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With vaccination programs now up and running in many parts of the UK, there is a far more optimistic mood in the air. We aren’t totally out of the woods, yet, but definitely on the right track. With most of us well and truly accustomed to our remote working environment after a full year of being at home, there’s going to be another sweeping change for many businesses as larger numbers of employees start returning to the office in the coming months.
The finance sector is no different. Their employees have no doubt been using a variety of unified communications, video conferencing platforms and remote access technology to stay connected all this time. But once the population is vaccinated, how will the finance sector modify its agile working strategies to cater to a more mobile workforce?
Legacy of change
Perhaps the pandemic’s most enduring legacy will be the impact it has had on the acceptance of remote working. Most organisations have dragged their feet for decades on giving employees the option of a remote schedule, but now that it has become a necessity, the tables have turned. The question now is, do employees need to come back to the office full time, or will they be able to work more regularly from home? The various lockdowns over the past year, and subsequent government advice to work from home when possible, have forced businesses to explore their policies to agile and remote working.
In the finance sector, too, firms and their people have adapted very well, sometimes relying heavily on new technologies or tools in an attempt to make the transition as seamless and pain-free as possible. However, the landscape is rapidly evolving yet again, forcing IT leaders at financial institutions to consider how to align future technology needs and strategies with the reality of a changing working environment.
Will we see a mixture of conventional office work mixed in with home working, hot-desking or office sharing? Almost certainly.
Work from anywhere
In the meantime, there will be many companies in the media spotlight as they announce their own plans. One of the biggest announcements so far has come from Nationwide, the UK’s largest building society. It has just informed its 13,000-office staff that they can work from anywhere in the UK, including their home or even a local High Street branch. It came to this conclusion after surveying 8,500 of its employees, with 57% responding that they wanted to work full-time from home after the lockdown, and 36% saying they wanted a hybrid office and home working option.
Joe Garner, the chief executive of Nationwide, explained: "The last year has taught many of us that 'how' we do our jobs is much more important than 'where' we do them from.”
How will these changes impact IT? For IT managers, the prospect of dealing with security and productivity issues has been a double-edged sword. Most dealt with the initial wave of remote working by focusing on worker productivity – in other words, ensuring that employees could connect to resources and get their jobs done. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Troubleshooting network, application and device issues suddenly became much harder once those devices were connected to Wi-Fi and cellular networks that were neither owned nor managed by the organisation.
More change on the horizon
As we prepare for yet another radical change in the way we work, firms in the finance world know that they, too, are likely to shift to a hybrid work environment with far more employee movement and unpredictability. Many teams will start going back to the office, yes, but many will also start logging on from a train while commuting, or while having a coffee somewhere. It remains to be seen if some of the more conventional remote access technologies struggle to handle this mobility and can service a large, hyper-agile workforce.
Secure remote access needs to be top of mind for IT leaders as they prepare for these changes. Employees will continue to use a variety of cellular and Wi-Fi networks to access applications, data and services, but they need to do so seamlessly. Giving them an office-like environment is an enormous challenge, but as more applications move to the cloud, the need to tunnel everything through a legacy VPN becomes far less relevant. Zero trust solutions that fit into the broader SASE framework seem like some of the best options, making employees much safer at the edge while also simplifying connections and fortifying security. Cutting through the hype and noise to find solutions that actually improve the work experience is half the battle.
So, as we leave the traditional way of working behind, the only thing separating successful finance firms over the next year may be in the way that they rise to the next challenge. Empowering a newly agile workforce will not be an easy task, but it has the potential to pay huge dividends for those who get it right.