In today’s modern working world, many businesses are ditching the traditional office desk, choosing instead to adopt the concept of agile working to attract and retain employees, minimise their carbon footprint, reduce costs, and boost workplace satisfaction and productivity.
Agile working is centred around the idea of employees being able to determine for themselves how best to work in order to fulfil their role. This means they can elect to work from home, a shared workspace, a café, hotel, or library. But, as those who have lived and breathed agile working for some years will attest to, simply having the free reign to work where you want does not equate to agile working. In fact, done incorrectly, it can be decidedly non-agile. In this article, we provide the benefits of our own experience of agile working over several years, what it takes to do so, and why, if not done properly, it can lead to immense frustration for both employee and clients alike.
All the gear and no idea
For any business seeking to embrace agile working, it is important to realise that just having a MacBook Pro, or a killer netbook, is not the most important (or even necessary) component of agile working procedures. Far more vital are the methods of connectivity and the security and availability of the platforms being used.
Imagine a worker who starts his new job with an employer who no longer possesses an office, and has instead decided to embrace remote working. On his first day, having received his laptop and phone, the employee elects to work from a cafe before meeting his new boss later in the morning. The first scheduled task he has is to review some training material. But when he connects to the wi-fi, for some reason his new secure VPN connection will not work.
So, he elects to use his mobile phone as a wi-fi hotspot but then realises his data signal is not strong enough. Frustrated, he finds a nearby local hotel lobby from where he can work. He accesses the hotel’s wi-fi and successfully connects to his company VPN but realises he cannot access the necessary training portal due to a ‘permission’ issue. Admitting defeat, he then attempts to join a Skype call with his team but realises that not only is the bandwidth in the hotel not secure or fast enough, but he also doesn’t have Skype for Business installed.
From the employee’s perspective, such experiences are likely to question their decision to change firms. And from the business’s viewpoint, ill-considered agile working policies expose them to serious security breaches, simply by allowing workers to work in locations with free public wi-fi. According to research by wi-fi technology firm iPass, coffee shops are the most popular locations to connect to public wi-fi, but they are also the most dangerous from a cybersecurity standpoint. Cybercriminals actively target such locations, using ‘man in the middle’ techniques to observe data being sent and received between a user and the wi-fi router. Such is the threat that many organisations now prohibit the use of public wi-fi, and this number is growing as the risks, and potential costs are understood and mitigated.
A Tried and Tested Recipe for Effective Agile Working
By making some savvy decisions, agile working can be made to work effectively.
The staple of any modern worker is fast, reliable, and secure internet connectivity, but this is far from universal in the UK. Rather than using public wi-fi (whether a password is required or not), ‘MiFi’ type devices, which enable workers to connect to their own mobile data hotspot (with a good data tariff), can provide a better option. Other connectivity technologies such as iPass’s SmartConnect service provides corporate connectivity by automatically connecting client devices to wi-fi and data connections (and switching when the user moves location) which are known to be secure. When coupled with a VPN (commonly used by firms with established IT infrastructures), which provides an encrypted point-to-point connection between device and company systems, preferably using ‘multi-factor authentication’, both connectivity and security aspects are covered.
For smaller enterprises without their own IT systems and who are reliant on software-as-a-service cloud-based business platforms, solutions such as Office 365, Jira, Google’s G-Suite and Slack are designed to be secure. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) regularly review cloud-based business service providers to ensure they are secure, using their own SaaS Principles criteria. While not all have been assessed, the NCSC provides a useful resource for a wide range of commonly used cloud-based business applications, allowing businesses to make informed decisions based on the security of each.
Thankfully, the most popular and best of breed business system providers have now embraced cloud technology and browser and mobile-based user interfaces. Agile workers benefit from their security, ease of access, and because the demands on client devices such as tablets and laptops are minimal (as little processing work in undertaken locally with web-based software), there is no need to issue staff with expensive laptops. What matters more is how robust they are, and the size of the screen.
A report by US firm Upwork states, “a vast majority (88 percent) of companies have made progress in developing a more agile, flexible talent strategy. Six times (64 percent) as many hiring managers believe dynamic and agile team structures will become the norm, vs 10 percent who disagree.” Given this rising demand, we are already seeing employers, hospitality companies, building owners, and infrastructure and town planners designing with agile workers in mind, not to mention coffee and food chains all gearing up accordingly. But while our physical environment catches up with the demands of the modern worker and employer, it is essential that businesses put in place policies, procedures and technologies which mean they are not paying lip-service to agile working, they are investing for their future.
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