As businesses look to embrace permanent remote working and endpoint security moves to employees’ homes, what tech stack is needed to support these workers in secure digital environments, and how does this brave new world of work impact an enterprise’s reshaped digital transformation roadmaps?
Businesses have radically altered their structure. The working from home phenomenon COVID-19 influenced looks set to become the norm for thousands of enterprises. Flexible and hybrid working are disrupting businesses across several channels. What these channels all have in common is technology. As companies restructure, is there an ideal tech stack to adopt?
According to the Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index, 73% of workers surveyed want flexible remote work options to continue. “Our research also shows leaders may be too narrowly focused on where to invest,” the report states. “Even after a year of working from home, 42% of employees say they lack office essentials, and one in 10 don’t have an adequate internet connection to do their job.”
Focusing on the UK, the state of tech support for remote workers is less than ideal. According to Templafy, over a third (39%) of UK respondents still don’t believe their company has the right tech set up to support the hybrid workforce.
The top two reasons technology fails to be adopted are that it doesn’t fit into workflows, 55%, and consistent, company-wide use, 55%. UK workers spend large amounts of time switching between applications, with over one in four, 27%, using six to ten different applications each week, leaving 29% frustrated from changing between so many tools, and 31% are worried flexible working will negatively impact their productivity, and over a third, 35% are concerned collaborating with colleagues will be more complex.
Jesper Theill Eriksen, CEO of Templafy, says: “One thing is for certain: finding the ideal technology setup to support the future of work will remain centre stage for some time to come. The first to discover the right way to have less software that does more to enable a unified, efficient, and perhaps most importantly, a pleasant working experience will be the ones who get to define the future of work.”
It’s clear that making the right technology available to all your business’s remote workers is critical as we move out of the pandemic. The tools your company provides must be comprehensive but also integrated. Efficiency and productivity may be the drivers here, but it’s vital also to understand that training and the ability to use what could be a completely new toolset must be approached carefully to minimise disruption.
Speaking to Silicon UK, Alex Cruz Farmer, product manager, ThousandEyes, says the choice of applications is essential to get right: “It’s a given that the technology stack has changed significantly over the last year. Technologies like cloud collaboration tools, ‘business-critical’ apps and VPNs are now a fundamental part of giving employees the tools to do their job remotely.”
Farmer continued: “Yet, the most important part of this newly formed stack is IT having visibility into these services to see and even proactively remediate issues when things go wrong. And here’s the thing – when you compound new and unpredictable variables to an already complex web of Internet, SD-WAN, Cloud and SaaS services that businesses now rely on, the stark reality is they inevitably will.”
As workforces become remote entities, they need a technology platform they can trust. A survey from Unisys makes it abundantly clear that a solid tech stack that just works is critical for remote workers’ efficiency as 55% of business leaders say that access to the most up-to-date technology for the task at hand is key to an ideal employee experience.
“The real challenge for IT is providing experience parity for all employees, working in various and hybrid locations”, says Kevin Turner, EMEA Digital Workplace Strategy Lead, Unisys. “This means enabling all workers to find individual ways of working that drive productivity and innovation anytime, anywhere and on any device. AI, automation, analytics, and proactive problem resolution are part of a broader set of technologies and processes required to provide this. This survey shows how varied the perceptions are on a modern, digital workplace. It also shows that many businesses think ahead by creating a workplace which will not only be more productive, but also be better for their employees.”
Research from The Workforce Institute at UKG reveals that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 87% of UK workers have been propelled into the future of work by accelerating their digital transformation projects. Furthermore, 86% are enjoying the benefits of these new technologies, and 38% are fearful that their organisation will go back to the “old way” of doing things post-pandemic.
“COVID-19 turned the world of work upside down and clearly forced the digital transformation hand in a very short period of time,” said Peter Harte, group VP, EMEA, UKG. “Some organisations were simply trying to survive – and still are – but others have been thriving. One year later, organisations are seeing the fruits of their digital transformation labour and it’s now imperative to have a technology roadmap to aid them in thriving throughout the remainder of 2021 and into the future to keep pace with developments to not only protect their bottom line, but also meet the needs of their people and customers.”
