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Preparing for the future of work

Preparing for the future of work
(Image credit: Pexels)

Back in March, MobileIron was preparing to sign a lease for some office space when the coronavirus crisis tipped into a full-scale global panic. We stepped back, and with good reason.

As a growing company, we often sign leases for new office spaces, but the pandemic changed everything for us, as it did for so many others. Suddenly, neither the location, the size, or the layout of the building were appropriate. The kind of office environment we needed – and indeed the whole future of work – had changed overnight. We transformed from a globally dispersed workforce with a robust work from home policy to an “Everywhere Enterprise” in an instant.

The pandemic crammed years’ worth of change into a few short months, and it will have long-lasting effects on how, when, and where we work in the future. The Everywhere Enterprise will enable us to have more flexibility when it comes to work, but it will also alter the tools that we use to do that work, putting more emphasis on mobility and security.

A new place to work

One of the most obvious future changes will be our working location. There are already companies that are allowing people to work from home permanently. Fujitsu has announced a 'Work Life Shift' initiative that will encourage flexible hours and working from home as the norm. It follows a move from Facebook in May to allow employees to work from anywhere they please. So did Twitter, Square, and Shopify. I expect we’ll see others follow suit.

Companies stand to benefit. Facebook will adjust employee salaries based on their location (you won't be able to draw Silicon Valley salaries from your cabin in Wisconsin), creating potential cost savings. Fujitsu expects to halve its office space in Japan while employees choose to work elsewhere.

Barclays chief executive Jes Staley, who envisions re-purposing local branches as satellite workspaces for employees, says the idea of putting 7,000 people in a downtown London skyscraper may be "a thing of the past." Moves like these could also shave down real estate costs in expensive markets.

A new kind of office

Offices may not disappear entirely, but they'll look a lot different, and they'll be in different places. Increasingly, the office will become a space for people to gather and collaborate rather than to work alone. Organized around social gatherings, it will be smaller, less structured spaces with fewer desks.

Let's not kid ourselves, though; offices won't suddenly become facsimiles of cool Silicon Valley startup hangouts. Mandatory masks, spacing between desks, limited access to conference rooms and elevators will grate on employees. Plus, there won’t be the same office perks like snacks, ping pong tables, or happy hours.

Faced with these constraints, fewer people will want to come into these new office environments. That's perhaps just as well, because they will support fewer workers than they used to. Analysis from workplace engineers suggests that offices will only be safe with an occupation rate under 40%.

There are of course situations where employees cannot work from home, like frontline workers, who will need extra safety precautions. In retail, for example, workers will need more distance and less physical interaction with customers and each other. They will need better technology on the retail floor to find products and check people out. Delivery services will become more prominent as people order from home. This means companies in these and other sectors must invest in their IT infrastructure to support these streamlined processes.

New working practices

Enterprise workers will find themselves working from home much more often (and some of them exclusively so). This will create new challenges. People may have tolerated temporary remote working conditions during the pandemic's early stages, but if it becomes more systemic, they'll need better long-term support. That means more social interaction and management techniques geared for the “new normal,” to keep employees engaged and maintain corporate culture.

To support workers in this new environment, we'll need better collaborative tools and the devices to access them. Employees who must be onsite will probably need new mobile devices to interact with back-end systems, such as business laptops or even business smartphones. Those that work remotely might use their own desktops and mobile devices to interact with work, while those venturing to the office some of the time must bring mobile devices with them.

All these workers will need collaborative technology that is better integrated to create a seamless and secure experience. Now is the time to stamp out the challenges that plagued companies during the lockdown. For example, many companies struggled to secure enterprise data on mobile devices, grant secure access to business resources and provide remote IT support. Companies also witnessed a surge in threats such as credential theft, malware attacks, 'Zoom bombing' intrusions, and phishing attacks.

Those threats will only grow more acute as more employees expand their use of mobile devices. Workers are more adept at handling phishing on PCs, but they are still prone to attacks on mobile devices via SMS texts and various messaging and social media platforms.

Time to level up your tech

To eliminate these problems, companies must create secure workspaces on devices and provide secure connectivity. Part of creating a secure workspace involves enabling IT to quickly deploy and enforce polices across devices and applications. For example, as Zoom continued to improve security capabilities during the early days of the pandemic, IT departments were quickly able to roll out the required configurations to devices and employees via unified endpoint management (UEM). Companies can leverage UEM to secure many other cloud-based services, and on-premises ones.

The other improvement that companies must make concerns usability. Many employees are still using passwords for access to applications and other business computing resources. This is already an insecure and cumbersome access mechanism, and as employees switch to mobile devices, it will become increasingly inappropriate.

We shouldn't have to trade usability and functionality for security. Instead, we envisage a future in which the mobile device becomes its own form of access using passwordless authentication systems that rely on biometric identifiers.

Using mobile devices' fingerprint scanners and facial detection features will strengthen and simplify authentication, giving employees seamless access to collaborative applications from home or at the office. Consumers are already accustomed to this sort of authentication experience with banking and shopping apps, and the shift to remote work will hasten the death of the password once and for all.

Work in the future will be very different to work in the past and making the transition will present managers with some challenges. However, it also offers some significant opportunities to overhaul working practices, supporting employees who work from home with better collaboration and more intuitive access. The “Everywhere Enterprise” is not a passing phase, it’s the current reality and will continue to grow and expand as workers find new ways to be productive from anywhere.