Working from home: Why it takes a pandemic to improve work-life "fusion"

Adjusting to remote work has created many opportunities and challenges in business and IT. What does this mean for the new normal?

Working from home: Why it takes a pandemic to improve work-life "fusion"
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TechRepublic's Karen Roby and Mick Slattery, president of CompuCom, a provider of digital workplace services, discussed the future of work in light of COVID-19 changes, and the challenges IT teams encounter. The following is an edited transcript of their interview.

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Mick Slattery: We've gone through the first phase [of the quarantine]. We like to call that "remote light." IT departments are just getting people out there, productive, get them the equipment they need, the connectivity. And over time, I think the users have become more savvy. We've certainly seen this with our own customers, with the challenges of working remote. And I think the IT teams have continued to tune around areas like security. Now I think it's time to switch from remote light to "remote right." I think that's predicated on this belief that we are going to have remote work for a long time. I'd love to share more about that. 

But this pivot from remote light to remote right, it's more than just technology. There's a tech aspect to it, for sure. Whether it be the network that people have and how we can leverage things like 5G and other capabilities over time to provide backups. It's device management. Interestingly enough, as we move to more work from home, I think it's going to create more choice for users. And I think we're going to see more about bring your own device and which device people want to use, because the model has to change to support remote. 

The interesting thing for me is we have a lot of IT processes that are designed around the office. Onboarding, what happens when your device doesn't work. Even some organizations, some of our clients, have been doing walk-up centers and walk-up support. How do you start providing first-class service for users that never show up in the office? These are some of the conversations we're having with customers right now. And as customers continue to shape for this future model, continue to adapt cloud and SaaS solutions, I think they're also going to look at what's the new support model they need for these environments.

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Karen Roby: Do you see companies taking a hybrid approach to work-office setups?

Mick Slattery: Absolutely. When I think about what the future holds, in one word, it's different. Weeks of sheltering in place and working from home have done more to transform the future of work than open office spaces and new digital technology. The interesting thing, for me, is if you think about over the past decade as we've had five generations in the workforce, a lot of technology innovation, and blending those preferences and ways of work, it created an always-on culture, but it really didn't transform this nine-to-five workday in the office. I think this, the unfortunate circumstances that surround the pandemic, may have a bit of a silver lining in that we've had to adopt different management frameworks, different ways of interacting with people. I've even seen some put together the new digital etiquette for this work-from-home time. And it's enabled us to really embrace this, which I think will be huge.

I don't know whether it's six months, eight months, but whatever it is, we're going to have people in the office because some people need structure. Some people need the space. They just aren't well-suited to it at home, and the office will still be a hub for face-to-face interaction and collaboration. But at the same time, we're going to see more people work from home, and it's going to go from a perk where we had a few people doing it to something which I think is going to be part of the new normal. It might even be on the same day. Work from home in the morning; work from the office in the afternoon. 

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I think this ultimately is great for employers. I know I'm personally looking forward to it in our business. You're going to be able to attract talent that you couldn't reach before either because it wasn't next to you, somebody didn't want to move, or people who just physically couldn't commute to the office every day. I think it's going to unleash huge new sections of talent. The other part that I'm really excited about is I think it's going to create a lot of flexibility for individuals. I call it work-life fusion. But it's going to provide flexibility for people to better balance their work life and their personal life. And I think that'll be a huge benefit for all.

Karen Roby: Yeah, absolutely. You can't argue with the fact that we could all use a little bit of balance in our lives. No question about that. Mick, when you talk a little bit about the difficulties for IT teams here with people being in the office and at home, talk a little bit about security issues and just some of the hurdles that these IT teams will have to overcome: What are CIOs, what do they need to be planning for right now, looking ahead?

Mick Slattery: I think there's two things. One is, we've gone from an environment where people were working in offices and airport lounges and coworking spaces, to closets, porches, bedrooms. It's really changed the game. And we talked about it a little bit at the first part. We've put the basics in place. Now I think we need to create the experience around it. People will need to settle into a new realm of, what does it take to be productive? That's around different support models for folks. It's around different tools to support them. 

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Technically, one of my examples that's happened to some of my coworkers is unfortunately your home network dies. People are going to need to think about backups, especially for particular individuals. We're having some conversations right now about how to take the VPN technology to the next level and actually put additional technology out in certain individuals' homes because of the nature of the things they're doing, to provide that next level of security. 

I think we're going to have a number of conversations around information security. It's amazing, to me, the capabilities that many organizations have around device management, around information security, that they don't fully leverage. I'm thinking about, in particular, some of the things with Microsoft 365 and Azure Information Protection. I think we're going to see a lot more of that as well, because it's harder to control things when everything's distributed. I think we're going to see a lot more of that.

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I think there's the difference in how people manage remote workers. I think we've learned a lot and will continue to learn a lot. What's really interesting to me, and we've seen it with some of our customers, is not only where people work, but the nature of their businesses. We had some of our customers who had to shift their business overnight, practically. 

I'll give you two examples. We had a not-for-profit that focuses on women in need, and when shelter in place came, they were either going to shut down or they were going to adapt their business. And we helped them enable their employees to work remote, enabled their constituents to engage remote. They were able to continue to provide their services, which was super important. Healthcare is another one. We had a healthcare customer who all their technology was centered around their hospital. Rightly so. But they needed to create a remote clinic for remote diagnosis and additional capacity. We helped them set that up really quickly. But it wasn't just getting the remote connectivity. It was also then having people be able to work remotely and support that. 

When you think about how this will create new opportunities, it's really interesting to think about how not only we will work differently, but how we'll consume services differently. For me, telemedicine is just a classic one. I think we're seeing a huge surgence in that. It's not only interesting from how we support the technology and how we work, but also what are the new services that are going to emerge that we haven't thought of yet? I'm excited about that.

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TechRepublic's Karen Roby talks with CompuCom's Mick Slattery about the future of work. 

Image: Mackenzie Burke