And Dave Waterson, CEO at SentryBay, also commented to Silicon UK: “We are seeing an increasing number of businesses recalibrate their IT strategies as they consider a more hybrid workplace model. The cost of deploying hundreds of managed, secure devices to remote workers last year was deferred by creating a BYoD estate in which employees could use their own devices to access a VDI.
“Those BYoD estates are now having to be expanded to accommodate employees who are both in the office and working from home,” he continued. “Their devices need to be protected from cyberattack before they can access corporate systems, and they are looking at endpoint security that particularly defends them against keylogging, screen scraping and browser vulnerabilities – the most significant security weaknesses faced by using VDI.”
With a plethora of tools available to create a new tech stack, it’s easy to focus just on IT and ignore the human component of the equation, says Tom Arbuthnot, principal solutions architect at Modality: “Training and driving optimism and adoption remain the most significant challenge by far. It’s relatively easy to buy and roll out new technology but changing culture and working habits to ensure users’ value from the technology is much harder.
“For example, most organisations now have team collaboration apps, but do they have the culture where they can just post honest questions and status updates about their work and share draft work with their team, or do they still have the culture of needing to “finish” before they present work, and ensure their boss and their bosses boss all agree and approve it before they share it.”
Also, Aude Barral, co-founder of developer recruitment platform CodinGame explains that the tech stacks in use today will be in a constant state of evolution as the processes of remote workers continue to evolve:
“The challenge is to dematerialise every process in the company and have it adapted to distributed teams. Legal (with signature contract tools), HR (with remote hiring tools), tech (with proper hosting, automation, and security management), sales (with VoIP solution for phone call, CRM for sharp customer management and efficient ticketing/support tools for customer success), marketing (with emailing, automation, and growth tools). New remote working tools will continue to pop in the future and without doubts, the remote working landscape will continue to reshape in the coming years.”
The tech stack that remote teams need to use isn’t a collection of technologies that can be bought, rolled out, and forgotten. As Thousand Eyes’ Alex Cruz Farmer concludes, it vital to understand the particular needs of your business and remote works – needs that will be in a constant state of change as your company finds its place in the new post-pandemic business landscape.
“IT teams have gone from managing a select number of contained branch offices to a significant number of ‘home offices.’ Imagine each employees’ home set up like a snowflake – each with different environment factors, hardware, and connectivity, to name a few. All of your runbooks, guides and training are more or less, out of the window, and often you’ll be completely blind to third-party dependencies outside the four digital walls of your business.”
The remote tech stack your business needs is multifaceted and must place the requirements of your remote teams first. The tech stack deployed isn’t an IT exercise. Care must be take to choose components that work seamlessly together to create an agile and secure working environment.
Silicon in Focus
Andy Wilson, UK Lead at Dropbox.
With over 17 years of working on broadcast innovation, early BBC iPlayer, product management, digital rights and the micro:bit for the BBC, Andy joined Dropbox from leading growth and technology delivery at the Digital Production Partnership, where he developed a new international format for exchanging video content and commercials. Andy now leads Media for Dropbox.
How has the pandemic influenced the tech stacks remote workers are now using?
“The tools needed to facilitate remote collaboration were beginning to take shape before the pandemic struck. The influence the pandemic played has been found in the speed of uptick and breadth of the digital tools we now all use throughout our working days. The new tech stack consists of three pillars: teams, tools, and transactions. For one, business transaction tools have really exploded during the pandemic; from eSignature tools like Hellosign to document sharing platforms the pandemic has forced businesses to rethink every process they undertake.”
Are businesses re-inventing their remote working tech stacks and their digital transformation roadmaps as symbiotic elements of their IT?
“The pandemic has meant that most businesses never really had a choice – digital transformation must be aligned to the tech stack; otherwise, they would have had to stop working. In this way, the pandemic has altered how businesses view the tech stack to their digital transformation aspirations.
