The past two years have been stressful for many senior technology executives. When the pandemic first struck in early 2020, CIOs and their teams rushed to deploy technologies that would support people working remotely as governments locked down their citizens.
Now, hybrid work is here to stay as people realise that more flexible working environments, where they alternate between their offices and homes, provide a better work/life balance.
But for CIOs, this presents a number of challenges around deciding which technology infrastructure will best support these environments for years to come and importantly, how data will be effectively secured with so many people operating outside the network perimeter.
Senior tech execs gathered for a luncheon in Sydney recently to discuss the IT infrastructure challenges they have faced over the past two years as their organisations moved to hybrid work environments. The conversation was hosted by CIO Australia and sponsored by GoTo.
Lindsay Brown, vice president and general manager, Asia-Pacific and Japan at GoTo, says organisations have had to learn to adapt their work environments to function remotely. This has resulted in a substantial increase in collaboration and remote working technology.
“When this is combined with pre-existing challenges, putting the right structures and solutions in place becomes essential to maintain business success,” he says.
As an example, one of GoTo’s partners, sporting club Sydney FC, was moving out of an old stadium when the pandemic hit and needed a platform that allowed the club to manage its call centre to support members and partners regardless of their location or operation, he says.
At the start of the pandemic, says Brown, many customers had to rely on technology and tools to stay connected with their clients and maintain the same levels of service they provided pre-pandemic.
“The transition had to be quick to mitigate loss, which led to a lot of businesses implementing a variety of tools without properly evaluating all solutions in the market.
“This created many challenges for customers as the short-term gain many saw in implementing quick solutions eventually created more problems with operations,” he says.
A recent survey published by GoTo and Frost and Sullivan found that 31 per cent of challenges related to flexible work were attributed to software that isn’t always up to the job or necessarily the right fit.
GoTo’s customers reported challenges such as user errors, problems with navigating complicated interfaces, as well as not being able to access ‘off-network’ devices.
“Underperforming technology not only made life difficult for employees of any business, but if they are not able to maximise their productivity using it, the business is also likely to be losing out on revenue,” he says.
Francoise Gelbard, director, business development and strategy at HumanableCX, says that the organisation has been a cloud-based SaaS business from day one, so there was minimal impact in moving to more flexible work models.
“We have always catered to flexible working environments and highly skilled workers who are able to work autonomously, Gelbard says.
However, what is missing in hybrid models – or purely working virtually – is the ‘water cooler’ moments of organic interaction and conversation, she says.
Gelbard says that this cannot be replicated in an online environment although there is online HR and employee software that can assist in the on-boarding and induction of new hires.
“We are also developing employee engagement programs around virtual and highly personalised reward and recognition of internal net promoter scores with our clients.
“This level of investment in these virtual tools will see them remain a pivotal part of the hybrid model, which looks set to stay for a foreseeable future. To the millennial and alpha workforce of the future, this will be part of the ‘norm’ as it has been with schools and universities since 2020,” she says.
Fei Teng, chief technology officer at MediRecords, says the software organisation has moved to a flexible work environment where staff are using a mix of personal and corporate devices for different purposes.
“We are holding more recorded meetings that can be watched later by people who were absent, conducting more online social activities, and mental health is also being discussed more often,” says Teng.
Teng adds that there are also IT infrastructure challenges. New employees can be onboarded without proper security awareness training, and a business continuity plan can depend on a personal home set up, he says.
Auditing company policies that depend on individual behaviours such as a ‘clean desk policy’, and giving the IT team only a few days to support people working remotely across the entire organisation have also been challenging, he adds.
Hybrid work’s real impact
Hybrid working, when done effectively, has an array of advantages, says Elissa Pietrasanta, sales manager, A/NZ and ASEAN at GoTo.
“It opens the door to boundaryless collaboration. Offices are no longer a necessity, which means employees can still be productive and connected while working remotely, enabling more successful business practice,” says Pietrasanta.
Argubly, and more importantly, hybrid work creates many advantages for employee wellbeing. In an age of employee empowerment, creating a workplace that allows employees to work more flexibly is imperative, she says.
“When executed correctly, a hybrid working environment allows employees to achieve a healthier work-life balance.”
However, if not utlised well by businesses, hybrid working can have an adverse effect on employee wellbeing. Without the right collaboration solutions and business initiatives, employees can feel disconnected, and always being close to workstations can result in a slanted work-life balance as workloads increase, she says.
“Furthermore, if a business’s technology stack is subpar, then they will be underprepared against the likes of cyber-attacks, which grew exponentially with the growth of hybrid work.”
GoTo’s Brown adds that busineses that show a willingness to adapt to new demands and ways of working will be attractive to employees. The mood has shifted regarding the types of workplaces people want to operate in, and businesses that embrace hybrid working will see great success in retaining and attracting staff, he says.
“Our survey found that nearly half (44 per cent) of respondents operating on a work-from-office model reported significantly higher turnover in 2021 than in 2020, compared to only 22 per cent of hybrid work organisations that reported a higher turnover,” he says.
Improving your cyber security posture
Meanwhile, organisations should look closely at their cyber security postures as the economy enters a new phase of work. Cyber threats are continuing to grow with 80 per cent of organisations hit by ransomware last year.
HumanableCX’s Gelbard says her organisation has had ISO27001 certification since 2016 when it started working with banks, insurers and other financial services companies.
“We are handling customer data and connecting our APIs to their CRMs etc, so we have always had to meet the highest standards and very strict information security compliance requirements and protocols around user access and authentication, encryption, and workforce security awareness training.
“We were well prepared in advance,” she says.
GoTo’s Brown says cybersecurity can be daunting and he suggests that businesses should implement solutions that secure all remote working endpoints and quickly respond to and mitigate issues. Organisations also need a platform that is easy to use and simplifies cybersecurity operations such as zero trust and multi-factor authentication.
“Businesses shoulder a heavy burden when expected to appropriately protect their employees from a cybersecurity standpoint and third-party support can be incredibly valuable, especially for SMBs. It is much safer to ask for help, than incorrectly prepare your business,” he says.