The future of work is hybrid: So how does this affect companies?

An article by Simone Blome-Schwitzki, Senior Vice President Solutions and Jan Bogdanovich, Senior Vice President Consumptional Business of the ALSO Group.

The pandemic almost immediately turned New Work into the "New Normal", leaving no doubt about the fact that the future of work is hybrid. The digital workplace has proven and established itself in Corona times. According to studies, teleworking has become the daily routine for about 40% of EU citizens since the pandemic started. And a working world without flexible ways of working, which not only include home office but also mobile forms of work, is no longer imaginable. In order to be able to work together in an agile and collaborative manner in these new working models, employees need new office solutions and a valid technological infrastructure. Hybrid working - what does that mean in concrete terms and how can we go about it?

An article by Simone Blome-Schwitzki, Senior Vice President Solutions and Jan Bogdanovich, Senior Vice President Consumptional Business of the ALSO Group.

Innovation through exchange: offices transform to meeting places

After months of social distancing, some people long for more closeness and interpersonal exchange, while others appreciate the flexibility of the new working reality. Both groups, however, have one thing in common: when they go into the office, they expect more than just a mere workplace, they expect more of a meeting place. The office structure is basically evolving into a more open space, as employees use the office primarily as a collaborative hub for exchange than for the concentrated work they now often tend to do from home. In the office, on the other hand, those activities that require exchange with colleagues take place. The “flying desk” model is gaining in importance. Offices can be divided into different thematic zones that employees visit depending on their current activity. These co-working stations then replace fixed workplaces and rigid spatial allocations. Open-plan concepts à la "table to table" are replaced by homely meeting zones. Sound-insulated, air-conditioned telephone or work booths will silence the hectic, noisy call centre atmosphere of the open-plan office, and versatile, modular office furniture with integrated smart features will make the conference phone at massive meeting tables obsolete. Offices will then no longer be workplaces alone, but social meeting places with collaborative infrastructure that motivate interaction.

What steps can employers take now?

With the dawn of these new office worlds, demands on the technological infrastructure are also increasing. This is not just a question of hardware components, i. e. good cameras, microphones or lighting. Above all, equipment is needed that allows employees to access all processes and data regardless of the time and their location. The cloud-based digital workspace offers companies these flexible concepts in terms of workplace and working time, which contributes to the satisfaction of existing employees and is something that well-trained specialists in the IT sector simply expect these days. In the talent war for potential junior staff, today you are powerless without this type of infrastructure. Many companies opt for as-a-Service models, as, in doing so, large investments can be avoided. Workplaces can be provided in a way that is scalable and flexible. Workplace-as-a-Service makes companies more agile. And this model is a recurring success factor in the digital transformation of an organisation, as companies are regularly equipped with the latest hardware and software as part of an upgrade cycle.

However, the cloud also makes systems more exposed to attacks from outside. Solely investing in technical equipment will not suffice; a holistic approach with an integrated cybersecurity concept is needed. A good starting point is to do a comprehensive cybersecurity assessment and identify the biggest gaps or in other word ways: establish how the company can be hacked. Once that is done, possible lines of attack can be analyzed in order to develop a prioritized mitigation plan to rapidly improve controls and protective measures for the weakest link in the chain. One example of such a weak link is the protection of digital identities of employees. It needs a properly implemented and configured multi-factor authentication (MFA) as well as constant training of the employees. This is especially true in a situation where our work is becoming more and more hybrid. Consider infrastructure and networks in particular – when we all moved to work from home we needed a secure way to connect to company datacenters, a protected network connection using public networks, the so-called "Virtual Private Network" (VPN). Cybercriminals use so-called sniffers to capture data packets containing sensitive information such as passwords, account information etc. Real-time network traffic encryption makes it more difficult for cybercriminals to track online movements and steal data. If the connection is unexpectedly interrupted, the VPN can automatically terminate preselected programmes and thus protect them from external access. Taking care of endpoint device protection is also very important – VPN and MFA will not help, if a computer is already infected with malware. In addition to the ones mentioned, there are many more security solutions that protect against cyberattacks.

Knowledge is power

But even the most advanced technology is not enough to meet the growing demands of hybrid work concepts. Equally, know-how is an important factor. And the education sector is currently a good example of this: the pandemic has exposed massive gaps in Germany regarding digitalisation in the school sector. Closed schools and distance learning have made it absolutely clear that lecture-style teaching with blackboards is not only out of date, but no longer meets today’s needs. So, how do you catch up? Just providing technical equipment is not enough. A few new tablets will not bring about internationally competitive digital education. Holistic solutions are needed: A digital infrastructure, the provision of nationwide, secure internet and, for example, new curricula and digitally trained teaching staff who can handle the new technology. Otherwise, students end up being more capable than their teachers. And the same applies to employers: they need to invest in solutions and know-how, not in mere means. The first step should always be a needs analysis, which can, for example, be carried out by external consultants.

What are the main issues now?

IT technology can improve the quality of peoples’ lives. To achieve this, we need an ecosystem of different providers with diverse approaches. The industry’s players are not so much competing with each other, but rather on a joint mission: digital transformation requires a host of players. The industry thrives on competition, as it sparks innovation. And investment. In a hybrid working world, companies grasp the opportunities that arise. Cloud technology plays a major role here, of course. It gives us opportunities not only for collaboration but also for data analysis, something we previously didn't have. Flanked by cybersecurity measures and strategies, it forms the new digital infrastructure that hybrid working environments demand. Mobile working, securely networked, was already on the rise before the pandemic. The New Normal ended this transition period and immediately placed new demands on employers and IT providers. These demands now have to be met.

First solutions available

Challenges always bring about innovations. Two especially innovative areas are connectivity and security. Video conferencing, for private or business use, has become indispensable and supposedly "new" methods such as contactless payment have arrived in our daily lives thanks to Corona. The pandemic is also proving to be a driver of innovation in the world of work. One example of how technology can help optimise this new world of work or contribute to greater safety is Workplace+. In this IoT application, office and meeting rooms or even car parks are equipped with sensors. The sensors can record temperature, space occupancy, CO2 concentration and other measurement data and pass it on to a central database. In this way, room temperature or air quality can be monitored and controlled via an interface, employees can easily book and find free work or parking spaces; room occupancy can be planned. Workplace+ demonstrates how technological innovations make the hybrid world sustainable, secure and flexible, and helps companies meet the increased demands for connectivity and security in new office structures.