Is IT Ready to Support a Hybrid Workplace?

Written by Sean Blanton on June 9, 2021

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As businesses embrace a long term strategy for hybrid workplaces — permitting employees to work remotely while also making the physical office available in some capacity (either required or voluntary) — they’ll turn to IT to enable the technology and networking capabilities to power a hybrid model.

Most businesses that instituted remote work during the pandemic scrambled to address the crisis by implementing cloud-based tools and collaboration platforms to keep business going. As time wore on remote work became the standard, but today with a potential end of the pandemic in sight, offices are (slowly) reopening and companies are evaluating the benefits of a hybrid workplace model; once again, they are turning to IT to make it happen. 

But is IT ready to support a hybrid workplace? 

A long-term strategy has different implications than a crisis response. Many IT orgs had to put digital transformation initiatives and other modernization projects on the back burner as they pivoted to support remote workers. These projects remain vital to the org, perhaps even more so as the pandemic altered employee and employer expectations, and companies have had to leap-frog years of digital change in a matter of 12 or so months. 

Shifting to a long-term hybrid remote workplace model changes the dynamic once again, and adds more to IT’s already burgeoning plate. It also changes the role IT will play by requiring them to be far more collaborative with employees, offer extended and faster support services, and take on a partnership role that delivers a tech stack giving employees flexible options supported by open standards that makes access to and management of them both secure and frictionless. 

What Does IT Need From The Business To Be Successful?

For IT to fully support a hybrid workplace, the whole organization must buy into the concept. This means leadership — especially at the C-level — needs to understand the requirements of a hybrid workplace and provide the financial, political, and moral support to empower IT to make the decisions it needs to make. This also means IT needs a seat at every table in order to forge the right relationships and partnerships with each department to service their needs properly. Finally, technology change at the heart of IT will need to occur to ensure all employees have the right level of security and frictionless access they require to be successful.

C-suite Buy In and Sponsorship 

A hybrid workplace strategy comes from the top of the org. For IT to have what they need, they require buy-in and sponsorship from the C-suite. The CTO and CIO must lead support for the changes that a hybrid workplace makes on how IT operates and the roles it plays in the daily lives of employees and customers. This support also needs to have consensus across the C-suite with the CEO, CFO, and CHRO all educated on the implications that a hybrid workplace has on IT and the business at large. 

Difficult decisions are now being made that impact all departments, ranging from how much office space is needed to bring a percentage of the workforce in on certain days of the week to how organizations should or could compensate their employees who engage in this model. New questions are being posed that may never have been considered before, like: 

  • Is a hoteling strategy for employees within a specific distance from the office a good option, and what impact to access security controls does this have? 
  • Do employees work from shared desks they reserve, and what equipment is necessary to support a variety of devices that may need that space? 
  • Do cleaning costs (and expectations about what is cleaned) go up? 
  • How are computers shared? Are they ever shared?
  • Is a BYOD strategy better? Will employees feel safer with their own equipment, never touched by others?
  • Does the company pay for internet at employees’ homes to ensure adequate bandwidth for online collaboration; and if so, does that reimbursement change with how often they are in the office? 

There is a running theory that a hybrid workplace will be more cost effective, saving companies from pricey real estate investments as many employees decide to work from elsewhere. Over the past year, businesses saved money when offices were shut down and everyone worked from home, so one would think overall real estate costs should be less for a hybrid model. But in spite of this, IT costs are going to increase. This means reallocating budget to IT will be necessary, as not only will IT need more headcount, but also more tools to adequately support and secure a hybrid work model. 

A Leadership Seat at (Every) Table

IT leadership needs to contribute to the decision-making process for every idea that impacts remote and hybrid work, including HR policies. Bringing IT in up front is essential because decisions now impact what technology is used and the associated security concerns, not to mention the practical, how-does-an-employee-experience-this aspects of employee life. IT must bring an enterprise-wide mindset so that the ripple effect of decisions can be included and discussed.

While IT has long been vital to the core operations of the business, most departments have tended to see them as a siloed function — there when they need them, out of mind when they don’t. A hybrid model will require that IT be seen as a partner with departments at all times. They’ll need to work together to determine the best tech stack and tools that will support employees and functions, provide more extensive support to remote and in-office employees, and bridge support across employees who have a tech issue at home and then come into the office to resolve it. It will require a cultural change and relationship building across IT and departments to create a partnership mentality. 

And as IT takes on a more daily role in the lives of workers and is required to provide more extended and faster support, most teams will need additional headcount. They will also need more specialized skills as well as more training on how to deliver a great internal customer experience while handling more complex technical needs. Keep in mind that a hybrid workplace model adds more work for IT, when many IT departments are short-staffed and grappling with complex digital transformation projects. 

Acceleration of Technological Strategy and Innovation

Today’s organizations still operate with a combination of on-premise and cloud infrastructures, picking and choosing the best environments suited to their needs. The pandemic proved that remote employees can thrive in a cloud-powered environment, but when they cannot be in the office to engage with on-premise systems, technical issues associated with their remote access abound, and productivity suffers. Employees only care that the tools and systems they use work seamlessly, so every hiccup adds to the often strained relationship IT has with many employees, and makes it that much harder to support the organization’s growing demands. To truly support a hybrid workplace strategy, businesses will need to accelerate their enterprise cloud initiatives to ensure the frictionless access hybrid workers need. 

Of course, one of the biggest concerns over hybrid workplaces is security. The insulated domain is gone, and many organizations now use multiple tools and platforms for identity, access, and device management to ensure that employee accounts and company data remain as secure as possible. This was far easier when the majority of employees were at least in the building, but a vast remote workforce and remote base of IT resources requires new ways to manage this. Automating identity, access, and device management through one cloud directory platform like JumpCloud takes the complexity out of it and lets IT have far better visibility and control. 

It’s important to remember that a hybrid workplace model is new and no one, including IT, has done this before at this scale and intensity. Everyone’s on a learning curve. But, with the organization behind them, IT will have the support they need to make the new way of work a success in a post-pandemic world. 

The JumpCloud Directory Platform reimagines the directory as a complete platform for identity, access, and device management. Built in the cloud on the foundation of open, extensible protocols, JumpCloud connects users to virtually any IT resources they need via a single, secure identity, increasing the security of every access transaction through zero trust security principles while reducing friction in order to Make Work Happen®. 

Sean Blanton

Sean Blanton is the Director of Content at JumpCloud and has spent the past decade in the wide world of security, networking and IT and Infosec administration. When not at work Sean enjoys spending time with his young kids and geeking out on table top games.

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