Due to the unprecedented shutdown of businesses during the pandemic, most white-collar workers went from hours-long commutes to working fulltime from a guest bedroom somewhere in the suburbs. In the past, most enterprises resisted or refused to consider viable telecommuting options. Suddenly, new regulations, laws, and liability policies forced the hands of most enterprises around the world. Companies had to accommodate a remote workforce in a short amount of time. Adapt or die.
IT departments spent the better part of the year putting out fires caused by the sudden shift to a remote workforce. VPNs had to scale to handle the influx, networks needed upgrades, security required adjustments, and there was even work to be done with employees’ ISPs to provide better and more reliable bandwidth. ISPs suddenly moved bandwidth upgrades to the top of the priority list.
Even the most remote homes in the country will begin to support telecommuting as early as next year, as 5G becomes a pervasive reality nationwide. If staff can live and work from anywhere, why not live where they can get the most home for the least amount of money? This trend naturally eliminates the drawbacks an enterprise once had when all of its proverbial eggs were in one geographic basket.
Five or ten years ago, a major fire, flood, or weather event in the immediate vicinity would have shut down a firm’s headquarters. In some of today’s cutting-edge enterprises, staff can be so geographically scattered that most white-collar workers could continue to telecommute each morning even if the place they once reported to no longer exists. Virtual IT systems can be load-balanced across cloud platforms in deliberately staggered locations so that systems experience little or no impact on operations.
To turn these opportunities into long-term reality, enterprises need to disconnect. 2021 will be the year most begin this journey. The first stage will be to stabilize their remote workforces. Then they can move to these likely next steps:
- Move rapidly to public cloud-based resources, including IaaS and SaaS. This has been occurring for the past several years, but the pace will accelerate. The more difficult workloads will be placed in the queue for relocation to cloud or MSPs.
- Eliminate data centers, either owned or leased. Fueled by a strong economy, the growth of data centers over the past few years has led to the identification of vulnerabilities and a new understanding of the risk of owning and maintaining your own hardware and software.
- Reduce or eliminate facilities to a functional minimum. Why own or lease office space you won’t use? Commercial space will not be completely abandoned, but liability costs will likely force hotel-type options to share offices and conference rooms.
- Change corporate culture to support remote collaboration. It’s one thing to have the tools and the infrastructure to support a functional remote workforce, it’s another thing to embrace them. Culture needs to change and will take longer than one year. Major changes include how managers measure employee performance and work processes. Staff should also take the initiative to continuously improve these practices.
Each company has its own demons to exorcise. The larger the enterprise, the more difficult the journey to a disconnected enterprise. Large or small, every journey begins with the first step. It’s time to lace up your hiking boots.