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Winter is coming: Why businesses that fail to prepare for flexible work should prepare to fail

remote working
(Image credit: Image Credit: llaszlo / Shutterstock)

Of all the disruptions and accelerations that have affected the business world over 2020 and 2021, perhaps none marks a mindset change – regardless of vertical sector or geography – more than the move to remote working.

In the early days of the pandemic, there was a widespread assumption that remote working would be temporary and tactical. For IT teams – suddenly more hard-pressed than ever – the thought was that enabling remote work was the exception. Nearly two years later, however, over three-quarters of CEOs believe that work from anywhere will remain a permanent fixture for organizations.

With winter fast approaching (one which weather-watchers predict will be a bitingly cold one), Covid rates back on the rise, and uncertainty still present about full or part-time office working, we conducted a poll of 1000 IT leaders in large UK businesses – and the findings show IT decision-makers still have concerns about their organization’s capabilities to successfully cope with a distributed workforce this winter.

Challenges anticipated 

When asked about the biggest challenges IT leaders expect this winter, a third of IT decision-makers (33 percent) anticipated some challenges with being able to support both remote workers and office workers, while 30 percent said being able to support flexible working times as a result of remote working was an issue they were anticipating. Added to this, 13 percent flagged budget concerns specifically around remote working equipment (updated laptops, headsets, printers, and so forth) and running the office when it isn’t at full capacity.

Despite positive sentiments towards remote solutions, IT managers still feel their business is unprepared for a mix of in-person and remote working this winter. Respondents flag businesses have either started preparing for this mix of work but still have strides to make – are totally unprepared – or do not have plans to implement any policies altogether. These findings become significant as the research also shows a quarter (25 percent) of organizations have plans to reduce capacity in their offices this winter to combat Covid and the return of seasonal illnesses, while the vast majority (96 percent) confirmed they would follow government issued guidance over the winter months in relation to the pandemic.

Last but by no means least when our thoughts turn to the combined issues of winter and remote working, it’s worth noting that challenges to employee wellbeing and mental health increase in the dark months – in January in particular. As we approach the colder months it’s never been more important to ensure employees manage their stress levels adequately and as leaders, we do our best to ensure everyone enjoys their day-to-day work as much as possible.

Four steps to flexibility

It all adds up to this: the thinking around workplaces still needs to change from ‘remote-enabled’ to ‘remote-first’. If you want an idea of what that might look like, consider the following four steps:

Step 1: Ensure remote tools align to what employees need

Enabling the flexible workplace isn’t just about making sure everyone has a laptop and that it has Zoom and Teams working. While the goal remains for IT to define and deliver a set of standard tools that work regardless of where employees are, this can’t just be the same for everyone. IT needs to get on the front foot to understand exactly what it is that individual teams and employees need to do. With employee experience front of mind, there is still plenty of scope for personalization – both of technologies and working habits.

Step 2: Make friends with BYOD

While BYOD (bring your own device) has been frowned upon over the years, one thing that the pandemic has indelibly underlined is that people are going to continue to gravitate to their own devices no matter what. So, IT departments need to embrace ‘attended support,’ whereby IT support can instantly access any device while the user is present to troubleshoot in real-time, regardless of whether the device in question is registered with IT. 

Step 3: Embrace whenever-wherever communications

The more you embrace flexible working, the more you realize that your workers aren’t necessarily working at the same time – or even in the same time zones. Taken further, companies increasingly recognize the value in getting the most out of when individuals work best for them. Having clear frameworks and the right technology in place allow distributed workers to reap the benefits of flexible work by securely providing access to all software and files as if they are sitting in front of their computer in the office. It’s like they’re there in the office, without being there. 

Step 4: Define, deliver and sustain outstanding remote support

The trick with bringing in new digital workplace tools is to do everything to help them succeed fast, which means they get adopted, recommended, and become a fact of your office life. As well as the all-important checklist for a fast-start (and to refer back to), your workers need support – whenever they need it, wherever they are, round the clock. Additionally, with unattended support, you can support employees while they are away, or even sleeping. Your IT administrators use permissions and detailed security protocols to resolve employees’ remote access and other technical issues without them even being present. 

Stay well this winter

A healthy business is built on the well-being, productivity, security, and success of its employees. With the unprecedented acceleration of remote working, IT leaders risk losing control of both employee and business health through reactive or legacy enterprise work platforms and delivery channels. Beyond winter and post-pandemic, IT decision-makers still need to find the right tools to future-proof their IT landscape to accommodate a flexible workforce. Over time, we won’t think as much about where our colleagues are, physically – or need to make a distinction between remote or office workers. The normalization of flexible working will greatly help IT with the standardization of all their efforts.

As winter quickly draws in, now is the time to consider the lessons of the last two years: flexible working is at the heart of promoting and sustaining a mindset for growth and success.

Alexander Draaijer, General Manager EMEA, Splashtop

Alexander Draaijer, General Manager EMEA at Splashtop, is responsible for managing EMEA operations and has spent the majority of his career working for US venture-backed companies. He joined Splashtop in 2020.