5 lessons companies should learn about working at home

Companies now have the opportunity to learn from what is and isn’t working during the coronavirus crisis. Use this time to build out a strategy so you won’t have to use band aids and duct tape next time.

video conferencing / remote work / online meeting
RLT Images / Getty Images

We’ve all been working from home now for several weeks, and there is no end of stories --  good and bad -- about the experience. But there are some important implications that IT and organizations, in general, should have internalized, to be ready for when the next disaster that hits. Here is a list of 5 “learnings” that should be considered in making strategic plans for the future.

1. Bad apps don’t scale well

One apparent concept that has not always been top of mind in organizations is how well-designed are the apps that they must run my business on. Indeed, with many apps not having the best user experience, it’s common that employees often aren’t as productive as they should be.

This is often a hidden problem when everyone is working from company locations, and users can help each other out (our research shows that up to 25 percennt of employees’ time are spent helping other workers solve computer issues).

It gets even worse when everyone is working remotely. A modest 5 percent negative impact on productivity can cost an organization with 10,000 employees as much as $3M per month. Further, with this lost productivity, it harder to get the job done with the same level of staffing. Enterprises must look at the user experience of all apps they have in place, and upgrade/improve them now.

2. Good collaboration doesn’t always have to be in person

For many years we’ve discussed how video conferencing was a great way to reduce the need for employees to travel to other offices. But it never really had much of an impact as people still wanted to meet in person and discuss things.

The current greater use has been shown to be really no impediment to getting things done versus meeting in person. Much of this is due to highly improved collaboration tools from just a couple of years ago, but perhaps more importantly the dominance of mobile communications that heavily relies on collaboration as one of its foundations.

I expect that once the pandemic is over, we will see a reduction from the present heightened use of collaboration tools like WebEx, Teams and Zoom. but clearly not reduced to pre-pandemic levels. It’s important for companies to consider, as many collaboration tools have been granted temporary no-cost availability, what the organizational needs will be and to procure the needed licenses to keep users connected.

Travel and in person meetings will resume, but I expect the need to be diminished in many companies by 25 -35 percent. I also expect a similar uptake in work from home going forward as many more companies, and managers, are convinced that employees really are productive even if not at central locations. This will also likely have an impact on the amount of real estate companies need to own as fewer full-time workers are in central locations.

3. Bad connectivity is an issue, or, where’s 5G when I need it

Many companies have legacy apps on which they run much of their businesses. Some of these were designed many years ago, and never meant to run on systems that were disconnected from the central LAN environment, or on modern devices like smartphones.

Even the more modern deployed apps often aren’t designed for the characteristics of disconnected or minimally connected use. These may run well on a high-speed, internal networks where latency and connectivity to the server is not an issue. But how well do they run through the firewall, over a VPN, and through wide area networks to remote locations that may not be enabled with high-speed fiber or even moderate cable modem speeds.

Indeed, I estimate that 20 - 25 percent of employees may have substandard connectivity (depending on industry) negatively affecting their productivity. A technology like 5G holds much promise to make high-speed and low-latency connectivity available almost everywhere, but it’s not yet widely deployed, and will likely take 2-3 years to be available to virtually all users. To be fully compatible with the future issues that connectivity might present ALL apps should be tested, and all new apps built, with the notion that they may be run over less than optimum networks.

4. Security is not only behind the firewall

With a preponderance of remote work, and remote connections, it’s become a security nightmare for many companies. I’ve heard stories of as much as 70 percent of employees in some organizations who are working from home that are using their own personal PCs.

What kinds of risks do these devices present to corporate data and especially in regulated industries where data breaches can result in massive fines, or worse? Even in non-regulated industries, loss of corporate data, or the infection of other corporate assets through a compromised personal machine is a major problem. Yes, most companies have firewalls in place to prevent unauthorized access and/or to encrypt data communications from being intercepted. But firewalls do no good in preventing delivery of malware for authorized personnel.

Firewalls are also ineffective against hijacked logins (65 -75 percent of data breaches happen due to stolen credentials). Companies must focus on improving their security by as much as possible eliminating use of personal devices unless they are connected in a secure fashion through a VDI or similar “nothing on the local machine” process.

Modern workspaces (e.g., Citrix Workspace, VMWare WorkspaceOne) have mechanisms that allow work from any device with near zero risk of data loss or malware infection to the corporate systems. They also have the advantage of enabling the use of almost any machine, so enterprises don’t have to scurry around to get new machines for work from home (I know of one company that needed to procure 10,000 PCs in less than a week as its complete staff of customer service reps went from call center to work at home).

5. Support is not just overhead

It’s become apparent that companies that have inferior help desk/support, which they may have gotten by with when most workers were on site. Support teams have had a real challenge getting users up and running on the wide array of equipment they have installed -- some of it even personally owned.

Supporting workers remotely is vastly different than having a tech dispatched to a person’s desk when they have a problem. It’s imperative that companies that haven’t done so already, deploy high quality remote support tools, such as remote app/device provisioning (with a more modern approach companies can save as much as $2.25M per year for 10,000 employees), remote device operation for troubleshooting, improved login capability like FIDO and SSO (about 40-50 percent of all help desk calls are for forgotten passwords), keeping additional inventory of computing equipment for remote users on an emergency basis and so on. 

Bottom Line: Companies have the opportunity now to learn from what has worked and what isn’t working during this crisis, to prepare for the next one (there will be something that comes along again, hopefully not as severe). Use this time to build out a strategy so you won’t have to use band aids and duct tape next time.