Work-from-anywhere: Post-pandemic hybrid IT trends

The holy trinity of pandemic-era WFH technology — the corporate laptop, MDM and VPN — isn’t going to cut it anymore. That’s why organizations in a recent poll by EMA plan to invest their IT budgets in ways that formalize architecture to address WFH networking requirements.

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hybrid IT for post-pandemic work

Hybrid work has become a pesky worm for Apple Inc., rapidly infesting the tech giant’s return-to-office plan before it ever had a chance to fully ripen.

When Apple decreed that come September, all its employees must spend at least three days per week in the office, a small (but vocal) group of workers wrote a letter to CEO Tim Cook, pleading for more flexibility to continue WFH in some capacity.

New research indicates some companies are already moving away from the type of blanket approach (one rule for all employees) to hybrid work that Apple has chosen — and it’s showing up in their technology investments.

The mindset

EMA recently surveyed 312 enterprise organizations in Europe and North America on their return-to-work plans, and respondents collectively estimated 50 per cent of their staff will keep doing WFH (either fulltime or part-time) post-pandemic. That’s up sharply from pre-pandemic times, when only 19 per cent of their workers worked from home.

“So that’s a huge fundamental shift in how people are working, permanently,” said Shamus McGillicuddy, EMA’s VP of research, during a virtual presentation of his report’s findings.

This physical migration of employees to WFH on a long-term basis is also causing a seismic shift in enterprise mindset. WFH is no longer an exceptional thing to be temporarily enabled during an emergency; it’s just part of the reality of work. As such, WFH technology must be both durable and dynamic.

Organizations are recognizing this new reality by investing in technologies to improve WFH UX on a long-term basis. Almost 91 per cent of the surveyed enterprises agreed they “want to provide a home office user experience that is comparable to working on-premises,” according to EMA’s report.

Here’s how McGillicuddy describes this new investment mindset: “Build an IT infrastructure and network that supports the business as it is now, not how it has been.”

The technology

hybrid IT in a pre-pandemic world

In this new reality, the holy trinity of pandemic-era WFH technology — the corporate laptop, MDM and VPN — ain’t gonna cut it anymore. That’s why organizations polled by EMA plan to invest their IT budgets in the following ways:

  • 66% are “formalizing architecture to address WFH networking requirements”
  • 72% are installing wireless WAN in home offices
  • 95% are allocating budget for enhancing network operations tools for WFH

The survey revealed that 75% have installed or plan to install network hardware in the homes of remote employees. Of those:

  • 81% have deployed network security hardware to employees’ homes
  • 68% have deployed Wi-Fi hardware to employees’ homes
  • 46% have deployed SD-WAN hardware to employees’ homes

Things get even more interesting when you look at the specifics of which employees are getting these IT upgrades for WFH.

Selective hybrid IT

Some enterprises are, indeed, taking a broader approach to hybrid work by investing in WFH IT improvements for all their employees across the board.

“We found that 42 per cent of organizations were just taking an undifferentiated approach to how they support home workers. They’re just going to define one set of requirements and they’re just going to implement it for everybody, whatever that is, whether it’s hardware in the home or upgrading their VPN to something more modern like a software-defined perimeter. They’re just taking one flat approach to everything,” McGillicuddy said.

Other companies, however, are being more selective about WFH tech.

“The rest of them were putting together tiers of stuff for people depending on what they needed,” McGillicuddy elaborated, explaining that the WFH IT package for a call centre agent might be very different than one deployed for a salesperson or a C-suite executive.

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This selective strategy shows up in EMA’s data. For example, only 15 per cent of organizations plan to deploy any kind of network hardware to all of their employees’ homes. In contrast, more than one-third (33.6 per cent) plan to install network hardware in just 20 to 50 per cent of their workers’ homes.

EMA’s data on WFH Wi-Fi hardware also reflects the more strategic approach some companies are taking to hybrid-work IT. Noting that organizations have installed such hardware in just 68 per cent of their employees’ homes, McGillicuddy theorized it’s because only certain workers (such as those living in large apartment complexes or rural areas with poor connectivity) truly need that Wi-Fi upgrade at home.

“So there’s some variation,” McGillicuddy said. “Some (organizations) are creating tiers of service for everyone in the enterprise, all the different roles. Others are just identifying some roles that need something specific and then the rest just get a best effort package or architecture. So it’s still just shifting around. They’re still figuring these things out. It’s a new world.”

Will Apple navigate this new world of hybrid work by sticking to its three-days-a-week office plan? Or will it heed cries for more WFH flexibility? We won’t know until October, when the company finally rolls out its postponed program for hybrid work.

Images: Pekic/iStock; scyther5/iStock

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