Hybrid working models represent opportunities and challenges. The Hindsight is 2020 research report can guide business leaders as they navigate this new paradigm.

With the shift to hybrid working models for knowledge-based workers, companies that can leverage this talent have gained significant flexibility and access to new markets: hire from anywhere, work from anywhere, market to clients anywhere. Nearly two-thirds of high-performing organizations have enabled some form of “productivity anywhere” model.[i] The new distributed-work reality has been a positive experience for many organizations, but in many cases the employee experience has declined.

Forrester Consulting surveyed hundreds of global decision makers in a VMware-commissioned thought report about the impact of remote workforces on employee and customer experiences, security, and operations. Survey results published in the final paper, “Hindsight Is 2020 – The Pandemic Provides a Wake-Up Call,” are illuminating. Nearly 40% of respondents saw a decline in the employee experience since the beginning of the pandemic. The imperative is clear. Business leaders must make the remote or hybrid employee experience a positive if they are to sustain any growth their organization saw during the pandemic.

“This Hybrid model will present some challenges.  How can a workforce be productive, collaborative, and engaged when we can no longer count on everyone gathering in the same location or time zone?”

Jason Conyard, VMware CIO

The good news for decision makers trying to build a superior employee experience is that survey results also offer a path forward.

Technology challenges reduced remote productivity

Many organizations transformed successfully to a remote operation overnight. The sheer volume and efficiency of modern technology tools made this transition possible. Yet, relying on additional platforms and solutions has also complicated IT environments. When IT teams struggle to provision new tools, employees leveraging those tools are more likely to grow frustrated.

Decision makers’ survey responses provide more details about these frustrations.

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents said that technology disruptions slowed their productivity.
  • Sixty-seven percent responded that it is difficult to deploy new devices to end users.
  • Sixty-four percent responded that technology security policies hinder productivity more than they should.

Security policies hindered productivity, and implementing new tools and services increased the attack surface of the enterprise: Nearly half of all respondents (46%) felt the pandemic increased the need for endpoint security, a posture requiring additional solutions.

Recommendation: Embrace zero trust and infuse security throughout the remote workforce access path. Organizations are ditching VPNs for integrated access solutions that leverage zero trust principles prior to network access. To infuse remote workforce network access paths (i.e., mobile devices, laptops and the applications therein) with security, IT and security teams must leverage endpoint security tools with detection and response capabilities.

Isolation and uncertainty lead to burnout

There is a very human side to remote workforces; workers are not simply nodes in a network. Technology advances have allowed organizations to better connect to employees thousands of miles away. Yet, when those connections falter or when people must contend with the strain of shifting expectations on their own, new challenges arise. Survey responses illustrate these challenges.

  • Nearly three-quarters (70%) of respondents noted that expectations and goals during the pandemic changed frequently.
  • Unfortunately, 64% also felt that an increasingly remote workforce created silos and barriers to communication.

Changing expectations and wavering communications may very well have been catalysts for employee burnout and turnover. Two-thirds of respondents noted that teammates left their companies during the pandemic.

Recommendation: Understand the human behind the technology. Decision makers must provide their teams with reasonable goals and clear expectations. Leaders must also contend with the continued blurring of lines between work and personal lives. Every meeting is now a window into employees’ homes. Not communicating and enforcing strict work-life boundaries will only exacerbate burnout. Above all, leaders should understand the employee journey, why and how silos and poor communication affect that journey and deliver more tailored employee experiences.  

Organizations turned to point solutions, patchwork remote arrangements

Faced with increased security threats, difficult deployment policies, and exhausted employees, decision makers responded quickly. Teams implemented solutions and processes, which alleviated some pandemic-driven burdens. However, IT teams did not make those arrangements with long-term sustainability in mind.

Forty percent of respondents purchased multiple point solutions from different vendors to support remote working. One-quarter purchased a point solution to fill gaps in their existing ecosystems. IT environments are already complicated enough with organizations modernizing applications and workflows with containers and various clouds. The addition of point solutions many expected to be temporary only weighs down IT organizations as they deliver crucial employee and customer experiences.  

Recommendation: Find and implement an integrated solution. Business leaders must find solutions that help with security, communication, and individualized employee experiences. Platforms that combine these facets under one umbrella can support a more sustainable longer-term remote workforce arrangement.

Pandemic hardships formed stronger bonds

Athletes often form stronger bonds with their teammates while persevering through challenging training regimens or difficult losses. In spite of all the obstacles employees encountered during the pandemic, many formed stronger bonds with their colleagues, in much the same way athletes do. 

In particular, the relationships between IT practitioners and other company departments improved. For example, only about one-third of respondents described the following relationships as positive before the pandemic:

  • IT practitioners and senior IT leadership
  • Security practitioners and IT practitioners
  • Security practitioners and senior security leadership

At least half of respondents view these relationships as positive today, since the onset of the pandemic. These aren’t the only relationships that improved. In fact, most of the interdepartmental relationships the survey tracked improved in the wake of the pandemic. Interdepartmental harmony is a boon to leaders.

Recommendation: Take advantage of this cooperation to further break down silos and tap into the creativity that sparks from different perspectives collaborating.

Move forward together, with IT at the helm

Decision makers must ensure these interdepartmental bonds continue to strengthen over time. The practitioners and leaders whose relationships grew will be responsible for moving from point solutions to end-to-end approaches for security and business continuity.

Information technology teams’ role changed during the pandemic. These teams are now responsible for about 45% of the remote-work budgets. IT practitioners and leaders led much of the charge, rolling out new platforms, monitoring for security vulnerabilities, and ensuring remote employees could access their tools worry-free. As IT teams move toward integrated solutions, they’ll be on the lookout for improved security posture, increased remote-employee effectiveness, easier onboarding and training, and improved management of tools, people, and resources.

IT’s quest for an integrated solution dovetails neatly with employees’ desire for an improved remote experience. Making the business transformation from point solutions to one, integrated offering should only continue to bring everyone together and reinforce the bonds many have formed in the wake of shared hardship. To learn more about the survey or to view Forrester’s key recommendations for a remote strategy, download the report today:

VMware CIO Exchange Hindsight is 2020 Report

For more executive insights, listen to the CIO Exchange podcastHuman Connections with Digital Experiences with Jason Conyard, CIO, VMware.

[i] https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/consulting/future-work