Shaping the workplace of the future

Numerous forces are at work in reimaging the environments in which we all work, but what ideas will stick?

The purpose of the office has changed noticeably over the years, gone are the days of it being the only place work can happen. A recent Office of National Statistics study reported that almost 14 per cent of the workforce either work solely from home or use their home as a base while working from different locations - while Ranstad’s global survey finds that just 35 per cent of UK employees want to work from the office full time. This massive cultural shift has been the result of many factors but it’s been enabled by technology. I have personally never worked in a traditional office. 

Throughout my entire career my office has either been a hot desk, coffee shop, train, or my dining room table. But it isn’t just about remote working for a few – entire organisations can happily exist and operate without a traditional office facility. Many enterprises – in particular, startups or small companies that are dispersed - find that the virtual office is a far more productive method of working. However, the ability for remote working to be successful comes down to the adoption of certain technology. 

As it’s evolved so has the ability to work anywhere any time. Technology has helped to underpin this new way of operating - and has changed our perception of the traditional office, as well as the approach to the costly investments that need to be made.   

The rise of the software-defined workplace

This new level of working has been made possible through software. Instead of just allowing certain workers to work where and when suits them, the remote working trend is growing and affecting more and more employees. As more IT assets move away from being linked to specific hardware or software assets – think about the impact that virtualisation and cloud have had on traditional servers and storage – users are increasingly shifting away from specific devices or locations where they have to work.  This has all led to the growth of the ‘Software Defined Workplace’ (SDWP). 

The SDWP is a combination of new technologies, that when used together, can free employees from their specific desks - and goes further than simply letting users work from their laptops or mobile devices. Instead, SDWP embraces these devices into a wider mobility strategy that takes into account how people work over time; rather than simply letting more devices get used for work purposes, the aim is to provide a consistent experience across those devices. By looking at the user experience and requirements, enterprise IT teams can ensure that employees can get the right applications and services wherever those workers happen to be.  

Such a mobile strategy is also key to developing flexibility and simultaneously securing work networks. One typical challenge is that these devices may never come into the office but if IT has complete visibility then all assets and data are automatically tracked and the right policies applied, regardless of the time or location where data might be created. So whatever mix of devices users have, the enterprise IT service remains both secure and up to date. For those that embrace the SDWP, the resulting benefits can add up to greater cost savings, business efficiencies and employee satisfaction.

Remote working strategies and technologies for effective working

There are various types of remote working strategies that organisations can benefit from. Green field companies that have never known any different – can easily embrace mobility, cloud and the virtual office. While, other businesses can allow employees from different areas of the business to collaborate on projects – to profit from the opportunities remote working brings. And some enterprises have to reactively embrace remote working because they have to meet a new customer demand.  

One of the concepts key to ensuring success ‘on the go’, is productivity continuation. This refers to the ability to continue working appropriately and consistently on whatever device you’re using, and wherever you might be using it. In the office, a laptop or desktop has everything someone might require but as you transition to working remotely - maybe commuting between several meetings – it’s important workers are still armed with everything they need to work efficiently. A strategy needs to be put in place to cope with the greater choice and flexibility around access to IT services.  Many organisations keep corporate data behind firewalls; but they’re often only accessible from inside the ‘traditional’ office because there are fears exposing data and applications will compromise security. However, there are many tools that enable productivity from outside companies. 

Technologies such as virtual desktops allow the entire suite of business applications to be used anywhere, any time with the added benefit of not exposing any data once disconnected. This means when - not if - devices gets lost there’s no risk of data being compromised.  And virtual desktop technology has also come on leaps and bounds in the last few years - to the point that fully fledged desktops are available on almost any mobile device. While collaborative technologies have made huge progress; enterprise messaging systems bring instant communication between colleagues and are now found on many social platforms. Another powerful technology is cloud - specifically Software-as-a-Service offerings - such as productivity suites, voice and video services, and collaborative project software.

What will the 2026 office look like?

It’s certainly not the end for traditional offices, but there’s a chance for a change. Taking a leaf out of the remote working technology kit bag would be a good start for many. Adopting a virtual desktop or virtual application strategy will help to increase productivity, even if employees don’t leave the office - and using collaborate technologies will help too.  

However, it’s important to note, that when working purely remotely - separate from colleagues who are in different countries – that there can be other social impacts to take into account. These remote working technologies aren’t only for bridging the geographical gap - they have a purpose in every office to help drive productiveness and creativity, by enabling better sharing and a more rapid exchange of ideas.

David Fearne, Technical Director at Arrow ECS
Image source: Shutterstock/ESB Professional

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Fearne was appointed by Arrow ECS as UK Technical Director in January 2015. He is responsible for developing and maintaining Arrow’s technical presence in the channel, as well as the implementation of technical strategies.