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One year on: transformational IT lessons from remote working

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(Image credit: Shutterstock / Blackboard)

Even though lockdown in the UK is easing and shops are reopening, there remains a question mark around the timing for the return to the office. As the pandemic continues to impact society, many professionals find themselves continuing to conduct business from their home offices, dining rooms, or bedrooms.

Amongst a multitude of consequences and impacts of this shift in the standard mode of working, there are two key takeaways that IT teams should consider: the success and longevity of the hybrid working model, and the crucial importance of Digital Employee Experience (DEX) regardless of location. 

In order to effectively implement this first takeaway, the second must be considered and acted upon by IT teams as a priority going forward. Teams must understand the digital needs and preferences of employees, designing a personalized remote workplace that ensures employees can work with optimum levels of satisfaction, enjoyment and productivity.

Remote working finally takes off 

Working from home was not a novel concept in 2020. For many years plenty of companies, especially in the technology space, have offered remote working schemes or flexible working. However, the physical office remained the core of the workplace, with working from home an occurrence rather than the norm.

Covid forced many companies to implement a rapid and total transition to remote working, requiring the mass deployment of new technologies that allowed employees to stay productive and connected at home. Whilst there emerged notable challenges in shifting to a digital experience, the benefits of flexible working were felt by many, on both a corporate and a personal level. The pandemic proved that remote working was a feasible option for many businesses, and gave them the opportunity to consider how the workplace could operate.

The popularity of this has been demonstrated by the widespread reluctance amongst employees to return to the physical office, at least in the same way it operated pre-Coronavirus. Workers have cited an improved work life balance, along with enhanced health and wellness, as positive impacts of virtual working. With logistical advantages to companies, including reduced overhead costs, higher employee engagement and enhanced productivity, it is clear why many enterprises are adopting a hybrid working model on a permanent basis.

The expectation gap   

When the pandemic forced a rapid transition to remote working, many IT leaders failed to deliver a seamless digital experience out-of-the-office environment. With a lack of visibility and insight into remote systems, IT teams struggled to successfully manage the deployment of remote technologies, such as new collaboration and communication tools. 

Nexthink’s Pulse survey found that 70 percent of tech leaders reported spikes in their IT ticket and call volume during remote working in the pandemic, with the top challenges reported by employees including VPN issues (77 percent), poor video calls (65 percent) and Wi-Fi connection (51 percent). However, this is where IT and employees diverge - a significant number of IT execs feel confident their teams can address those very problems: 63 percent think they can handle video issues, and nearly half (40 percent) think they can address VPN performance.

The problems in the rollout of new technologies during the pandemic exacerbated the disparity between employees’ expectations of digital experience and the role of IT teams to deliver a seamless environment. This chasm amounts to what can be described as the “expectation gap”.

Whilst 96 percent of tech execs agree that DEX is essential, the same survey found that more than a third (34 percent) rely on manual methods to collect experience information, and nearly half (46 percent) said they don’t measure the digital experience of employees at all.

With over a year of remote working under their belts, combined with the online capabilities that Millennials and Generation Z are used to, the workforce increasingly expects the same quality of digital experience out-of-office as they would have in the office. Despite this, their perception of IT remains negative. Many years of IT playing catch-up to employees’ problems has resulted in a failure to report issues: only just over half of all technical problems are reported to IT teams.

With remote working by no means a temporary problem, the challenge faced by businesses going forwards is to close the expectation gap in remote digital experience, in order to foster a satisfied, engaged and productive workforce.

Proactive and personalized wins the race 

For IT teams to successfully adapt to new hybrid or ‘Work-from-anywhere’ (WFA) models, the answer lies in taking a personalized and proactive approach to technical issues. The past year has taught leaders that they must have insight into and visibility over digital experience regardless of location, rather than waiting for employees to report issues. This will go a long way in avoiding a slow, manual approach to problems which drains resources and productivity amongst employees and IT teams alike.

IT teams that simply provide a standardized digital environment, such as self-service IT, end up increasing frustration and time wasting from the employee side, and create more work for IT to respond to individual requests. Instead, IT teams should have a level of visibility which enables them to take a targeted and specific approach to pre-empting and resolving problems, before the employee even notices.

One way to achieve a better understanding of the various needs amongst the workforce is to cluster employees into groups based on their day-to-day activities and technical requirements, rather than their job titles. This empowers IT teams to deploy targeted remote campaigns based on more specific needs, implementing quick fixes without requiring involvement from employees.

By identifying and resolving problems before they become service impacting issues, the risk of disruption and employee downtime is dramatically reduced. This enables optimum employee productivity whether they’re at home or in the office. It was this proactive technology which enabled Slater & Gordon to adopt their ‘Work Anywhere’ model, and facilitated their consumer-grade technology experience offering to all employees from any location.

Imperative IT action 

After a year of remote working, it is evident that employees no longer need to be tethered to one office location, and the shift to more flexible working models has become unavoidable for many companies. With the hybrid approach now a realistic long-term strategy for businesses, IT teams must adapt accordingly in order to provide a positive and satisfying digital experience for the workforce. It is up to IT leaders to take a proactive and individual approach to digital experience, otherwise employees will vote with their feet when faced with obstacles to their productivity and performance. 

Yassine Zaied, Chief Strategy Officer, Nexthink