Eugene Xiong is the Founder and Chairman of the Board of Foxit, a leading provider of innovative PDF products and services.
The Covid-19 shutdown of businesses hit most companies like a bolt of lightning. It was sudden and shocking. Now, more than five months into this pervasive global disruption, it has become clear to many that a return to work as we knew it will be gradual at best.
Work from home, for those who can do it, is becoming the new normal for the foreseeable future. Many managers are discovering that their teams can, indeed, function at a distance.
Google, for example, recently announced that it would keep its employees working from home at least until July 2021. Apple said it will not open offices before next year at the earliest. And Twitter said its employees will be able to work from home as long as they like.
Our new remote business and work environment, of course, is accelerating new technology adoption. In so doing, it is also putting significant pressure on many organizations’ IT infrastructures and staff. While some companies — such as Google, Apple and Twitter — may have been well-prepared for an organization-wide remote workstyle, many others were not.
In the vacuum of not having technology solutions in place to support a distributed and remote workforce, employees have been left, both figuratively and literally, to their own devices. They have had to adopt a variety of applications and services to address their unmet needs. For example, knowledge workers, often in the same business, have been using a wide range of collaboration, file-sharing and messaging apps, such as Zoom, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Slack and others.
Many of these employees are novice users with little technical acumen, creating a support nightmare and potential security challenges for already overloaded IT and helpdesk teams. This potpourri of applications is creating new silos within organizations and even teams. Some employees are having to check multiple messaging apps to stay in touch with the communications, questions and requests of co-workers and managers.
The heavy use of bandwidth-hungry applications and services such as videoconferencing has also put greater pressure on internet access, which is typically bandwidth that is shared with others who are also working from home. This is likely creating dissatisfaction, frustration and reduced productivity among employees and their IT teams.
Given Covid-19’s extended stay, business and IT teams must rein in application sprawl and work with employees to adopt a standard and common set of applications and collaboration tools that will enable the best possible employee productivity, better integration across the organization and a more manageable support environment.
Regaining control and integration will not be an easy task. Users want simplicity and ease of use. Often the consumer-oriented apps and tools they’ve adopted are easier to use, especially since they have already learned how to use them. There will need to be a substantial governance and education initiative to get these users up to speed and keep them productive.
IT should work immediately to get visibility into the applications and collaboration tools being used by remote workers. This can be done through a simple survey, or there are software tools that can be installed on employee laptops to monitor both the applications being used and the performance of those apps. Understand the overlapping applications in use across the organization; this will give you a starting point in determining where your organization can better consolidate around the few tools and applications that will make the most sense for improving productivity.
IT then needs to establish policies for application usage. For example, many free cloud storage accounts do not provide the same security as the business versions — do you really want your employees to share documents on not-as-secure cloud storage? Education and communication are critical. Employees will need to clearly understand usage policies and the rationale behind them. Just as important, many will need to be trained on how to use these tools and applications through web sessions and easily understood how-to articles and content.
In the old world, remote workers were more of an exception than the rule at most companies. As a result, IT had a far easier time keeping pace. Now the challenge is company-wide and immediate. Companies will need to invest not only in the right technologies, but in the right content and informational systems and educational and support processes to move their organizations forward. They will also need to standardize setup processes and support procedures for a remote organization.
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