The Office of the Future Arrived Early and Needs A Lot of Work

The COVID-accelerated shift to remote work has been a giant step forward in workplace philosophy and two big steps back in workplace capability, security and standardization.

In a more remote-focused culture the home office is actually an extension of your company's capabilities, infrastructure and culture.

For the most part, nobody ever had to think about it that way before. At least not on the scale we're forced to now.

Setting aside VCs and long-time teleworkers/freelancers the average home office and remote IT setup is about as technically capable as a cube-farm circa 2005. More on that in a second.

If you asked the leadership of most companies basic questions like:

1. Do you want your team members to be empowered to do their best work?

2. Do you care about the security of your employees and customers data?

3. Overall, do you run a tight ship and hold high standards?

No self-respecting leader would answer "no" to any of those questions. But let's think about this through the lens of a typical front-line employee’s home office setup at the moment:

1. Access and usability of tools

Who's using what apps? Who's supposed to be using them? Does everybody have what they need? If they don’t, how easily can they get it in a way that is efficient, secure and trackable? For most companies, this just means adding licenses ad-hoc and then squaring up with the CFO at the end of the quarter. This becomes a long-term productivity and cost drain in addition to being a security risk.

2. Predictable system performance

Some people have a great internet service provider in their building or neighborhood, some don't. Some don't know what they have or can have. Almost nobody has a commercial-grade router. Now add in the computer - which is often used for personal computing as well as work - is there regular system maintenance being run? Both the network and the laptop management have to be completely rethought in a WFH environment.

3. Collaboration

Making up for the loss of in-person contact means that external monitors, digital white boards, cameras, smart keyboards, lighting etc.. become cultural glue for your company. You might know what you need, but does everyone in your org know how and what to properly optimize? Has it been operationalized in a cohesive way?

If you believe that remote work is going to continue to be a larger and larger fixture of the modern business, then this notion of the home office being an extension of your company (and therefore) your responsibility needs to sink in.

The home office of the future should be based around a handful of principles:

Near-seamless production of work, free from technical disruption and business risk.

1. Apps installed, updated and patched automatically and/or semi-autonomously

Automation in place for a team member to easily access apps on-demand. At Electric, we built a phenomenal self service tool on top of JAMF and have a similar tool for Windows coming out shortly.

2. Laptop performance and security

The computer needs to work and work well, and if it doesn't a remote help desk needs to fix it ASAP. The devices (all of them - Mac, Windows, Linus, Android) should be visible and controlled from a central location. At Electric, we automated JAMF and Kaseya deployment and built a centralized management console so even a non-technical person can manage hundreds or thousands of devices.

3. Network / ISP performance

Company-wide home office speed tests should be the norm, and deploying a small commercial-grade router to each home office is a small price to pay for centralized management, troubleshooting and security for hundreds or thousands of home networks. At Electric, we're creating a standard set of WFH IT Infrastructure that includes a relatively inexpensive commercial router that can drop ship to someone's home and deploy within minutes.

4. Peripherals

Standardize all home-office peripherals including shipping and installation. This might seem trivial "just get a second monitor" but depending on the role there's more to it - a designer and a sales rep don't need the same monitor. What about a digital white board? What's your hard phone/soft phone strategy? What does that even mean? A lot to consider!

The office of the future arrived early. Depending on who you ask it's either really cool or not cool at all. You're probably in it right now. Maybe there is a dog farting under your desk or a child asking you for an iPad.

The point is that excellence in the 'new' office starts with leveraging IT as an enabling-function for your team. It starts with rethinking IT and the definition of "office" from the ground up.

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