The Changing Role of IT in a Hybrid Workplace

Written by Sean Blanton on June 2, 2021

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As businesses make plans to reopen offices, a majority are planning to standardize to a “hybrid workplace” — a combination of remote and in-office work with varying degrees of flexibility for employees to choose when and where they work each week. Nearly a year of remote work experience has proven productivity does not fall among a distributed workforce and companies are evaluating the economic benefits of downsizing or closing office real estate. Moving to a hybrid workplace as standard operating procedure isn’t just a matter of changing an HR policy, though. 

It has major implications for IT and is, in fact, changing the role IT plays as companies execute on this strategy. While once the quiet heroes behind every digital transformation initiative, the daily tech operations of the organization, and the secret sauce behind getting users productive with technology that powers an organization today — IT is now being asked to take on new challenges for the organization to succeed in a post-pandemic world. 

Chiefly, to lead the technical capacity to make hybrid workplaces both practical, efficient and functional, while safeguarding the employee and corporate data. A tall order, but one IT is positioned to rise to. 

IT Takes Center Stage

What’s fueling this changing role? The nature of hybrid workplaces. In the past, workplaces were contained within office buildings, with only a few employees needing remote work support (think traveling sales people and executives and the occasional contracted employee). Every device office employees used was physically located in the building, with central servers and networks. When an employee had an issue, IT technicians could simply walk to the employee’s location and provide support. Likewise, new employees had their desktops and laptops provisioned and configured onsite. The cloud and employee’s penchant for bring-your-own-device (BYOD) brought complexity, particularly in terms of security — but still, IT Operations was still mostly “in house.” 

Enter 2020 office shutdowns and employee work from home mandates. With just days to get people up and running as securely as possible with the applications, permissions, and collaboration tools needed to keep business going — not to mention keeping the entire organization secure — IT was suddenly thrown into the spotlight. 

Fast forward a year. With crisis management largely over and remote work now running relatively smoothly, once again organizations are turning to IT – this time to make hybrid workplaces a reality. 

But this is going to require more than just technical oversight and maintenance. It’s shifting the core nature of the role IT plays within the organization. How? In the following three ways: 

1) IT Must Lead The Hybrid Workplace Strategy 

While the decision to standardize hybrid workplace comes from the C-suite and often the CHRO, the strategy for how employees will vacillate between remote and in office work must be led by IT. In many ways, implementing a work-from-anywhere technology strategy can support the location-agnostic nature of hybrid workforces, but it’s more complicated than that. 

Security, device management, permissions, internet bandwidth, collaboration tools, applications, company owned vs BYOD policies, unified communications options — and underneath the impact on servers, networks, VPNs, cloud usage, etc. — all require decisions. An overriding concern across every aspect is security as employees tend to use whatever device – company owned or their own – that serves their needs best, including finding workarounds if company policies feel too clunky, restrictive, or they just don’t like an app. 

Only IT can truly lead the best way forward to ensure that employees have the right amount of freedom and flexibility to get work done wherever they are located while still safeguarding company data and ensuring that the company retains control over IP. 

2) IT Must Become An Interactive Partner With Departments And Employees

It used to be that employees called on IT only to make something technically possible or to fix an issue; IT faded into the background when everything was running smoothly. Hybrid workplaces will require that IT shift into an interactive partner role with far more collaboration and presence in the daily lives of employees. 

Why? Because to truly support a hybrid employee, IT will need to partner with them and their departments to understand which applications and IT tools facilitate the best workflows, enable a positive employee experience, and provide more support for employees working non-traditional hours. Support is particularly essential as remote employees cannot turn to a colleague in the next cubicle to help resolve an issue. IT organizations will need to evolve to be able to handle more internal customer support at greater scale than ever before, not to mention off-hours. 

3) IT Must Take A Platform Approach In Supporting Hybrid Employees’ Tech Needs 

There is no single vendor able to provide an organization with the devices, infrastructure, applications and networking equipment it needs to support a hybrid workplace; every organization is different, and requires its own set of resources to make its workforce successful. However, despite the variance that exists across IT resources, they share certain characteristics that can be leveraged in such a way as to make the management of these resources holistic and central; namely, open, extensible protocols that facilitate bidirectional communication between disparate resources and a shared management platform. 

This platform approach provides the flexibility IT teams need to support their organizations the way they need to be supported, but in such a way that provides scalable, predictable workflows that connect users to the resources they need securely and without friction. By using open protocols as the backbone of this platform, IT teams have exactly what they need to connect both sides of the puzzle: the resource an end user needs, and a central platform to manage access to it. So long as the resource itself (be it a device, application, cloud environment, on-prem file system, or something else) supports an open protocol, the platform can wrap the operational and security benefits it provides around it.

Hybrid workplaces are being created now and many IT departments will find that they are once again thrown into something that’s already happening. By taking a mindful approach to how the new workplace standard impacts IT’s role in the business, IT can provide the deeper support and broader scope needed to truly make hybrid workplaces a success. 

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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