Back to work, planning a return to the office for IT teams

technology, Microsoft teams

As we discussed in a recent blog post on how to keep remote employees connected and collaborating successfully, not all organisations can or want to return to the office as lockdown measures are eased. But for those that do, there are things the IT team should consider to enable a successful transition.

Key technology considerations for transitioning out of lockdown

The first, and in our view the most important, consideration is flexibility. This means having flexible and agile technology solutions that allow your organisation and people to rapidly adapt to change and work productively and securely from anywhere.

With the ever-present threat of further lockdowns, whether regional or national, returning to the office should involve learning from the experience of the last 6 months. Dust off those disaster recovery and business continuity plans and ensure your technology is aligned with strategies to protect the business from unplanned and unexpected events.

Flexible and scalable technology solutions are the key to increasing organisational agility, allowing you to scale up or down your IT requirements to meet demand and respond rapidly if it’s necessary to go back to remote working. These solutions will also help you transition smoothly into the office environment should you need a hybrid model where employees work flexibly, combining some days in the office and others from home.

Technologies for the modern workplace: remote, office and hybrid environments

Top of our list of technologies that provide the flexibility and agility desired, and deliver value for money, is the Microsoft 365 stack.

Many of the applications in this suite of tools have been pivotal in an organisation’s ability to transition to wide-spread remote working. As employees start to return to the office environment they continue to be an enabler for collaboration and communication; and drive efficiencies, cost savings and agility.

Microsoft Teams and Business Voice

In fact many tools, which may not have been fully adopted by employees until lockdown, have now become their preferred apps and have driven digital transformation in many organisations. Microsoft Teams, in particular, has become the gateway to the entire 365 stack with many people accessing and integrating other apps like Planner, Yammer, Forms etc. into their Teams interface.

We’ve also seen lots of companies roll out Microsoft 365 Business Voice using Teams, to provide a cloud telephony system for remote workers. As businesses return to the office, we’re working with a number of customers on replacing their on-premise phone systems with Business Voice to provide a unified communications environment. This solution provides flexibility, resilience and often cost savings. It travels with your users rather than tethering them to the office environment, increasing mobility and supporting business as usual in the event of further disruption to our working lives.

SharePoint and corporate intranets

Files and folders created in Teams are stored in SharePoint so this technology has been ensuring people can access up-to-date information and collaborate on content throughout lockdown. Many companies also have corporate intranets that are built on SharePoint and these have been important for uniting a distributed workforce.

With some employees returning to the office, some remaining at home, and others splitting their working week between both locations, SharePoint and corporate intranets help ensure continuity between different working environments.

Device management to boost mobility

One of the biggest challenges (out of many) that IT teams faced back in March when the UK went into lockdown, was ensuring users had secure devices to access company systems and data from. Desktop PCs went home in taxis with some employees, demand for corporate laptops soared and many organisations deployed additional security solutions to help protect the business and employees using BYODs.

The practicalities of operating with employees on premise and WFH has resulted in a need for more mobile solutions that give businesses and their employees the flexibility to work anywhere.

Technologies like Microsoft Intune, for managing and protecting devices (corporate and BYOD), applications and data, and Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS) – a Microsoft Identity and Access Management solution for mobile devices – have been vital for providing businesses and employees with secure protection to get on with work.

Desktop management is another area that has either been an enabler or barrier to mobility for many organisations. Desktop and app virtualisation has been a key part of simplifying management and supporting remote working, and offers many advantages for IT teams transitioning to both on premise and remote working environments.

Over the last few months we’ve been involved in many Windows 10 migration projects to provide users with a remote desktop and access to Microsoft 365, as well as deploying Windows Virtual Desktop to provide IT teams with unified management in the Azure portal.

Licensing optimisation

Agility in the current climate is also enabled by proactively managing your cloud subscriptions. In many cases licenses can be scaled up or down to ensure you’re only paying for what you need. For example, some of our customers have been able to reduce costs for furloughed workers. It’s possible to remove a user from Microsoft 365, retain their data and bring it back to life once they return to work.

Unfortunately if you’re an Enterprise Agreement customer, licensing directly from Microsoft, you will have pre-paid for the year. So scaling up or down your user subscriptions is not possible until your next agreement renewal. But if your licensing is purchased through the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider program (CSP) you have more flexibility. Via CSPs like Cloud Business, it’s possible to adjust the quantity of licenses, or downgrade them, on a daily basis.

This flexibility offers organisations agility and resilience as they transition back into the workplace in very uncertain times. If you haven’t already optimised licensing for your current requirements, we would recommend you speak to your CSP about your options. Microsoft 365 customers can also book a discovery workshop with our Digital Productivity team for further support aligning technology and licensing to the modern workplace in the ‘new normal’ office environment. Book a discovery call here >

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