From the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the focus of attention has been on the shift to home working, where possible and practical. Few businesses expected a scenario in which most or all staff would have to work remotely, but that’s what happened in many cases and the transition was typically made very quickly. Businesses have generally scratched the service of the full potential of a more flexible working environment. Quite often staff have been provided with a crash course in unified communications and collaboration tools, and in many cases, cybersecurity will have been compromised.

Now, thoughts turn to how we cope with a partial return to normality, the “new normal” as it’s being called. Obviously, not every role within a business can be performed away from a designated location, but what’s best for businesses and staff where staff can work remotely? The answer will be different for every business and every member of staff.

One size doesn’t fit all

It’s been a broadly accepted assertion for some time now that if you want to recruit and retain the best people you must provide a flexible working environment, and the tools required to underpin that environment. The latter is particularly pertinent as the critical nature of appealing to Millennials and Generation Z increases; they expect the right tech. Despite this position, to a greater or lesser extent often dependent upon the sector, there’s been a lingering culture of presenteeism in many UK businesses; “the practice of being present in the office for more hours than is required, to be seen to be working”. The culture is driven by employer management style and, to be fair, whilst still lingering, it’s prevalence has been in decline for years. I wonder if the adoption of two years’ worth of home working type set-ups in the last couple of months, and the consequential experience will be the final nail in the coffin of presenteeism. It depends to a large extent upon the experience and there are arguments for and against home working; there are fewer arguments against a hybrid model; flexible working.

Remote forever, or a hybrid?

I read an article the other day which said “For those companies that are managing to operate effectively remotely I would argue that there is little point going back to the office. It is wasted time and effort for a workforce which has settled into their roles remotely. Any attempt to upset employees that are working well at home could have some unintended consequences, especially if more businesses start to offer it as standard.”

Fine, but for most people, there has to be a balance of human interaction and in some cases, continual home working can create mental health challenges. I’ve been working from home for the last seven weeks or so and I’m not sold on it. For me, the best scenario is completely flexible working with access to all of my comms, data and information wherever I might be. I want that flexibility for myself, and it means that I can be as productive as possible from a business perspective.

What about communication and collaboration?

I’ve spoken to a number of clients very recently who recognise the issues around converting office workers into home-only workers overnight. Some are developing A-B or A-B-C, etc working models which involve splitting office staff into groups and shift patterns where, when one group is working from the office the other(s) are working from home. It’s about morale, motivation and mental health, more so than the ability to manage those staff effectively. The ICT working environment has to be seamless; what you can access in the office you can access from home, equally easily.

All of these scenarios require a coherent, professionally implemented and supported unified communications and collaboration strategy. The good news is the technology is available in abundance. The challenge is the strategy, implementation, user adoption and support. As I mentioned earlier, in the rush to lock-down, tools have been deployed quickly and will have worked with differing degrees of efficiency. As we approach the “new normal” businesses should think carefully and plan for the medium term. The working environment has changed and it won’t be changing back any time soon. In my view the practices of three months ago will never return. I believe new practices will prove more efficient and popular in any event, subject to strategy, implementation, user adoption and support of course.

How we’re helping our clients

We’re working on some interesting best of breed solutions with some of our clients. Client commitment to a single vendor platform can make sense but often that’s not the case, and the right systems integrator must be able to bolt a best of breed solution together as an end-to-end, fully managed service. If that capability and willingness are absent, my advice would be to find another advisor. As an example, Microsoft Teams is a great UC&C tool but how do we best optimise voice integration, where there are established requirements which may include user groups, call centre and contact centre functionality? How do we create a complementary or symbiotic solution with other platforms and how do we drive user adoption? It’s all possible with the right partner.

Once the unified comms and collaboration piece is in place, or even if it isn’t if you have workers accessing systems from anywhere then you’ve created a challenge around security.

There’s no doubt that the requirement to secure remote workers has been accelerated by the pandemic, but it has also been driven by macro-trends such as BYOD, migration to cloud-based services, and the proliferation of new and more powerful applications.

[ultimate_spacer height=”20″][dt_quote background=”fancy”]Once we made the final decision to home base half of the office team, you guys did a storming job. We were calling with issues and questions and you all acted professionally and calmly. All pretty much done in a day; all of my team are working with full systems capacity.

Thanks again you are a credit to the profession. I know “IT” guys get some stick, but let’s be honest we really are screwed without you![/dt_quote]

In this new environment, the traditional office LAN security perimeter is less relevant, as employees move to work from home and remote internet connections. As the office perimeter widens secure identity management becomes critical to protect end-user IDs from being compromised or spoofed. Business continuity planning also needs to expand to accommodate a permanent remote workforce that is set to become part of the “new normal” for the enterprise operational environment.

Keeping teams secure wherever they work

At MPS our goal for our clients is to ensure their employees have secure connectivity, wherever they now work from, that performs as well as if they were still in their office plugged directly into their corporate network.

We provide secure remote access solutions utilising the latest generation of Firewall/UTM (Unified Threat Management) products. This ensures the maximum level of security coupled with the flexibility to allow users to work from anywhere.

Our cloud-based solutions are configured to maximise security whilst still providing the numerous benefits of cloud computing. Where possible Two-Factor authentication is enabled to minimise the risk of account compromise, all accounts are centrally managed to minimise attack surface. Monitoring and alerting are enabled to catch any suspected malicious attack as soon as possible. All traffic between offsite workers and corporate data is encrypted regardless of the physical location of the end-user or the data they are attempting to access.

Further controls can be placed on data to minimise the risk of sensitive information being transmitted via unsecured means, such as email.

Summing up

In summary, to maximise the potential of the “new normal” a coherent professionally implemented and supported unified communications, collaboration, security and DR strategy is essential.

At MPS Networks we’re advising our clients accordingly.

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