May 26 2021

CDW Tech Talk: The Journey to the Reimagined Workplace

Facing the likelihood of a distributed workforce, companies are looking to IT solutions to bridge the gaps in communication and engagement.

As the world continues adapting to post-pandemic circumstances, companies are faced with the challenge of balancing business needs with the flexibility employees have come to expect from remote work.

Many organizations already are embracing a hybrid work model, which will include some remote work along with a partial return to the office. However, this blending of environments comes with its own set of challenges.

Tara Barbieri, vice president of integrated services orchestration at CDW, said during CDW’s Tech Talk webcast, “I guess the core issue is around trust and communication, and I think when you're a distributed team, you've just got to have a lot more transparency and be a lot more deliberate with the

Barbieri stressed the importance of having a “philosophy of access to information” to ensure that everyone feels included, whether they’re working remotely or in the office. “One of the things you struggle with is just getting people to understand, especially if they're not used to being the person who's remote, is how that feels, and appreciating that a deliberate focus around communication is really important in order to continue to keep the community together,” she said.

WATCH THE WEBCAST: Unlock the exclusive Insider video to learn more about how to confront the challenges of a hybrid work environment.

The Challenges of Remote Work Continue to Evolve

Barbieri said the initial challenge with remote work was simple productivity, because a lot of the systems CDW and many of its customers had “simply weren't designed to be done in a digital manner or by leveraging cloud technologies or other functions. So, we had to rethink some of the operations and processes,” she said. “If we literally had some physical thing that worked its way through our workflow, we had to reimagine that in a digital construct.”

One of the most difficult changes was for people who were used to being able to get together and collaborate and solve problems with whiteboarding, Barbieri explained. “That was probably the hardest one, because it’s very difficult in the virtual environment.”

Barbieri and her team focused on solutions that would drive inclusion and transparency of communication. One of the tools the team leveraged was Microsoft Stream.

“We found that, in 2020, we also needed to take on the responsibility of trying to help fill some social gaps for people” when it came to coworker health and wellness, Barbieri said. “So, we did some fun things in our team’s channel. We actually added a channel called Watercooler where people could just post random thoughts.”

Leveraging technology to set up virtual happy hours and internet trivia competitions helped to generate an inclusive culture in which Barbieri sees value beyond 2020. “It is important to keep that up and allow people to connect on a more personal level than always just around a work function.”

Technology Will Need to Accommodate Employees’ Shifting Expectations

Jeff McGrath, senior director of product marketing at VMware, spoke during the webcast about the changes he foresees as companies move into a hybrid work mode.

At the outset of the pandemic, companies were focused on enabling remote work and preventing a disruption to business operations. “IT was burdened with bursting capacity to home — getting people physically at home, getting them devices, getting application capacity up to fulfill a completely remote workforce,” he said.

McGrath said he sees a lot of VMware’s customers currently wondering “what is that going to look like going forward in terms of the office or at-home balance, and how do we relocate our processes and procedures to support potentially a fully remote workforce going forward?”

He quoted research conducted by VMware that found 61 percent of employees “today think that remote work is no longer a perk but a requirement. So, there's certainly an expectation being set. And 90 percent think it's incumbent upon the employer and IT to deliver the tools they need to work from home.”

Remote Work Changes Tech Needs for Employees and IT Departments

Expectations have changed not just around employees’ work arrangements but also with regard to the delivery and servicing of equipment. McGrath pointed out that employees working on PCs have been running “traditional PC lifecycle management solutions while running MDM solutions for mobile device management. But that hasn't necessarily translated for PCs, and this causes pain when you have remote workforces working from home.“

He mentioned the difficulty employers experience with delivering machines to remote users. “We’re used to having those PCs shipped to IT, who unboxes them, puts them on the network, puts a golden image on, pushes on some GPOs and configuration profiles, then maybe uploads a bunch of applications, boxes it back up and ships it back to the employee. So, much of the cost of a PC is wrapped up in that onboarding model, but that doesn't really work

With a remote workforce, patching systems also becomes more challenging. “Already, we were seeing that so many patches for distributed organizations, even prior to the pandemic, can take six months to a year to reach patch saturation, where the majority of your PCs are fully patched, even for a high severity or critical vulnerability,” McGrath stated.

“We see many IT departments having to kind of put a pause on app distribution workloads because they don't want to overburden the already taxed VPN infrastructure. As a result, almost three-quarters of employees are running old or don’t have access to new applications they need to do their jobs,” he said.

The same concerns extend to security measures, which “become incredibly important when nearly all breaches originate at the endpoint through phishing attacks or other types of common attacks that occur at the home,”

Education Systems Continue to Adopt Technological Answers to the Questions of Remote Work

Corey Carrico, senior field marketing manager at CDW, joined the conversation to share the story of a large public school system that was forced last year to make a very public and rapid switch from in-person to remote workplaces. (The system is currently hybrid.)

The school system began working with CDW in 2018 to implement ServiceNow, “and the idea was to modernize their service management organization,” Carrico said.

He noted that the school system’s situation was similar to those of many organizations during the pandemic, requiring a new focus on communication to onboard new teams that were not technology professionals. “So, new departments — and we needed to address parents and partners and constituents — all had to be engaged, and the processes had to be addressed with those folks, again, spread out across all different locations as well as communications.”

To address the situation, CDW helped the customer launch an onboarding service, 12 new teams and IT. “We did that over the course of four months. This included 34 different managed groups and 670 agents, who are involved in the processes that these new architectures solved. Parent portals were created to aid in communications and processes that were traditionally done in person. Then, we created a new and centralized data model. What it did, it followed physical and data security protocols but allowed for mobility access for all.”

Follow BizTech’s full coverage of the CDW Tech Talk series here. Insiders can register for the event series here.

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