Not to state the obvious, all of us have been affected by COVID and the globally-instituted quarantine mandates. It wasn’t just business professionals who had to adjust to Work-From-Home. Students and teachers now had to interact virtually, retired citizens now had to access essential needs differently, and friends and family now had to socialize in a completely new way. This single event forced innovation and deployment of new technology – for instance, utilizing video conferencing technologies to connect virtually when physical interaction was restricted.
Further, the rush to deploy new remote technologies pushed existing technology paradigms to the limits – both in the office and at home. Generally speaking, for most businesses, networks were designed for connectivity to support only a minority of users to work remotely with limited data and application access. Security was primarily focused on protecting the barrier of the internal network at the edges, with a secured remote connection through tunnels that had a less-than-optimal performance. At home, internet connectivity was used sparingly for work and increasing use of IoT devices that supplied attackers with a bevy of options for intrusion and breach.
Then came the quarantine – and everything changed.
Overnight, all organizations had distributed sites – the Work-From-Home network, no matter the size. But different from the enterprise office networks, these networks offer little in the way of manageability, predictable performance, and compliant security. There was no governance to support neither the quality of experience nor security other than traditional methods of VPN and token-based identity access. No access to telemetry data to monitor the connection and workload response times – no measures to ensure QoS around a remote connection that now supports remote work requirements and virtual learning for children, gaming and media streaming, etc. From the business side, organizations had to re-think how they interact with their customers and patrons, which require massive retooling and deployment of new digital technologies in a rapid fashion. For many organizations, the frenetic pace of delivering the latest technologies offered threat actors just as many exploits as those IoT mentioned above devices. Add to that the increase in surface area of attack to now outside the network to the growing remote user population. Cybersecurity attacks exponentially grew – resulting in over $6.1T in lost economic value in 2021 alone.
It also forced us to look at traditional measures of work culture, worker productivity, and work output value entirely differently, as the existing metrics now lacked the validity to measure to any accuracy. Getting past the initial shock of the remote, people experienced a lot of positive effects. Individual productivity increased sharply, now that there wasn’t a need to deal with daily commutes to and from the office. Organizations could now focus on delivering the best talent for the given task – instead of the best person locally. Workers also now had the flexibility to work not only where they wanted but also when. But all was not rosy, as a new set of challenges also came into existence.
While individual productivity has increased, collaborative activities like brainstorming, ideation, workshops have become less productive. The inability to unplug and being “always-on” had adverse effects on employee well-being and mental health. Employees grew increasingly disconnected from the work culture and peers, making it challenging to maintain a team culture or establish a culture for new hires. The lack of water-cooler conversations and lunch break / happy hours was the canary in the coal mine to the Great Resignation. Without a sense of team or culture, workers were left with just the work – which they could do from anywhere and for anybody.
So how do we solve these new challenges? Again, through the prescriptive use of new technology.
Organizations renewed their interest in automation – both task and process – because if they can’t fill the gaps of resigning employees with new hires. They need to figure out how to increase the span of control with the ones that are still present and while there is plenty of approved headcount, what is lacking are names (of new hires). For those organizations that did make investments to modernize their technology and use digital transformation to reimagine their business and differentiate from competitors, the pandemic served as the ultimate validation that those investments were the right ones. So now, all organizations look to technologically transform, whether offensively to gain differentiation or more defensively to prevent being left behind.
This one event, however unprecedented, fundamentally shifted the importance of technology to the forefront. It is not far-fetched to say that for future “unprecedented” events, it will only be through technology innovation that we will be able to design solutions to solve the ensuing challenges. Technology is no longer second to the business and has emerged as not only a partner but an equal.