter.
Johnson Investment Counsel was in far better shape than most businesses due to their strategic hybrid work approach. Unfortunately, the majority of companies didn’t plan ahead. In those businesses, IT rolled out remote work solutions without a long-term strategy or thinking through compliance issues and device security. They shipped desktops to employees with instructions on how to set-up their home networks or said, ‘Go ahead, use your kid’s Chromebook, we’ll call you on your mobile’.
Now that organizations are beginning to move some employees back to the office they need to develop a permanent hybrid work strategy – like the one deployed by Johnson Investment Counsel.
To be effective, hybrid work solutions must employ technologies that are employee-focused, not driven by the end-points in a cubicle or on a desk. They must be easy to use and manage, simple to implement, and be cost-effective and secure. Here are five considerations to start building a permanent hybrid work strategy.
CONSIDERATION 1: Hybrid Workers – Define and Secure User Identities
Even before the pandemic sent workers scrambling home there was no way to support all of your end-users unique computing desires and scale your IT. Now, your business has the unique opportunity to build profiles for the work your employees actually do, the applications they truly need, and the level of mobility they require to be successful.
With those goals in mind, if you take the time to really think about it, your users realistically fall into 3 broad categories. Those that rely solely on Web-based tools (SaaS Users), employees that need SaaS and legacy line-of-business applications, and individuals that require a full desktop experience – either a cloud desktop or a CPU with natively installed OS.
As businesses adopt hybrid work processes, remote management and provisioning of these user types and their subsets become critical and should be handled by a highly-secure, Identity and Access Management (IAM) tool that leverages single-sign-on (SSO) with multifactor authentication (MFA).
With IAM and SSO users log into a personalized Web-based portal at the beginning of their day on any device, no matter where they are. On Monday and Friday, they may be logging in from home. Tuesday through Thursday, they may be in the office. Regardless, the experience and their access should be the same.
This is easily implemented by providing hybrid workers with an ‘identity wristband’ and just the applications they need to do their job. So, whether they are on a corporate laptop in the kitchen, their personal mobile phone at Starbucks, or on a CPU in the office, users can access all of their applications securely, with just a one-time login. IAM tools are simple to use, ease employee onboarding /offboarding and application deployment, and reduce the business’ financial and security exposure due to poor password management.
One strategic consideration is that while major IAM tools deliver access to SaaS services, most do not integrate with on-premises Windows applications. Oftentimes, during a crisis or physical disaster, these applications become critical to operations as they may handle billing, purchasing, and employee benefits.
Consideration 2: Device Management and Hybrid Work Security
Well before COVID-19 drove users home, organizations were working on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and procedures. As with seemingly everything else in IT, the coronavirus dramatically moved the timeline forward. Our research showed that the average hybrid work employee is using 2.5 devices to do their job and personal mobile phones are the 2nd most used endpoint. Businesses had to figure out, seemingly overnight, the right way to support and protect devices they didn’t own, or perhaps weren’t even aware employees were utilizing.
To make matters more ‘interesting’, the influx of hybrid work employees has shown business executives what IT has been saying for the last few years … the new corporate network doesn’t stop at HQ’s walls. It also doesn’t stop at the VPN connections. It’s everywhere. Unfortunately, using personal devices on lightly or unsecured personal networks (or Starbucks) opens the business up to malware and represents possible negative findings for compliance-focused businesses like healthcare and finance.
To solve for these non-corporate devices companies have turned to a variety of solutions:
- Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASB) can protect the enterprise while enabling a more flexible environment for their employees. Note, their solutions can be costly and complicated to implement.
- Virtual desktops (VDI) or Desktop as a Service (DaaS). With these solutions, IT gives users access to a desktop OS from pretty much any device that has an Internet connection while still being able to enforce corporate controls and security measures.
- VPN has been the de facto way to gain access to the corporate network for the hybrid workforce for years. However, there are limiting factors such as performance/latency that should be considered in building a hybrid workforce strategy.
However, these three solutions are not a fit for every business and certainly not for every hybrid work employee. Instead, businesses are now deploying remote workspaces that include combinations of identity and access management (IAM), access to line-of-business / on-premises applications, and cloud desktops in a single environment. This new approach is typically less expensive, more secure, easier to manage, and presents applications the same way on any network-connected device, regardless of OS and whether it’s BYOD or corporate-owned.
CONSIDERATION 3: Choose Your Hybrid Work Collaboration Service
During the pandemic, no single technology received more attention than collaboration and there is no doubt that it will be the lynchpin of the hybrid workforce going forward. With video collaboration, hybrid work employees find that they can maintain relationships, meet with clients, and communicate regardless of their current work backdrop. But, limitations have also been exposed and organizations need to think about their long-term strategy based on several components.
Gartner predicts that by 2022 70% of teams will rely on workstream collaboration as their primary means of communicating, collaborating, and sharing information. And that data was published before businesses were forced to collaborate by any means necessary just to keep their company’s running.
