Cisco survey asks: Is the office really necessary?

According to a recent survey, end-users are demanding a more distributed workforce. Is your IT department, like half of the respondents, unprepared to support this?

In a survey of 2,600 workers and IT professionals in 13 countries (United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, India, China, Japan, and Australia), Cisco has gathered data indicating that employees prefer flexibility in their jobs, many times even more than a higher salary.

That flexibility refers not only to working outside the office, but being allowed to use personal computing devices or connecting to non-work websites in the office. This sounds like security nightmare for IT folks who have been known to pump workstation USB ports full of epoxy. However, this is a tide that IT may not be able to stem. Consider the findings:

  • 3 out of 5 respondents felt it was unnecessary to be in a physical office to be productive (this sentiment was more prevalent in China, India, and Brazil).
  • 2 out of 3 employees surveyed (66 percent) expect IT to allow them to use any device - personal or company-issued - to access corporate networks, applications, and information anywhere at any time, and they expect the types of devices to continue diversifying.

If you've attempted to take the who-cares-what-end-users-want stance, be prepared to also push up against management. This need-driven movement by end-users directly affects morale, which directly affects turnover, which directly affects the bottom line. If flexibility, and not high salaries, is the foremost desire on the part of employees, which side do you think corporate will come down on?

The desire for a distributed workforce is a bit of a Catch-22: Many of the IT respondents felt security, budget, and staff expertise were the biggest barriers to enabling a more distributed workforce; employees, on the other hand, often felt IT and corporate policies were the obstacles.

If you're not prepared to support a more borderless, mobile workforce, you're not alone. Almost half of the IT respondents said they are not prepared policy- and technology-wise to support a borderless, mobile workforce. Security is, of course, the main concern.

In fact, here are some security findings from the survey:

  • About 1 in 5 (19 percent) employees globally said they have noticed strangers looking at their computer screens in public, while an additional 19 percent admitted that they never think to check their surroundings.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 (17 percent) employees admitted leaving devices unattended in public.
  • Almost 3 of every 4 employees globally (58 percent) admitted that they have allowed non-employees to use their corporate devices unsupervised.
  • One of 4 IT respondents (26 percent) said one-fourth of the devices issued to employees in the past 12 months had already been lost or stolen.

So is this a chicken/egg issue? Clearly, this need for a distributed workforce will be driven by end-users. But who has to take the next step? Corporate has to sign off on this, but is there any guarantee that they will understand the full nature of issues that this switch entails, in regard specifically to budget and security? Will IT be caught in the middle once again?