Kathy Gibson reports – If the Covid-19 lockdown has proved anything to the business world, it is that the distributed working model can and does work.

Kristine Dahl Steidel, vice-president: EUC EMEA at VMware, says the new way of working has expressed a desire that many workers have expressed for some time.

“The distributed workforce model is here to stay,” she says. “And we are not limiting it to remote working. It is about a hybrid approach, where it doesn’t matter where employees are working.

“The way we work is rally adapting and we need to be anywhere organisations; we cannot be bound by location anymore.”

New research from VMware reveals a 41% increase in the proportion of employees across EMEA who see remote working as a prerequisite rather than a perk, rising to 53% among Gen X workers.

Almost two thirds (64%) of all respondents recognise that their organisation is realising the benefits of remote work and can’t go back to the way they used to be – yet there is a concern that company leadership and management are not putting in the work to adapt in offering their employees greater choice and flexibility.

“With a digital foundation companies need to instill the right culture and leadership approach to create a new way of work,” Steidel says. “The digital workspace solutions that enable distributed workforces to be collaborative, engaged, visible and productive have already helped thousands of businesses and millions of employees – and VMware is continuing to innovate.”

More than four in 10 (41%) decision-makers surveyed worry their team won’t stay on task when working remotely. More than a quarter (28%) also feel their boardroom culture discourages remote working, and over half (59%) feel more pressure to be online outside of normal working hours.

These factors indicate a need for a top-down shakeup of traditional management thinking and practices.

This is despite the clear business and employee benefits of flexible working, including organizations being able to capitalize on more diverse talent and skill set pools across the world.

Since working remotely, more than three quarters (76%) of employees surveyed believe personal connections with colleagues have improved, 66% feel more empowered to speak up in video conference meetings, and 69% say their stress levels have improved. Employee morale (30%) and productivity (34%) have seen an increase.

Furthermore, 67% say recruitment of top-tier talent has been made easier, specifically for working parents (83%) and minority candidates (68%).

When it comes to generating new ideas, almost three quarters (72%) agree that innovation is coming from more places within the organisation than before.

IT is no longer thought to be an inhibitor to distributed working practices, where employees can work from headquarters, a local office, home, on the move or a combination of locations, as standard, with only a third (33%) of those surveyed believing that IT is not equipped to manage a remote workforce.

Veronique Karcenty, director of digital workspace group at Orange France, points out that not all employees are comfortable with remote working, and her organisation is still trying to find the best balance of on-premise and remote working.

A big issue is that middle managers are having to find new ways of measuring performance and productivity.

Training, particularly for new employees, as well as recruitment and onboarding are also seen as issues. “We have a lot of questions around certain team spirit and organisational culture,” she says.

Before Covid, about 20% of people were working at home. Since the crisis, staff surveys show that around 70% of employees would like to continue with remote working. “So we can see that it is a strong trend and we need to look at it.”

Dr Carl Benedikt Frey, director: future of work at Oxford University, points out that one of the key takeaways from the research is that a lot of people expect to be able to work remotely – but at the same time they feel there is pressure to work outside of office hours.

“People treasure the flexibility, but at the same time it comes with additional responsibility,” Dr Frey says.

“The key for management will be how to manage it; this has a lot to do with managing expectations and making sure people know what they will be evaluated on.”

He outlines a scenario where the company has a centrally-located office, manned by a team leader who likes to work from the office. One member of the team can afford to live close to the office, while another lives further away.

“The one with the benefit of being closer to the office may come in more often and bond with the team leader; the person living further away not so much. This could havean effect on promotions unless you make it clear what the criteria are.

“Companies have to switch to a model that is output based, where there will be no brownie points for showing up at the office. There has to be very clear criteria from management.”

Mutual trust is also key to this model, Dr Frey points out. “Striking the right balance will be key to ensure employees are motivated and while being in an environment where creativity can flourish.”

He adds that developing countries could benefit from a move to offshore work, which will be a lot easier to do with a remote work model.

VMware Future Ready Workforce

Enabling a distributed workforce is fraught with challenges ranging from remote employee on-boarding, visibility and compliance, security, employee safety, and more. The scale of today’s distributed workforce, due to the pandemic, has amplified the proliferation of digital technologies and platforms in use.

While organisations try to stay operational, they are moving more applications to the cloud which is driving new information silos.

As workforces shrink and grow and some employees opt to remain home, the anywhere organisations’ device mix is increasingly heterogeneous as they adopt more flexible BYOD arrangements.

As a result, every new device connected to an enterprise network represents a possible attack vector for would-be hackers. All these factors break down the enterprise security perimeter, catapulting the need for zero trust security models even further.

VMware recently announced VMware Future Ready Workforce solutions to provide exceptional workforce experiences, end-to-end zero trust security controls, and simplified management.

The Future Ready Workforce solutions combine VMware Secure Access Service Edge (SASE), Digital Workspace and Endpoint Security capabilities to deliver any application from any cloud onto any device, so organisations can unlock the value of this holistic approach – enabling powerful workforce experiences, no matter where one is working.