For companies of every size, keeping workers connected and productive wherever their location is a business imperative. Gone are the days when all employees work simultaneously in the same place. The ability to support remote and off-hour work opportunities is a major competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent.
“Sixty-one percent of employees report working remotely at least some of the time,” said Preston Harris, a CDW mobile wireless senior field solutions architect, during a presentation at the CDW Enabling the Workforce SummIT in Austin, Texas on April 9. “It’s not coming. It’s already here. This is the hard reality: Mobilization is needed, not wanted, in today’s world.”
There have been mobile workers for as long as there have been traveling salesmen. But two things have changed in the last few years. First, the technologies that support mobile employees have advanced to the point where geography is — or, at least, can be — a nearly irrelevant factor in an employee’s work experience and productivity.
“Twenty years ago, ‘mobility’ was a laptop and a dial-up connection in your hotel room,” said Scott Lehman, director of end-user computing enterprise sales for VMware.
Second, workers themselves have changed. Influenced by a range of technological and cultural factors, modern workers expect to be able to work anytime, anywhere — and expect their work experience to be consistent regardless of location, time of day or device.
In response to these demands, Lehman said that building a secure and accessible “digital workspace” is becoming table stakes for many organizations. Employees and top recruits expect it. And the need to continue to be productive in a world that’s increasingly complex and mobile has made the digital workspace a requirement.
In “The Digital Workspace: Reimagining the Workplace,” VMware defines a digital workspace as an “end-user computing platform securely delivering anytime, anywhere access to all apps, services and resources across all devices.” It allows workers to carry their offices with them, granting them access to their entire suite of work applications on their phones, tablets and other devices.
Consumerization Is Driving Digital Workspaces
What’s driving the trend toward the digital workspace? “It’s rooted in consumerization,” Lehman says. Consumer technologies have created a new expectation in the minds of American workers. If it’s possible to easily stream music and movies from a smartphone, and if the app stores are loaded with productivity tools available for quick download, workers wonder why companies should get away with providing clunky, unreliable collaboration and productivity technologies.
Employees think joining a meeting remotely should be just as easy and content-rich as streaming a Netflix movie on iPad devices.
Lehman said that getting there requires IT teams to, among other things, simplify application and access management and unify endpoint management across every device.
“You have to have a lot of technology to make all this work,” he acknowledged. “But the good news is it’s all here today.”
People Trust Networks, Not Institutions
There’s also a larger social trend underway — a shift in where people place their trust — that’s driving how people are interacting with their workplaces. “Trust is migrating from institutions to networks,” explained Andrew Lippman, a senior research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and associate director of the MIT Media Lab.
For example, shortly after Edward Snowden, the former government contractor with access to highly classified materials, leaked those materials publicly to protest government surveillance programs in 2013, “the price of bitcoin went from tens of dollars to thousands of dollars,” Lippman said. It was not a coincidence: Because bitcoin is a blockchain-powered cryptocurrency that decouples the value of currency from government treasuries, its spike in value in the wake of the Snowden revelation was a perfect example of people placing greater faith in networks than institutions.
What that means for IT leaders is that employees are far more inclined today than in the past to take action on their own to get the kind of work experience they seek. “We used to give out BlackBerrys, as I’m sure a lot of you did, but found that people were just buying their own iPhones because that’s what they wanted,” said Brian Quill, senior director of global IT teammate experience for Under Armour.
Indeed, said VMware’s Lehman, one of the big risks companies take when they fail to move successfully to a digital workspace environment is that employees will seek to enhance their own experience with applications they download themselves, creating a range of challenges, especially around data security.
“Bad employee experiences mean workers will get their own SaaS (Software as a Service) apps because they can do it without IT’s involvement,” Lehman said.