Blog: 3 Ways What We've Learned About Remote Work Will Change IT Support Forever
Before 2020, there wasn't a massive amount of data available on remote work—with just a handful of studies showing it could be more productive. With the major pivot to working from home during the pandemic, we have much better information around remote work trends, like how age and personality type affect success, and some of it is surprising. What we see in the new remote work statistics can help shape management practices and IT support models post-pandemic. That's important as Gartner research shows 82% of companies plan to continue to allow working remotely at least part of the time.
Unexpected Generational Differences in the Workplace
Given that Millennials (born 1981-2000) and Generation Z (born 2000-2020) have grown up with continually evolving technology all around them, it'd be easy to assume they'd be the most comfortable working remotely. After all, mobile devices and figuring out how to overcome connectivity and remote collaboration hurdles should come more naturally for them than for Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964).
But while they're not intimidated by technology, it turns out many in the younger generations would prefer to return to the office. Multiple studies have found that they feel less productive because of distractions and the lack of structure. They also complained about being less connected than their Gen X and Baby Boomer peers and found it harder to get updates on projects or other initiatives.
Millennials and Gen Z also lack the social relationships and work networks that their older colleagues have had more time to build, so they feel that offices are better places to grow their connections.
Remote Work Experiences Aren't Tied Only to Age
Personality also helps determine how well an individual will adapt to remote work. Introverts often seek isolation and can work well in an atmosphere with very little going on around them. In contrast, extroverts need more interaction with coworkers and quickly feel cut off when they don't get it. In a recent article for the Enterpriser's Project, Matt Poepsel adds two other character types that may struggle with remote work: "stabilizers" and "commanders." Stabilizers "are highly collaborative and prefer structure and familiarity," so the independent nature of working remotely can lead to anxiety. Commanders are "bold, opinionated, and known for being influencers." They may not feel like their voice is heard when they're not interacting with others in an office environment.
While remote work during the pandemic has gone so well that many well-known companies are making it permanent for some workers, what we're learning is the experience can vary significantly from person to person. Generational and personality differences suggest that instead of going "all-in" on fully remote or full-time in the office, companies look at adopting hybrid models that allow both in-office and remote work. That aligns with studies that show the majority of workers want the flexibility to work in the style that best works for them.
What Hybrid Work Means for IT support
Hybrid work models require a rethink of traditional IT support strategies. To facilitate better employee experiences, the old office-centric approach will evolve into a user-centric model that is both location and personality type agnostic. Hybrid employees need to be self-sufficient anywhere, and the IT toolbox for that has multiple components:
Right Equipment and Applications
- Laptops that move easily between the home and office
- Other mobile devices that match user preferences
- Device choice matters because some employees feel it affects creativity and productivity
- The necessary peripherals at each location that an employee contributes from
- Easily accessible cloud-based apps and data
- Video-enabled collaboration platforms
A Consistent Experience
- Secure network connectivity and reliability through technology like 5G or Wi-Fi 6
- Endpoint management and security capabilities
- Support tailored to the end user's needs
- Standard configurations across devices provides simplified IT service and support
1) Flexible Devices and Apps for Seamlessness
Hybrid workers need easy-to-use technology that works seamlessly as they move between locations. Many have strong device preferences and are less productive when they don't get them, meaning organizations may consider offering device choice—including Apple—and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) options.
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) can give users an experience that has the same look and feel regardless of the device they're using.
Productive collaboration can be achieved with cloud-based tools like Microsoft 365, where apps like Word and Excel run in the cloud, and documents are securely stored in OneDrive for easy access for multiple users and business units. Using Microsoft Teams, employees can work on the same documents in real-time and have group chats.
Video conferencing tools, like Teams and Cisco WebEx, allow face-to-face interactions similar to in-person meetings.
2) Connectivity and Security Everywhere
Mobility and collaboration depend on seamless connectivity. Improvements like 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will help, but security will remain a significant challenge for organizations with distributed workforces.
Some organizations will have to rely on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) to connect employees with the apps and data they need for regulatory or other reasons, but when data and apps can be put in the cloud, providers bring powerful security measures.
Endpoint devices are the most frequent target for cybercriminals, but advanced endpoint management tools can automate updates, monitor devices, and proactively take on threats no matter where a device is.
Zero-trust and user identity management tools can help contain breaches when they happen.
3) Omnichannel Support
A key area where it's important the IT strategy aligns is with generational and personality preferences for support. Employees need to be helped in the way that they want to be helped.
The best support experience is no experience at all, and many issues can be resolved proactively with technologies that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to sense and fix problems behind the scenes. Many glitches often only require a device reset that can be automated. AI, virtual support agents, and automation mitigate issues while focusing on outcomes and experience.
When automation isn't enough, some older workers may still want to pick up the phone and call a help desk, but omnichannel support also includes help by an app, text, email, chat and self-service information sources.
Omnichannel solutions empower employees to personalize their own experience. The goal is self-sufficiency wherever possible. If users get the support tools they need, then there's less impact on productivity and fewer unfavorable experiences.
How we evaluate the effectiveness of support needs to change. In the past, we focused on individual initiatives like a project or the number of tickets a service desk resolved. Because the employee experience is so important to the success of digital workplaces, a more holistic evaluation centered around outcomes and value is required.
The World Has Changed and IT Must Too
The disruption of 2020 was unprecedented. The change it's brought will likely mean many continue remote or hybrid work after the pandemic ends. Flexible working arrangements require an appreciation of how generational and personality variances affect employee experience. One-size-fits-all IT solutions will be rare. Flexibility is key. These are challenging times, but the benefits of the digital workplace post-pandemic will mean better organizational agility, increased productivity, and better work-life balances for employees, which, in turn, leads to better business outcomes.