With Remote Work Here to Stay, Here's How Your Company Can Optimize for It Long-Term

David Cooper, CTO, WEX, Inc.

David Cooper, CTO, WEX, Inc.

It all happened so quickly—the office shutdowns, the scrambling to set up home offices in the midst of a crisis. For many of us, one day, we were in our cubicle, and the next, we were working from a card table in our basement. Those of us in information technology found ourselves with some unique challenges—i.e., because my company had set up all of our computer monitors on desks with arms, we needed to locate and distribute 1,000 monitor stands quickly. We also needed to address a 75 percent surge in demand for our in-house technology help desk during the two-week work-from-home transition.

Now that some of the stress and strain that companies experienced while getting their employees equipped to work from home has subsided, a clearer picture of what the future is likely to look like has emerged. COVID-19 was a grand experiment that’s proven that many people and functions can be just as productive, if not more so, working from home as they could in an office. (And that’s to say nothing of the money that both employer and employee save as a result of remote work.) As a result, many Americans will not be going back to the office or can expect their employers to make doing so voluntarily at least part of the time. (74 percent of CFOs say they intend to shift to remote work for some employees a permanent one.) But whether these arrangements are indefinite or permanent, companies need to ensure that their IT infrastructure optimizes this work reality. And those solutions that were hastily put into place at the start of COVID-19 must be stress-tested for how they will hold up over the long-term.

"Though information security has long been top of mind for CIOs, companies today have to make sure they’re thinking about it in terms of an ongoing remote working environment and the regulatory requirements that govern it"

Here are some imperatives for companies today who want to support their employees in having a positive remote work experience over the long run:

Bring the office experience home.

We could have seen some of the challenges that companies faced in the early days of COVID-19 coming from a mile away. Undertaken over the past 30 months, my company’s IT transformation was not done in preparation for 99 percent of our global workforce to transition to working from home, but one of our guiding philosophies was to set up our employees to work productively from anywhere. This meant we had already completely replaced our virtual private network (VPN) and improved bandwidth globally, moving from a hub-and-spoke private network model to an internet-based model—increasing the total internet capacity of our company ten-fold. Companies today will need to continue investing in what I call this quality-of-life-at-work model. This also means treating home setups with the same care as office setups; working a day from home with sub-adequate technology is okay, but doing so for six weeks or six months can have a significant impact on productivity. And different roles require different setups—i.e., we now know that our customer service agents need at least two computer screens.

Pick a collaboration tool that works now while continually testing other tools that may enable future productivity.

Besides adopting a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), if you haven’t already, consider bringing in an end-to-end collaboration solution to your employees’ homes, for example, by implementing the G Suite platform. This suite provides tools like Google Jamboard, a virtual whiteboard that you can connect to from a phone, a PC, or even in a conference room on a physical jam board. And of course, video calls are critical for collaboration: My company has tripled the use of Google Meet so that we’re now doing roughly 15,000 video conference meetings a week via Google. And most of us opt to have our camera on, which makes the experience far more engaging.

Take a cloud-first approach.

The cloud has enabled the kind of internal applications that people need to do their jobs from home. Salesforce, for example, has greatly increased the efficiencies of our customer service team. And though we still have physical data centers, we have plans to reduce them dramatically. Prior to the pandemic, my company moved to a software-defined network (SDN), as opposed to the traditional private networks which cost a fortune and were precluding us from doing the things that we wanted to do from a cloud Perspective.

Look toward a secure future.

We can no longer assume that the four walls of a building protect us because we’re not. Though information security has long been top of mind for CIOs, companies today have to make sure they’re thinking about it in terms of an ongoing remote working environment and the regulatory requirements that govern it. We use Okta Single Sign-on, MobileIron, and Google Authenticator, which are great security tools and recommend that you look into providing something similar.

Our industry has been talking about how to future-proof and crisis-proof companies for years. Now, it’s time for us to act, the future has become now.