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Employee experience to take center stage for hybrid work

Employee experience to take center stage for hybrid work

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Mike Hicks, Principal Solutions Architect at Cisco ThousandEyes, suggests ways organizations adopting the hybrid work model can make their employee’s experience as good as possible.

We know that hybrid work models come with challenges, especially in the way that different people experience them.

Organizations not set up for them have already done some hard yards putting enabling systems and practices in place to invest in technologies that accommodate employees who now want to work from anywhere. For employers, it’s a matter of retaining top talent and making sure that employees remain connected and productive without compromise to security or collaboration.

In the hybrid work model, the employee office has become a branch office of one and making sure that the employee’s experience of digital services and SaaS applications stays intact has become a challenge for IT considering the variation in the digital path employees take into an employer’s system across cloud and Internet networks.

For organizations that are in this situation, I see four different roads that they can go down.

Several bear a strategic similarity to a coping mechanism in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which suggested mapping out things that concern you and things you have control over. By focusing on what you can control, you shift attention away from what you can’t.

This is as true for employee experience as it is for personal psychology. There are things that organizations – employers – can do now that are within their purview to make the employee experience better while ameliorating outside concerns.

Road one: Do nothing

The first tactic employers might opt for is to do nothing at all. It requires no investment on the employer’s part but comes at a high cost where it’s difficult to guarantee any sort of consistent user experience.

Instead, you have staff connecting through different Internet providers, on different speed plans, over different types of telecommunications infrastructure, on different devices with different throughput capabilities and at different distances from the office, all trying to congregate virtually in one or a handful of platforms.

This might represent the current state in some hybrid or remote work environments but there’s no future in it.

The alternative is to acknowledge the existence of performance problems and to do something about them.

Road two: Throw bandwidth at the problem

A second tactic would be to throw more bandwidth at the problem. This could work and if nothing else is likely to be at least some part of the solution.

Bandwidth is important but it doesn’t solely equate to performance.

A fatter pipe isn’t going to necessarily make applications perform any faster. You’d be surprised what levels of bandwidth an application can actually function over, leveraging differing requirements for upload and download, even temporarily dropping down on quality to stay operational on lower bandwidth connections, if required.

More bandwidth is also useless if any part of the end-to-end connection is over contended. An employee’s home environment might have multiple family members working remotely and home-schooled kids using the same Internet connection and the same contention-based Wi-Fi network at the same time. The Internet service provider may also have highly contended pipes upstream that keep its Internet plan costs low but that can impede connection to the outside Internet.

Suppose an employer is paying some or all of the cost of an employee’s home connection, they might have some visibility into bandwidth problems and be able to advocate on the employees’ behalf for a fix.

This is still the exception rather than the rule, with 80% of remote workers paying the full cost of their Internet. They may be limited by what they can afford, what services exist where they live and by their living arrangements.

They may also have limited to no visibility into where – between their desktop and workplace – performance bottlenecks exist. That makes it hard to do much about it.

Road three: Employers, be a bit flexible!

A third tactic employers might deploy is to make smarter application choices that take into account the different characteristics of applications and of home Internet connections.

This might mean tuning in-house applications to match the environment or supporting multiple collaboration, video conferencing or other common enterprise tools that have different characteristics that make them suited to certain usage scenarios.

Employees are already likely to be aware that some applications work better for them than others. Simply asking employees what makes them more productive and then licensing and supporting that, may go some way to resolving the issue.

Employers may be able to optimize applications in their control to make better use of available compute power. They may be able to move an application, or aspects of the way it executes, closer to the user – for example, pre-fetching or caching data instead of constantly hitting a centralized data store, which may be impacted by transient network conditions.

Road four: Establish visibility

If an application is bought from a third-party, it may be possible to pursue optimizations directly through them. For example, in response to temporary bandwidth pressures in Australia, Netflix changed its video codec to be less bandwidth-intensive until networks could stabilise and recover.

Many enterprises are large enough to have sway with the application providers they partner with. But the provider is likely to want evidence before identifying and activating optimization opportunities.

Similarly, if an Internet provider’s network or the last-mile connection is the bottleneck to performance, the provider may be able to make changes on their end, such as route optimization to reduce the number of network ‘hops’ or remediation of the physical connection. Again, though, they are likely to want proof they are the bottleneck before they act.

Visibility and insights into the networked application characteristics and paths, therefore, becomes critical in order to validate performance issues with the responsible third-party provider. With hard data points, organizations can approach a provider and partner with them to fix the issue and enhance the digital experience. On the flipside, it may also remove any suspicion that a provider is the cause of an issue; by identifying the root cause and responsible party enabling investigations and remediation to continue at pace.

Hybrid work is here to stay and how organizations decide to show up will have a big impact on how employees experience the digital services and applications that they rely on to do their jobs, connect and collaborate. In a time when employees play an increasingly critical role in driving success and the war for talent intensifies, the question is: Which road will you take?

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