The reality is that employees were already headed down the collaboration path, with or without IT’s oversight. Now, as employees move back into the office it’s time to land on a hybrid work collaboration solution and drive it strategically throughout the business.
If your business relies heavily on Microsoft tools it likely makes sense to investigate or switch to Microsoft Teams. The Microsoft Office productivity suite is tightly integrated into Teams which will make your employees even more productive in a work anywhere environment.
If your business is using the Google suite of services you may want to explore integrations with third-party collaboration/video only providers as Google has changed its video/collaboration strategy numerous times over the past few years. Similarly, for Apple, FaceTime is an option for video conferencing but is not tightly integrated with its iWorks productivity suite.
Integrated Enterprise Voice Communications:
Think about integrated voice and collaboration from several perspectives. The first is quality and reliability. Does your business require crystal-clear voice quality and five-nines reliability to ensure your employees always sound professional? Or, is a glitchy robot voice an okay source of amusement?
Ryan Easter noted the following about his advisor’s experiences with voice communications, “Clients are just amazed when they find out our advisors are at home. They can’t tell the difference and it gives them a lot of comfort to be able to reach us regardless of what’s going on in the world and it always sounds professional.”
Next, how important is business continuity to your company? In the event that your collaboration tool goes down, would you want your hybrid employees to be able to leverage an office phone at home, use their computer or tablet as a fully functional softphone, and receive calls from customers on their mobile phones?
Also consider the services that are inherent in an enterprise-quality, cloud PBX. These are not part of most current collaboration tools and include services like business SMS, contact centers, multi-level auto-attendants, integration with current SIP phones, overhead paging, executive assistant features, receptionist clients, advanced hunt groups, and more.
Video Drivers or Business Drivers:
Today, most collaboration tools are driven by video. For your hybrid workforce, think strategically about how people get their jobs done, their software tools, and how to integrate it all.
For example, today, during a group video call you can likely share a PowerPoint or Word document from your desktop. After the meeting, you can send it around via email and then compare edits to finish the file. In the future, would you want your team to be able to jointly edit that document in real-time by simply posting it to the group chat for people to notate?
Further, think about where you want that document to live. Do you want it to live on the corporate file server or a user’s local hard drive? Or, would your business be best served with the file living where your employees are congregating and exchanging ideas? Much like the rest of your life, your business probably operates topically, and a complete collaboration tool allows for a truly Agile organization, full of hybrid workers, where cross-functional teams seamlessly spin up and wind down as projects are created and completed.
CONSIDERATION 4: Enabling Hybrid Agents For Contact and Support Center Teams
During a crisis, your contact center and support employees are on the front line, oftentimes playing both offense and defense. How they respond to your clients and partners at this critical time will leave a lasting impression and define your company’s brand.
Unfortunately, during the coronavirus crisis, some businesses were forced to shutter their contact centers almost overnight or start forwarding phone calls to home phone numbers and cell phones with no regard to quality, consistency, or cost. Those with on-premises solutions were left in a bad spot while those with a cloud contact center, and distributed agent capabilities with work-from-home policies, were able to pivot quickly and resume business that was at least close to normal.
Several strategic IT decisions need to be made before landing on the right solution to support hybrid work environments for contact centers.
Unified vs. Overlay – Cloud contact center software is deployed in one of two ways; unified with a provider’s hosted PBX, or as an overlay onto a 3rd party voice solution/phone system.
With a unified solution, organizations work with a single provider making billing, installation, and support easier. There are also functionality improvements for agents and managers as call handling is improved due to deep integration with the PBX. These call handling advantages offer productivity gains for agents and empower them to deliver higher customer satisfaction.
Overlay solutions also have benefits and can be a great choice for businesses with use cases such as a phased migration where the contact center migrates to the cloud before the rest of the organization. This allows the entire organization to continue leveraging their existing phone system investment while empowering the contact center with the advanced capabilities of a cloud solution.
Contact and support centers require some of the most necessary, and difficult, integrations in a business. From collaboration and unified communications capabilities to deep hooks into the company’s CRM, in order to do their jobs effectively, agents and managers typically rely on multiple systems; the same systems that also feed other departments.
Because of these factors, it is critical that the business looks at the contact and support center holistically, with IT’s direct input, and not as a one-off software solution.
Consideration 5: Hybrid Work Technologies and Remote Hiring
A major outcome and benefit of enabling hybrid work technologies will come in the form of hiring, as the best candidates will go to organizations that enable them to work in ways that fit their lifestyles. To compete for the best talent, businesses will need to implement hybrid work technologies that include onboarding / offboarding via user identities, secure BYOD programs, seamlessly integrated collaboration and communications tools, and more. With these capabilities in place, businesses can hire the best candidate regardless of where they live and reduce expenses at the same time.
As workers become vaccinated the hybrid workforce will emerge. Companies have the unique opportunity to reset; to deploy integrated technologies to enable hybrid workers to be successful both in the office and at home. And, implemented correctly, the same technologies will enable them to hire anywhere – positioning the organization for success in both the near-term and long-term future.