Reimagining IT to support the hybrid workforce


As I sit here in my home office, now three months into Washington’s statewide shelter in place order, I have reflected on my experiences working remotely during this time and how successfully I have adapted to this new normal. I have landed on a good routine, baked in ample breaks to get away from my laptop, and ensured that I map out my priorities towards a good work-life balance. My typical Windows 10 and servicing talking points have also evolved from espousing the virtues of Windows 10, the better together story, and why currency is so important for keeping clients patched and up to date to a discussion that now weaves in business continuity as a theme throughout the servicing journey.

At the forefront of these discussions is the digital transformation journey of our enterprise customers, and how they are embracing modern and cloud management in order to successfully manage their endpoints to support remote worker scenarios. At the heart of these scenarios is the desire to keep users safe, secure, and productive while delivering a great user experience. Accomplishing this requires infrastructure optimization, scaling to match the endpoint population, and selecting the right tools (cloud-based) to minimize user and device impact.

In order to bind the four pillars of supporting remote work with a solid user experience, infrastructure readiness, global deployment scale, and modern management, organizations need to overlay a basic business continuity framework. For Microsoft, that framework is as simple as respond/react, recover, and, in Satya’s new vernacular, reimagine. In this case, as IT professionals, we need to reimagine how we will embrace the new normal of a hybrid workforce.

The challenge of the IT professional going forward is grappling with how to effectively service and support a hybrid workforce as quarantine restrictions are lifted, which, by most indications, will involve a percentage of the workforce returning to work while others remain remote, two very disparate scenarios from an IT perspective. Ideally, you can leverage a single management plane with a simplified estate, leveraging native operating system (OS) capabilities to deliver a consistent and seamless experience while providing the best user experience, regardless of scenario.

A more common scenario, however, is one where an on-premises experience keeps users compliant, patched, and current while the remote user experience lags behind from a patching and currency perspective. Consider the experience and user impact should a remote user pop into the office for a meeting with a device that is six months out of date. That user connects to the network and is quickly burdened with a plethora of updates that may take them "offline" for a period of time. Parity across on-premises and remote work approaches, therefore, become paramount to your success with hybrid workforce scenarios.

Regardless of the approach you take, it's important to simplify the toolsets, potentially down to a single management pane, including the tools necessary to effectively manage endpoints. This includes drivers and firmware, quality updates, OS feature updates, managing/protecting data at rest or in transit, and allowing efficient access to Office, productivity tools, and updates. It also includes hands-off hardware provisioning for remote workers and even internals, security, and compliance, as well as the deployment of line of business (LOB) and other applications. In short, it will require reimagining the enterprise, and architecting IT for digitally transforming the future.

Certainly, for many of you, this will be a journey, while others have already embraced digital transformation and are much closer to the reimagination of IT. Internally at Microsoft, we were fortunate that our own internal IT organization had been piloting a full digital transformation in partnership with the product groups in order to achieve a solution that effectively addresses all the challenges of a hybrid workforce. Following a successful pilot, they implemented their hybrid workforce strategy this past January as an approach to managing the entire device estate.

Phase 1: Respond/react

Like other organizations that have fully transitioned to modern and cloud management, the first phase, or the respond phase, of Microsoft IT's approach to the need to immediately support a remote workforce in the face of COVID-19 was painless. Senior leadership sent out the mandate for the entire workforce to work remotely, document and grab whatever hardware they needed to setup a comfortable home office, and conduct business as usual through virtual collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams. For more traditional on-premises IT organizations, the respond phase included scrambling to purchase laptops and other hardware in order to support the remote work scenarios at a time where it was extremely difficult to do so due to silicon and hardware shortages.

Phase 2: Rebuild

For phase two, or rebuild, for Microsoft and others that had transitioned to cloud-based management practices, it was a matter of tweaking VPN capacity to match the remote workforce, and making any necessary modifications to VPN traffic to ensure internet friendly traffic like OS updates, M365 traffic and even browsing went directly to the internet versus traversing the VPN concentrators and the corporate networks. On the other end of the spectrum, for those with more traditional IT approaches, they were scrambling to first figure out how to remotely manage all these new remote devices, and then to accept a level of risk on the endpoints versus accepting additional risk on the corporate perimeters.

Phase 3: Reimagine

For our own reimagine phase, which will begin in low risk locations relatively unaffected by the global health crisis, Microsoft's leadership will begin turning the dial to allow a small percentage of essential workers to return to their respective offices. In short, by relying on Azure AD and leveraging our own security stack, Endpoint Manager, Microsoft Intune, Windows Update for Business, Windows Autopilot, a Zero Trust network, and VPN split tunneling, our IT department is primed to embrace the hybrid workforce.

As a former IT professional myself, I highly recommend that organizations that have yet to move beyond the rebuild phase to invest time and effort start planning for a hybrid workforce when things start to slowly return to this new normal. The new normal will require more traditional IT organizations to address not only the technical implications associated with modern and cloud-based management, but also the cultural aspects of the transition. Legacy IT thinking, traditional security postures, service management maturity, change management, agility, and a willingness to embrace the cloud are all aspects to be assessed and addressed in order to position any organization for the new normal.

Key considerations and factors to address

Whether it is an on-premises or remote worker endpoint, the goal is to keep users safe, secure, and productive with minimal user impact. To achieve that goal, any IT organization needs an efficient and regular rhythm for applying drivers and firmware; deploying quality updates and OS feature updates; managing/protecting data at rest and in transit; allowing efficient access to Office, productivity tools, and updates; hands-off provisioning of hardware for remote workers and even internals; prioritizing security and compliance; and managing LOB and other application deployments.

Here are a few great blogs and resources to leverage during those strategic discussions on how best to position an IT organization for the future:

1 Reply
Yes! Me too. I'm also in my home office, sometimes bored. Then I get my Samsung Gear S3 Frontier watch and I play Gear Tac Toe. But even that is boring. Only this community can cheer me up. :)