Side view of pregnant woman using digital tablet at cafe
Future of Work

The Virtual Floorplan: New Rules for a New Era of Work

Employees have come to expect the relative freedom and flexibility of a hybrid work environment to the point that it has become table stakes for employers looking to attract and retain talent. Embracing this “virtual floorplan” not only helps employers remain competitive in a cutthroat talent market, but also stands to significantly increase productivity, encourage collaboration, and improve cohesion.

Yet, with these benefits come security challenges. When employees work virtually, IT departments grapple with a widened attack surface and have less control over apps, devices, and networks. A VMware-commissioned survey by market research firm Vanson Bourne can guide decision-makers as they balance these work benefits and security risks. “The Virtual Floorplan: New Rules for a New Era of Work” compiled the survey results of 7,600 decision-makers and their approach to hybrid work, shared culture, and security. The results conclude that, within the virtual floorplan, security must be a shared responsibility built around a culture of trust and open communication, and that protocols and training alone cannot achieve this.

Increased risk surface means security is a shared responsibility

As businesses reorganize their workforce around a virtual floorplan, the most successful ones have found it supports greater communication and team contributions, while not decreasing productivity. Employers must unlock this potential in a way that does not jeopardize digital security — every remote device connected to the company network represents a new attack surface for hackers to potentially exploit — but also must be careful not to overcorrect.

Indeed, security concerns can oftentimes stifle virtual floorplans’ potential. For example, 75% of respondents agree that the sensitivity of their data has made their organization more cautious about embracing remote work in the long term. Security concerns have slowed companies’ efforts to fully adapt to and adopt remote work, and 60% of every generational cohort except Baby Boomers further believe that security measures protecting remote devices sometimes depress team productivity. The security protocols that IT departments initiate in response to hybrid work have, according to many respondents, actually impeded that work.

75% of respondents agree that the sensitivity of their data has made their organization more cautious about embracing remote work in the long term.

Perhaps in response to this frustration, many employees have defaulted to their own security standards, often without realizing the threats their actions pose. Consider the fact that 81% of Gen Z employees and 73% of millennials admit connecting a personal device to the company network — a clear example of the increased security risks hybrid work invites.

Yet, while 60% of IT personnel believe security risks have increased since remote work started, only 45% of other employees agree. This 15% gap indicates that IT professionals perceive threats that are not on other employees’ radar, and, taken as a whole, these statistics tell us that leaders must take a multifaceted approach to ingraining security. Training alone will not suffice.

Instead, security measures must evolve with employee behavior. Already, according to the study, a majority of companies are training employees on handling sensitive data, implementing VPNs, and encrypting sensitive data. Moving forward, this diversity of security efforts will be paramount as, according to the study, “a key focus for IT teams will be to identify tools and solutions that protect sensitive data without sacrificing employee efficiency.”

Security is as much a cultural management issue as a technical one

Hybrid work offers new freedoms for employees, but leaders must help shape this freedom within a shared culture of trust to maintain productivity and security standards. It is instructive, then, that 77% of respondents agree their organization needs to adopt better tools or develop better hiring practices to determine if candidates can collaborate in virtual floorplans. Additionally, 79% believe their organization must similarly adopt tools and practices to better meet the needs of employees hired into fully or partially remote positions.

77% of respondents agree their organization needs to adopt better tools or develop better hiring practices to determine if candidates can collaborate in virtual floorplans.

Within these numbers, we see that employees in the virtual floorplan clearly seek greater support from company leadership. To encourage trust at all levels, leaders must be even more hands-on now than they were in entirely on-site work environments. Indeed, it’s what their employees want: More than three-quarters (76%) agree that collaboration improves when managers spend more time team building. Even more notable, 80% of high-performing organizations say that managers spend more time on employee check-ins since working remotely, whereas significantly fewer (64%) under-performing organizations can make the same claim.

Companies maximizing the potential for the virtual floorplan are dedicating more resources to strengthening interpersonal relationships between managers and employees, building a shared work culture around clear and regular communication. With less central control and in-person interaction, transparency and trust are emerging as vital qualities that leaders must embrace to advance and unify their organizations in a hybrid-by-default world.

Organizations with senior leaders who are “in the work” of transformation report more cohesion and collaboration than those where the responsibility sits with mid-level managers. If leaders want younger employees to buy into the security protocols necessary to protect the virtual floorplan, they must engage with them at a personal level to build trust.

Future-looking leaders will unlock potential

Virtual floorplans can help organizations attract talent and maximize productivity, create a more inclusive work environment, and value employees based more on performance. High-performing organizations already understand this and have created cultures that foster strong interpersonal relationships and naturally build trust in ways that can only help security efforts and initiatives.

Yes, security is a technical and technological issue, but as the study shows, it is just as much one of culture and management. Today, it’s not an either-or choice between employees’ increased freedom and companies’ security imperatives. Rather, in building teams equipped for hybrid work around a culture of trust and open communication, leaders support security imperatives by securing by-in. Those who succeed will truly unlock virtual floorplan’s potential and leverage it as a business advantage for years to come.