As businesses within the US begin reopening, the IT department must be ready to readdress technology-based decisions that were made to accommodate work from home (WFH) employees. While some technologies and policies/procedures can be reversed, it may make sense for others to remain. Let's look at some examples many businesses have made to assist remote workers from a technology perspective -- and how IT departments can best plan for their transition back to the office.
There's not a single IT department that was completely prepared for the impact of COVID-19. After all, who would have guessed that a pandemic would force virtually all non-essential employees to work from home? As such, IT architects, admins and decision makers had to make some quick decisions on how employees could remotely access business apps and collaborate with others -- all while ensuring the security and integrity of sensitive data. This was no easy feat. It also didn't come without its share of mistakes. However, for the most part, business leaders figured out how to successfully operate remotely with the technologies and procedures that were rapidly made available to them by the IT department. The major gaps in WFH technologies were addressed and employees have been working for weeks, even months, using a modified IT strategy.
One WFH gap that businesses needed to be resolve was how employees could best communicate and interact with coworkers, other employees and business partners. While many IT departments had traditional unified communications (UC) platforms deployed that include voice, video and chat functionality, these tools largely focused on inter-company communications. Additionally, legacy UC tools proved to be bandwidth and latency sensitive -- preventing WFH employees from being able to rely on many of these services.
This communications issue led many IT leaders down the path of approving spending for SaaS-based UC and web meeting tools that were designed specifically for remote employees. Zoom is a great example of an unexpected WFH tool that allowed employees to interact with others through video chat. Cloud-managed security services were also quickly deployed to help reduce the risk of remote workers using insecure home computers and networks. Tools such as advanced malware and client-based VPN SaaS products were a way to better increase data security with low upfront cost and implementation effort.
However, many IT departments opted to license these UC and security SaaS offerings on a month-by-month basis. Thus, as employees begin the transition back to the office, IT leaders must choose whether to continue licensing these types of SaaS tools -- or whether to taper back or end the service contract completely. For most employees that return to their desks within the corporate network, the added UC tools will either become unnecessary or redundant. But for others, they may find the added flexibility of the new tools to be beneficial. In this case, the IT department should plan to scale back these types of supplemental tools unless an employee, team or department makes a specific request to keep them.
Some businesses also opted to modify corporate IT policies and procedures to help employees be more efficient when working out of their homes. Examples of policy changes include:
- Relaxation of shadow-IT for business
- Acceptable use of BYOD
- File sharing procedures/guidelines
- Modification of data backup windows
- Application/server maintenance schedules
These types of policy and procedure changes were meant to increase mobile workforce performance for employees that work from home and potentially work non-standard hours. That said, IT leadership may discover that some of the policies they previously held -- such as BYOD restrictions -- are no longer a major concern due to modern infrastructure integrations such as enterprise mobility management (EMM) or virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). Therefore, each technology addition or policy/procedure change should be assessed to definitively determine if they should remain in-place -- or if they should revert to what the current state of IT was pre-COVID-19.