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Office with employees in a dynamic workplace.

Returning to the Office? 4 Ways CIOs Can Support Dynamic Workplaces

Originally published in Information Week on December 19, 2022.

High-profile CEOs have expressed preference for bringing employees back to the office, and many other company executives agree, resulting in a hybrid work model. Yet employees are pushing back to continue working remotely, and threatening to leave jobs with in-office work mandates.

Traditional IT investment strategies may not address the office vs work-from-home (WFH) conundrum quickly enough. Mix in the inflationary climate – where even Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai said his company’s efficiency needs to improve – and you have what could be a greater divide between what employees want and what leadership needs for their businesses.

This creates an opportunity for CIOs to bridge the divide as strategic advisors and support dynamic digital workplaces and experiences with greater agility, security and efficiency, no matter where employees work.

Gartner’s report, 2022 Strategic’s Roadmap for Digital Workplace Infrastructure and Operations by Leif-Olof Wallin and Tom Cipolla states, “In many hybrid/remote organizations, the employee’s primary connection to the organization is through the technology that the digital workplace teams provide. If this technology is not reliable, intuitive or delightful to use, the overall employee experience will suffer. Digital friction robs employees of their energy, increases employee frustration and reduces overall productivity. Because of this, the digital workplace leader now has a much greater impact on overall employee experience.”

Whether employees work from the home, office or both, here are four ways CIOs are supporting dynamic digital workplaces and experiences:

1. Simplify the stack

The move to hybrid and remote work has exacerbated the problem with SaaS sprawl – much of it happening through shadow IT. According to Okta, the average SaaS portfolio now has 187 apps, many of which aren’t managed by IT. Case in point: the IT department standardizes on Google Meet for internal communications, but sales opts for ZOOM due to a preference and support for webinars. This increases cost and frustration around multiple methods of collaboration with duplicate functionality. SaaS management tools provide technology usage at a granular level, offering visibility into inactive accounts, unallocated or unused licenses and apps with overlapping functionality. These insights also help uncover new requirements or barriers to adoption that improve employee experience and engagement.

2. Remove digital friction and frustration

According to another study by Gartner, What Are the Digital Dexterity Skills Necessary to Support New Ways of Working? Most organizations have moved to SaaS suites for personal and team productivity applications, but have not exploited their full potential. Gartner’s User Technology Adoption (UTA) Readiness Index reveals only 24% of workers have a high degree of readiness to adopt new, technologically driven ways of working, while a majority of employees report that improving skills to use technology positively impacts their career advancement.

According to Google, Improving digital dexterity with tools such as Google Workspace can lead to better collaboration, productivity and efficiency, supporting employees to have better work/life balance. It can also enable IT to be a closer partner to human resources to help reduce burnout that can lead to attrition.

Organizations must manage the rapid pace of software releases, updates and security patches that can cause unnecessary digital friction that leads to increased frustration and decreased engagement. Employee experiences are improved with unified endpoint management tools that simplify the management of disparate employee devices and operating systems. Continuous endpoint engineering provides an even more agile approach focused on smaller, more frequent changes that reduce complexities and tasks.

3. Secure an ever-changing perimeter

A survey by HP Wolf Security found that 70% of workers use their work devices for personal tasks, while 69% use personal laptops and printers for work. Nearly one-third have lent their device to someone else. There’s no doubt that hybrid work has expanded the perimeter: a Ponemon Institute survey revealed that 68% of organizations suffered a successful endpoint attack within the last 12 months.

The increasing number of mobile, IoT, hands-free and wearable devices will broaden the attack surface and introduce new threats that make organizations and employees more vulnerable. As workplaces remain distributed and dynamic, organizations must adopt a zero-trust approach for endpoint security. IT leaders should implement stronger IoT and perimeter technologies, self-healing firmware capabilities and hardware-powered micro-virtualization to isolate and contain threats delivered by email, browser or downloads.

4. Continuously re-evaluate with data and analytics

With remote and hybrid teams, informal IT and operations workflows can quickly become “the default way of doing things” without purposeful consideration, leading to issues with quality of service, end-user experience and organizational effectiveness. It’s important to continuously have trusted, accurate analytics, leading to the right insights that ensure resources are being invested and allocated appropriately.

Whether employees work remotely or in the office, CIOs play an important role in ensuring a positive experience through technologies and practices that support them with greater ease, efficiency and security. Simplifying the stack, removing digital friction, protecting the perimeter and continuous re-evaluation of workflows are some of the most effective ways.