Written by Matthew Williams, Senior vCIO
"Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again.” - Graeme Wood
Working from home, once a highly sought-after perk, has become a new reality for many. As COVID-19 prevented people from working in traditional offices, organizations undertook Herculean efforts to get their people connected to the resources they need. Migrations to cloud services were accelerated, multi-factor authentication was deployed to boost security, and video conferencing became the new norm overnight.
While making these changes was a big undertaking for many IT departments, employee adoption was not difficult as we regularly use these types of tools in our personal lives. For years, the ability to collaborate, share, and be productive at home has far outpaced that of the workplace. Since 2016, we’ve had the ability to use smart assistants to order a rideshare, take a video call on a phone from practically any location, and share photos taken with augmented reality “lenses” to social media.
When it comes to developing a modern corporate IT strategy, there are an increasing number of things to consider, especially in the new normal we find ourselves in. How do you maintain security while allowing connections from home offices and personal devices? How do you collaborate effectively while being geographically distributed? How can you better empower employee productivity? The answer (or at least part of it) is by embracing the Modern Workplace.
The Modern Workplace
The idea behind the modern workplace is to not just about using new tools, but the adoption of a new approach to how we work in the era of cloud. It’s about increasing employee satisfaction and productivity by enabling them to work securely from anywhere on a greater number of devices. It’s about re-examining information silos and creating new ways to communicate, collaborate, and innovate. It’s about leveraging technology to update workflows and focus on value creation.
While there are multiple platforms available to empower a modern workplace, in this article we’ll focus on Microsoft’s cloud offerings and speak to three key areas: Security, Collaboration, and Productivity.
In a world of increased malware and cyber attacks, security is key. That is why the modern workplace is built on the concept of Zero Trust. While traditional infrastructures authenticate solely on a username/password combination, Zero Trust is based on the principle of “never trust, always verify”. To facilitate this, major cloud providers have developed purpose-built Identity and Access Management (IAM) platforms that can secure access to millions of cloud-based applications.
IAM platforms, such as Microsoft Azure AD, help enable the modern workplace by offering an easy user experience through single sign-on while providing strong risk-based access. In addition to a username/password, Azure AD reviews a variety of contextual information prior to deciding whether to allow or deny an access request. This includes but is not limited to:
the location the request is being made from
the resource being requested
any group memberships
the specific device being used
By leveraging Microsoft Intune, device-based access policies can also be created. For example, you may decide to allow access from personal tablets, but only if they run the latest operating system, have a strong PIN, and have device encryption enabled. Microsoft Intune also provides layered protection directly on endpoints (devices that communicate with your network), making it safer to connect a broader array of devices. Intune mobile device management (MDM) allows IT to configure and deploy security policies, to automatically include encryption on new devices, and to enable remote wiping of lost devices. Mobile application management (MAM) secures organization data at the application level, allowing it to be isolated from personal data when BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is permitted. MAM can restrict which applications can access company data, require these apps to be secured with a dedicated PIN, can disable certain functions (i.e. copy/paste or save-as) within these apps, and selectively wipe company data from personal devices when an employee leaves the organization.
While video conferencing connects people from various locations, tools such as Microsoft Teams offer entire shared workspaces, opening new ways to collaborate both internally with coworkers and externally with partners. Rather than sending information and attachments back and forth via email, teams can securely communicate via channels, co-author documents in real-time, track progress toward objectives in a shared Planner, and brainstorm ideas on a digital whiteboard.
Running remote meetings also has several inherent benefits over traditional meetings. Meetings can be easily recorded and shared to ensure requirements are properly captured, allow those unable to attend to playback the entire meeting or skip to relevant parts, and can be used for future employee training. Screensharing allows information to be presented to all participants without having to book a conference room with a projector. Eliminating travel time not only lowers costs but enables additional ways of engaging with partners such as shorter but more frequent face-to-face meetings.
The modern workplace is one that is designed with productivity in mind. Continuing with the Microsoft example, employees can seamlessly move between both on-premise and cloud applications with single sign-on, find information quickly with intelligent search, share documents and folders directly with OneDrive/SharePoint, and receive personalized recommendations on enhancing productivity with MyAnalytics.
As the modern workplace is built on interconnected cloud-hosted services, it can also be leveraged to automatically perform tasks across platforms. Microsoft’s Power Automate enables employees to easily create “flows” that can be triggered manually, on a recurring schedule, or whenever a certain condition is met. For example, without any coding required, a flow can be created to monitor Twitter for new references to your company, automatically follow that person, send you an email, and add all new tweets to an ongoing excel file. New approval flows can be implemented and then efficiently managed via the web, mobile app, or email. Virtual buttons can be created to complete quick tasks such as instantly booking off the next hour of your calendar.
In a time of economic uncertainty, it should also be noted that adopting platforms like Azure AD makes financial sense. A recent study by Forrester shows that organizations securing apps with Microsoft Azure AD saw on average a 123% ROI over three years, with a payback period of just six months.
As you evaluate this new remote workforce landscape and begin to create your corporate IT strategy for the coming year, consider what steps you can take to adopt modern workplace principles. Consider how they can benefit your organization and your employees. It doesn’t have to happen all at once, but it is something to strive and plan for.
Have questions about digital transformation or how adopting the modern workplace concept can change how you work? Talk to Fully Managed about options.