Anywhere Workspace3 min read

Hindsight Is 2020: What the Pandemic Taught Us About Supporting an Anywhere Workforce

Renu Upadhyay

2020 was a year of profound change that required adaptation in nearly every aspect of our lives. As we begin to emerge from the haze that was 2020, we do so with a renewed sense of what is possible.

To borrow from philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forwards.” To me, this encapsulates where most of us are today—reflecting on what used to be, taking in the lessons the pandemic taught us, and forging steadily ahead toward the new normal.

Last year we were in the trenches, working side-by-side with the IT heroes who made remote work possible. We heard their challenges and together defined the opportunities for the future. In the spirit of reflection, VMware recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to evaluate the impact the pandemic had on today’s workforce. Specifically, we wanted to understand how the shift to a more remote workforce impacted security, employee and customer experiences, and operations. To explore this topic, Forrester conducted an online survey with 526 global future-of-work decision-makers responsible for strategy and security.

We found that:

  1. Employees gave their remote work experience mixed reviews.
  2. Shared adversity improved relationships between IT and security teams.
  3. Security is top of mind.

Let’s dive into the data.

Employee Experience Gets Mixed Reviews

By and large, fears about the transition to remote work were not realized. In fact, individuals saw benefits that they'd be hard-pressed to give up now that they have successfully adapted their work cultures. Of the employees we surveyed, 28% said their experience improved since the start of the pandemic.

However, nearly 40% of respondents saw a decline in employee experience (EX) since the start of the pandemic. Some of the primary EX pitfalls include:

  • Teams within an organization became increasingly siloed, impacting both overall productivity and collaboration.
  • Technology challenges, specifically with VPN infrastructure and employee devices, are often a source of frustration for employees.
  • IT help desk tickets continue to soar, overwhelming IT teams and impacting employee productivity.
  • Onboarding was reimagined as new team members were interviewed, extended offers, and oriented to organizations without ever stepping foot in their new employer’s office. Great strides were made in this area, but it continues to be a difficult process.

Despite the mixed reviews, it is unlikely that businesses will ever return to a fully fixed-location model. Even as the safe return to the physical workplace becomes a reality, remote work earned a permanent place in the employment mix. As such, organizations must keep EX top of mind as they make decisions related to supporting employees—no matter where they choose to work.

Adversity Forges Tighter Bonds Between Security and IT

Facing the Herculean task of supporting a fully remote workforce—nearly overnight—teams banded together like never before. It appears the bonds forged under fire endure, as respondents report improved relationships with their colleagues today. For example:

  • The reported relationship between IT leadership and IT practitioners went from 33% positive pre-pandemic to 53% positive today.
  • The reported relationship between security and IT practitioners went from 33% positive pre-pandemic to 52% positive today.

HR and workplace resources teams experienced similar improvements, with teams being 36% positive pre-pandemic to 47% positive today. Office and facilities teams went from 38% positive pre-pandemic to 50% positive today.

Constant collaboration, communication, and alignment between formerly siloed teams will be critical to successfully returning employees to the office, while simultaneously supporting those who choose to continue to work remotely. Perhaps one silver lining is that relationships between the teams responsible for making this happen are stronger than they have ever been.

Security Takes Center Stage in 2021

Network security vulnerabilities were a more ominous realization. Thirty-seven percent of enterprises reported an increase in security events since workforces went remote due to the pandemic.

With attacks on the rise, top priorities for the coming year include:

  • Data.
  • Endpoint and network protection.
  • Identity/access management.

[caption id="attachment_23983" align="aligncenter" width="990"] Base: 526 global future-of-work decision-makers with responsibility for strategy and security Source: A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of VMware, January 2021 As threats evolve and become more sophisticated, security and IT leaders must work together to better secure the remote workforce from external threats.[/caption]

A Path Forward

This year, businesses will move from simply supporting remote work to truly becoming distributed work-from-anywhere organizations. Returning to the office will not mean returning to the old way of doing things. Investing in technology and a long-term strategy will play a huge role in bringing back a stronger, more focused, and more resilient organization.

An integrated workforce solution enables enterprises to embrace a distributed work strategy. This must be done through a secure, scalable, and unified digital infrastructure. To overcome challenges that are impacting employee experiences, solutions must:

  • Improve security across users, devices, networks, clouds, and apps.
  • Simplify device and network management.
  • Prioritize delivering exceptional employee experiences.

On March 25 at 11:00 a.m. PST, I will join a panel of experts, including guest speakers Andrew Hewitt and David Holmes from Forrester. We will discuss the strategies and critical technologies enterprises must consider as they support a more permanent distributed workforce. We hope you’ll be able to participate in the discussion—either live or on-demand.


All data cited in this post are sourced from a commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of VMware, Hindsight Is 2020—The Pandemic Provides A Wake-Up Call: Integrated Solutions Future-Proof Organizations, January 2021.