It is believed that 39% have changed their IT policy to help employees work within a new operating model and about 59%have deployed new communication and productivity

Technology for COVID-proof workplaces – Nokia, NTT, Cisco, Salesforce, and Clover Infotech know what’s needed

Employee wellness: this is a matter that will now require high-level planning in a physical workplace as organizations are bringing back their workforce to normalize business activities in the post-pandemic world.

If COVID safeguards aren’t followed it is going to bring an untoward effect on the employee and in such circumstances businesses would not only suffer but also set an immense fear in the employees, making them apprehensive to return to workplaces and also lose trust in the employer.

So, workplaces need to be better prepared to receive their employees assuring it is COVID-safe. This calls for a fundamental change in the workspace’s structural design, arrangement, and facilities that can adhere to COVID-proof SOPs.

And to enable the execution of the new SoPs, technology is ushered at every level of employee-workplace interaction. From entry to exit, technology intervention rules out the dangers of the employee’s susceptibility to COVID and the possibility of infecting others.

A detailed report was brought out by NTT, which defines what the new workplaces will look like in the post-pandemic world.

NTT’s workplace report needles towards a collaborative working environment

Global technology services company NTT Ltd., in its 2020 Intelligent Workplace Report – Shaping Employee Experiences for a World Transformed, highlights on how the pandemic has put employee wellbeing at the forefront of the business agenda.

NTT’s Intelligent Workplace Report unveils how workplace strategy will be shaped by employee wellbeing priorities. John Lombard, CEO – Asia Pacific at NTT Ltd., says, “The connected employee – their wellness and employee experience – must be at the heart of the future workplace strategy. Helping people stay connected and keeping their data secure is key to looking after the workforce and maintaining productivity and effectiveness. Yet this must be underpinned by a long-term strategy for digital transformation, with the rollout of new technologies, policies, and of course training so employees feel comfortable with new platforms.”

According to the report findings, most surveyed businesses are already reviewing the general office design and how best to align with employees’ new needs. The report clearly indicated that 90% of organizations surveyed agreed that home-working during the pandemic has been challenging for employees. Connectivity and workspace issues such as bandwidth, a feeling of isolation and a lack of dedicated workspace have all contributed to their concerns.

Hence, organizations will have to look at every aspect of a new workplace strategy to optimize employee experience, these include: culture, technology, and location.

NTT says that the survey respondents were somewhat polarised on what to do with office space in general, with over a third (34.4%) of global C-suite execs saying they are looking to reduce office space, yet almost a quarter (24.0%) plan to increase it. Having adapted to the pandemic in recent months, most of the global C-suite strongly agree that now is the time to create the workplace of the future.

The report which surveyed 1,350 participants across 19 markets found that 96.0% of the respondents believe employee needs will be at the heart of the future workplace design. Our findings show that 89.0% of organizations agree employees would prefer to have the choice and flexibility to work in an office when it is safe to do so, and 92.0% agreed that face-to-face meeting time is essential to build a sense of teamwork and/or when meeting clients.

That said, most agree that the physical space will have a more defined, flexible use to provide for a more collaborative environment.

Robust strategy with a change in IT policy: 

As the world continues to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19, organizations must develop a more robust strategy to permanently provide for their distributed workforce. While 92% of organizations, surveyed for NTT’s report, recognized the value of employee experience as a crucial strategic differentiator, just 49% expressed their satisfaction with their current capability.

It is believed that 39% have changed their IT policy to help employees work within a new operating model and about 59%have deployed new communication and productivity tools. In many cases, employees have been left to use their personal devices and applications which has rapidly increased the risk of security vulnerabilities. In fact, only 64% have increased their IT security capabilities to keep their organization and employees secure.