“We really turned away from the idea that ROI is the key to a successful transformation strategy to focus more on how, at a core level, these tools and solutions help a business to function. Given how almost all of us have thrown ourselves into using digital tools and collaboration software we have moved away from seeing digital transformation and the tech stack as separate entities. Now they need to be perfectly aligned to allow people to work in a new virtual and frictionless environment.”
Are there any trends you can identify with the remote tech stacks being developed at the moment?
“The next big area of growth is the transition from tools and solutions that simply allow work and collaboration to carry on (Slack, Teams, Zoom) towards the development and investment in business transaction tools. As businesses and organisations get comfortable with the idea of a virtual tech-stack, which is all around the use of digital tools for every aspect of work becoming the norm, they will look to hone and perfect outdated or superfluous workflows.
“One area we see this growth is document lifecycle management – from eSignature tools to secure document sharing solutions, tools which streamline traditional business processes are quickly cementing their place in the tech stack. When the pandemic hit, no company invested in more fax machines or hired fleets of cycle couriers to transport the documents they needed to and from people’s, now, home offices. Instead, they looked to optimise processes that had been left untouched for years, and we only expect this tech to become even more prevalent as the laws on documents finally catch up to the digital age.
“The final really interesting trend we are seeing is in the way in which businesses are upgrading their tech stacks and the growth of self-serve. As a result of the “all hands to the pumps” nature of the pandemic, procurement cycle timelines have dramatically reduced, and businesses are much happier to just buy what they need, and as fast as possible. This is another trend likely to stay the course, with McKinsey research recently revealing that 75% of customers prefer the speed and flexibility of digital self-serve over face-to-face interactions.”
What are the key challenges of developing a new normal tech stack?
“The challenge of the new remote working tech stack is combining the ease of use of consumer technology with the security and practicality of enterprise technology. The new normal tech stack sits between the two and has carved a unique space. Perhaps the best example here is the humble password manager. However, unassuming and straightforward to use, these tools help secure the home office, where the network risk is both personally and business-sensitive.
“The next step will be making sure that this new breed of easy-to-use, consumer-friendly enterprise tools can work together in a frictionless way. We are moving away from the idea of locked or walled-off app ecosystems as self-serve becomes the dominant model of procurement. The new tech stack is virtual first and individuals have more agency and power to define what works for them, with companies keen to leave behind tools that add friction or weight to their working lives with little room to compromise.”
Remote workers have increasingly used their own devices. Are businesses factoring this when developing their new approaches to the tech their workforces need to work efficiently and securely?
“People will always migrate to the tools they love to use – this was the Dropbox story in a nutshell. Businesses need to embrace the tools that fit seamlessly into their teams’ home setups rather than looking to impose new systems and solutions from the top-down.
“Businesses would be remiss to forget that their teams are now working on home, rather than, traditional “business-grade” networks. Thus, integration of the latest tools and tech needs to factor this in. Simple and easy-to-use tech like password managers, or straightforward VPN interfaces are a glowing example of the ways in which businesses tech now really need to look and feel the same as consumer products do.”
Has the new normal tech stack come into focus yet? Or are businesses still trying to understand what this means from an IT perspective?
“Right now, most businesses are still learning about and reacting to their current circumstances. As (in the UK, for instance) restrictions lift and businesses begin to look forward to the future of work, the “new normal tech” stack will come into a clearer view.
“That’s not to say that during this time, trends and clear favourites haven’t emerged. Many businesses, who pivoted to remote working quickly have built up a “patchwork quilt” of solutions and tools that were effective in the short term. These strategies focused on what teams needed to continue working on and how continuity could be protected in the immediate aftermath of lockdowns.
“Looking forward, the new tech stack needs to optimise processes, make lives easier for teams and look and feel like consumer tech. With research suggesting that almost 40% of all workers might be looking to change companies this year the tech stack will likely become another part of the total business package offered to prospective hires, rather than perhaps something that is discussed on the first day in the (virtual) office.”