Going to school and going to work this spring will be similar: Both are planned throughout the United States to be hybrid environments. This means that after a year of sheltering/working from home because of the global pandemic, company leaders and employees are beginning to feel more comfortable being on-premises.
But for both the school-aged and the employed, the return is likely to look very different. Safety practices will still need to be in place, which may include sanitizer stations, social distancing, plexiglass barriers between desks and more. Only one in 10 companies expect employees to return to their pre-pandemic work arrangements and some working professionals would quit if they had to return to office after the pandemic.
A Forrester report noted important strategies that companies need to consider: Hybrid approaches will dominate, as 60% “of large companies will pursue a hybrid model in which at least 10% of workers work at least two days a week from anywhere. Fewer than 10% will opt for a full anywhere-work workforce.”
SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Having people working both at home and in the office will be a challenge, said Anjan Kundavaram, chief product officer at Precisely. “Previously, with the majority of employees working onsite or, once the pandemic hit, remote, IT teams were largely dealing with one entity, onsite or remote. However, what we’ll likely see is a slow return to offices or more flexibility with where you work. That complicates things and poses challenges to efficiency, performance, integration and organization. Specifically, data access issues due to silos become more pronounced when an infrastructure change like this occurs.”
But it can, and will work: “To be successful in this hybrid environment, organizations need to begin planning now and ensure they have the right tools and technologies in place to avoid data silos which can ultimately lead to a lack of data integrity,” Kundavaram said. “With the right tools in place, organizations can ensure their data has maximum context, accuracy and consistency.”
“The primary responsibility for the IT group in supporting a hybrid work environment is ensuring that the infrastructure is operationally fit to support remote work,” said Matt Cain, Gartner distinguished research vice president. “After that, it is not a matter of adding more tools to the collaboration mix, but ensuring that employees have the ability and ambition to get the most out of existing personal and team productivity applications that allow them to work wherever they are.”
Forrester’s strategy report reminded: “Not everyone can work from anywhere, and not everyone wants to. Who works from where and for how many days a week are questions that you need to answer clearly to avoid unanticipated harm or uncertainty.”
While there are many who don’t want to return to the office, having proved for a year that remote work can be as efficient and successful, the benefits, Kundavaram said, “are what we’ve all been missing: Face-to-face interaction, the ability to collaborate in-person, social interactions, and not needing every question to be an email or video call. The nuances of office life are what hopefully create good company culture and keep morale and productivity up. We’ll likely see a renewed energy from workers once they get back to ‘normal.'”
In its 2021 predictions, Forrester noted that “remote work will stay at 300% of pre-COVID levels, forever changing leadership and hiring practices and that working from anywhere will trigger a public policy overhaul and a corporate policy response.”
The rush to the cloud: “When the pandemic hit just over a year ago, many companies went fully remote,” Kundavaram said. “This meant that everything and anything went virtual. Businesses that had been slow to jump on the digital transformation bandwagon were suddenly rushing to the cloud and even those that had started their digital transformation journeys were pushed into hyper gear to complete the job. However, now that we’ve all had a taste of anytime, anywhere collaboration, we won’t be slow to lose it. Even as people head back to in-person work, investment in the cloud will continue. The pandemic has forever changed how we work and the cloud has become an absolute must in the new normal.”
Keeping data central will be a necessary step for the enterprise to take for their returning workforce. “When data is centralized and integrated, silos can be avoided,” Kundavaram said. “Of course, silos may not be completely avoided, but teams can do their due diligence in ensuring they are minimized at a time when data is so dispersed and in multiple locations. By developing a holistic strategy for eliminating data silos and establishing early successes, organizations can quickly begin to realize value from their data hubs and have an eye on continuous improvement and IT systems that work in harmony.”