Remote work is no longer the temporary arrangement that many people expected it to be when the pandemic began. It’s here to stay for the foreseeable future, and companies must adapt by embracing remote-work trends that will keep their workers productive and happy — whether they are in the office part of the time or not at all.
With that need in mind, here’s a list of the top remote-work trends for 2021 that companies should consider as they prepare for a future in which significant numbers of employees work remotely on a permanent basis.
Optimizing the remote-employee experience
When remote work seemed like a temporary arrangement, most companies put relatively little thought into the employee experience, meaning how employees thought and felt about working from home.
They didn’t invest in collaboration technology that would help employees feel connected to the rest of the organization while working in isolation. Nor did most companies deploy tools that provide a frustration-free experience for connecting to IT resources from out of the office. At best, they gave their employees software like a Windows RDP client so they could log into their company workstations from home.
As it has become clear that many employees will be working remotely for the foreseeable future, companies have begun investing more heavily in activities like virtual coffee breaks, which can help employees collaborate and engage with each other. They have also implemented more user-friendly technologies, such as cloud desktops, which make it easier for employees to access the applications and data they need to do their jobs, no matter where they are located.
Securing remote IT assets
A number of new security challenges emerge when workers are connecting remotely. Networks become more difficult to secure because they need to support users and devices connecting from beyond the firewall. Data is at higher risk of being downloaded by employees to local devices that are not physically secure. Even phishing emails can be harder to detect.
Indeed, according to one study, 20 percent of organizations have suffered a security breach since the start of the pandemic that was facilitated by remote workers.
This means that, going forward, it will become critical to secure the infrastructure and software that employees use to work remotely. Centralizing desktop environments in the cloud is one way to do this. When workstations run virtually inside secure cloud environments, data and applications never have to leave the cloud, which significantly reduces exposure to potential attack.
Supporting peripheral devices
When employees work remotely temporarily, being able to connect their company-owned IT environments to devices like printers and scanners is not usually a top priority. They can wait until they’re back in the office to print documents. Or they can print a few on their personal equipment at home.
But when employees work remotely regularly, these ad hoc approaches don’t work. Workers need a seamless way to integrate devices in their at-home work environment with in-office servers, file shares and other resources their company owns.
This can be done, but it requires solutions tailored-made for this purpose. As companies prepare to support remote workers permanently, factoring in the need to integrate with peripheral devices will be a priority.
Maintaining IT hardware
Keeping IT hardware up and running also becomes more challenging when remote work is permanent. Employees may be able to get by with laptops that need maintenance when they’re working from home temporarily. But when they rarely or never go into the office, providing support for physical hardware is much more difficult.
One way to cope with this challenge is to minimize the amount of physical hardware that companies need to maintain. Here again, cloud desktops can help by allowing organizations to provide employees with a complete desktop environment that they can access from anywhere using their own hardware. And because the only resource required to log into the cloud desktop is a Web browser, there is no special hardware or software that the company needs to deploy and maintain on employees’ personal devices to keep them productive.
Keeping costs in check
The cost of supplying remote workers with the equipment they need to work effectively from anywhere can rise quickly, especially if companies try to recreate the IT infrastructure of the office within each employee’s home. When they do that, employees sometimes require high-powered desktops or laptops, routers and perhaps even UPS units to keep their devices running.
A simpler — and less costly — approach is to host desktop environments in the cloud, which don’t fail when the power goes off or the router goes down, and which can be configured to provide whichever resource allocations employees need. When employees are assigned cloud desktops, they can access their workstations from any location and device, without depending on special (or expensive) equipment.
Conclusion: Keeping remote employees productive and happy
If 2020 introduced many employees to remote work for the first time, 2021 is the year when companies realized that remote work would continue indefinitely for many of their employees. To thrive in this environment, organizations must provide employees with the tools they need to work efficiently from anywhere, while also addressing the security and cost challenges associated with remote work.