The re-opening of the economy and the return to “the office” is taking much longer than anyone anticipated. Remote work is now the de-facto standard. In fact, there’s not much urgency for many companies to go back to the office now that we’ve adapted to video conferencing and maintained productivity.
Eventually, however, employers will have the option of recalling everyone back to the office. But would such a move even be possible in the face of a likely employee revolt? Yet the fully remote model isn’t the ultimate answer either. Remote work brings personal freedom and streamlined processes, but employees still crave personal face-to-face communication and cooperation.
So what’s the path forward?
The New Office(s)
For many organizations, the pandemic created a window of opportunity to find ways to merge the best of both worlds into an as-yet-largely-undefined hybrid work environment. According to Gartner, a hybrid workforce is “a deliberate design that enables employees to flow through various work sites — from remote solo locations and microsites of small populations to traditional concentrated facilities (offices, factories, retail, etc.).”
Leaders should envision and embrace the hybrid model, which offers advantages aplenty for talent acquisition, employee satisfaction, flexibility, and long-term cost-savings. Now that the pandemic has shattered myths about how and where work gets done, companies have more freedom to innovate than ever.
But here’s where it gets tricky. Organizations pursuing a hybrid workforce model will now have to grapple with increased organizational complexity. A laptop and phone are not enough for a productive home office. Rather the enterprise office must extend to the home office – or any office around the world – with the same level of security, access to information, communication tools, and support infrastructure.
At the office, we are tied into corporate IT policies, procedures, networks, and tools, but we likely do not have that same level of integration remotely. Corporate VPNs were not built for large data streams nor do they extend full security to the home office. There’s a significant difference between sending some emails at home vs. doing full end-to-end workloads at home. The hybrid office must be an extension of the corporate office, with a massive dose of flexibility.
“Looking ahead, we know that hybrid work requires a new operating model and strategy that encompasses flexible work policy, inclusive space design, and innovative technology solutions. The modern workplace requires companies to meet new employee expectations, connect a more distributed workforce, and provide tools to create, innovate and work together to solve business problems,” writes Kurt delBene, EVP at Microsoft, about the company’s post-COVID workplace strategy.
Creating the Modern Home Work Place
Reflecting on the past decade and rapid growth of cloud computing, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is now calling for foundational changes to the computing model in the next 10 years. Today, he believes, we need to accelerate the move to ubiquitous and decentralized computing.
The concept is not new. Growth in centralized computing is often driven by the expansion of decentralization. As we have increased cloud storage and computing ability, we have likewise increased the edge, with billions of phones and IoT devices. To achieve the vision of the modern workplace, leaders must create “ubiquitous and decentralized” computing that spans home and office.
This will require transforming edge devices, like the personal work computer, into hybrid workplace power machines that can be managed remotely by IT managers without creating new burdens or requiring unwanted, low-tech “truck rolls.” Remote management of the transition to the modern home office will be essential in achieving the vision of decentralized computing that supports a hybrid workforce.
Microsoft is moving in this direction with its recently announced Windows 11 operating system, which includes features that promote a more fluid and agile user experience across multiple locations and give IT better tools to cope with the complexities of hybrid workplaces.
Companies that modernize infrastructure will see a significant benefit. Consider the integration of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), from Microsoft itself with HoloLens and from companies such as RealWear, into collaboration applications. Instead of wasting hours traveling to a board meeting, a CEO living in Silicon Valley may simply beam their image to a board room in Manhattan holographically. Or we may see trade shows where remote attendees can “touch and feel” new products.
In the comprehensive migration of PCs, data, profiles, settings, and even applications, IT managers and business leaders alike must ask themselves how to modernize edge devices to achieve the broader vision and take advantage of emerging tech like Windows 11 and VR/AR. Rethinking the current effectiveness of deploying and refreshing PCs will play a big role in taking us to the next level.
Tech-fueled models of hybrid work point to an exciting future that could lead to gains in productivity unimaginable with either office or remote models alone. To get there, companies will need to make commitments to modernizing and reimagining their infrastructure. The payoff for those who get it right will be considerable.
Thomas Koll is CEO of Laplink Software, a leader in PC migration and creator of PCmover, recommended by Microsoft, Intel and all major PC manufacturers. He writes frequently about a range of technical topics. Previously, he was chairman and CEO of Infowave and corporate vice president at Microsoft. He holds a master’s degree in political science from the Free University of Berlin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.