In the new normal, companies need avoid their own digital divide

As organisations embrace remote working, new complexities arise

As news broke this week that Capita is to close a third of its offices in order to embrace flexible working, it’s good to see the market finally catching on to what we’ve been saying for years.

Many companies have too much real estate, and a move to flexible working has benefits for both them and their employees. It’s just taken the pandemic to force the matter and allow organisations to see the benefits via what has effectively been an enforced pilot programme.

Capita is by no means alone, and many companies are running with the changes. But it’s important organisations don’t tilt too far the other way – there should still be central hub where people can get out of home, collaborate and share a coffee. Those benefits can’t be measured by the bottom line and we haven’t fully understood the mental health impact of isolation as it has only been about six months of change for people.

However, it’s safe to say that flexible working will remain in various forms due to its benefits, which now poses the question: how do you support these decentralised workers?

With re-using old equipment and acquiring what they could during shortages, some IT teams have had to pivot quickly to get people working remotely. But an ad hoc approach to equipment acquisition and maintenance could soon pose support challenges.

In terms of long-term support, an IT worker can’t just pop over to your desk if you’re miles away – potentially even in a different country. They will also need to continue to support office-based workers.

Firstly, on the deployment front, businesses will need to take look at what’s required for an at home worker when they’re on boarded. Consistency will be the key in enabling remote workers. A pre-defined ‘shopping list’ of items that can be deployed and returned when the employee leaves (not dissimilar to when working in an office) will be required. That’s everything from their IT equipment through to their workspace. Companies will need to look at things like chairs, desks and other items to make a suitable work area. Panasonic recently announced a work pod for home, and while this may not be right for everyone, expect to see innovation in the area of defining a home-work environment.

Internet connectivity may require consideration. Are your users on fast enough internet? What’s the SLA when things go wrong? Do you have backup options, such as 4G dongles? How do your users consistently connect securely and fast to the corporate network?

I can see the rise of an office in a box – that provides backup internet, secure connectivity to work networks and docking ability. This will speed up deployment and offer great security and control.

Finally, how are you going to support these users? While some remote desktop support is possible, that won’t always be the case. Organisations are going to need to find a new way to have resource available wherever their workers are. As flexible working really takes hold, they could become even more geographically dispersed. Most internal teams can’t or won’t want to travel to that extent, and financially having someone in London travel to Scotland to fix an issue won’t be viable.

Organisations will need to look to partnerships with other organisations that can offer localised hands-on ability to support workers. I have previously described this distributed way of working as like building a human network. Networks need engineers, and companies will need to ensure that their employees can work without interruption wherever they may be.

We can’t risk our own internal digital divides. As we embrace flexibility for the long haul, it’s now time to ensure the systems and support are in place to ensure no one is left behind.