NTT’ three-pronged mantra for establishing new workplace strategies today for the ‘office of tomorrow’:

  • Connecting the distributed workforce: 64% will install video conferencing/video collaboration spaces to bring remote and office employees together
  • Facilitate creativity and collaboration: 50% will implement creative/thinking spaces
  • Drive activity-based work initiatives: 0% will reduce individual office desk space with 39% increasing meeting spaces.
Businesses must set the foundation for the future employee experience now

Intelligent solutions should empower the employee. It is going to be highly important for employers to gather workplace analytics periodically. By reviewing which applications and features people are using, through workplace analytics businesses can learn how to prioritize, tailor and measure the impact of training to positively impact on adoption, usage, and productivity – all of which contribute to the employee experience.

Pranay Anand, Senior Director of Intelligent Workplace, Asia Pacific at NTT Ltd., agrees with the need for businesses to act now. Anand says, “How businesses combat the challenges posed by COVID-19 and re-shape their workplace strategy, will lay the foundation for an entire generation’s future of working. Businesses must react with agility and purpose. We’re seeing companies driving change in real-time compared to months if not years previously. Those who were already ahead of the game in employee experience – making brave, data-driven, human-led decisions are now in a much stronger position in creating a supportive culture. Empowering people and helping them find greater fulfillment in their work is delivering value to these organizations.”

Salesforce trusts Work.com will create the ideal, future workplace

COVID-19 has changed the world and how we engage, and trust is an integral part of how companies should operate in the new normal. Employees must feel that their company is prioritizing their health and wellness, helping them work safely both in-person and remotely. Retailers have to ensure that customers don’t get sick at their store, or that they can still receive support while physical locations are closed.

Deepak Pargaonkar – VP Solution Engineering, Salesforce India is in the opinion that businesses of every size, and across all industries, are grappling with the disruption presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are becoming increasingly reliant on digital services to access information, deliver services, manage purchases online while staying connected to their employees, customers, and communities with as little disruption as possible.

“Be it technology, manufacturing, retail, etc. the new workspace across industries, need to be data-driven, flexible, tech-enabled, space-efficient, enable collaboration & productivity, and one that embraces the company’s culture and community. Technology will play a crucial role in improving the overall employee experience, which includes, safety, digital signages, data capture to manage occupancy and avoid overcrowding, etc.,” says Pargaonkar.

Salesforce is providing tools to help organizations respond and recover from the challenges of COVID-19. Through its Work.com Salesforce wants to help companies build trust and resiliency with their customers and employees.

Work.com has a Workplace Command Center which acts as a company’s single-pane-of-glass for managing the complexities associated with opening back their businesses and guiding employees back to work in the COVID-19 environment.

Salesforce refers to its platforms as an Operation Executive’s ‘cockpit’ for driving their organization through the crisis, resuming business and operations, and for emerging stronger than before the crisis.

Salesforce says that the Command Center includes a wellness check to help organizations monitor and assess their employee health and wellness to determine return-to-work readiness while keeping employee health data secure. 

Contact Tracing is another essential tech feature that employees believe organizations should have. Salesforce has created a technology to manually trace health and relationship contacts in a safe and private manner, by collecting data from individuals who are infected or potentially exposed to infectious disease and creating visual maps of contacts and locations to monitor potential interactions and outbreak.

Features like Shift Management, to help sort workplace balance and employee availability while creating new capacity models, and Emergency Response Management apps help organizations and communities prioritize and mobilize resources in response to an emergency have also become few tech-enabled necessities. 

Cisco conceives cloud-based DNA Spaces solution for the new normal

Although today, many organizations are considering switching to hybrid work models, which means that while safety will be an immediate concern to bring people back to the office, cybersecurity and user experience, regardless of work location, will be paramount in the longer term.

Anand Patil, Director, Systems Engineering, for Cisco India and SAARC, says at Cisco, security is built into, rather than on top of all its products. “For those looking to bring their employees back to the office, we have introduced enhancements across our networking and collaboration portfolios, augmenting some of our existing offerings with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to make the transition seamless, secure, and above all, safe,” confirms Patil.

Cisco is offering DNA Spaces solution, a cloud-based solution that offers location-based analytics and real-time tracking, which can help companies ensure that employees are able to maintain social distance and avoid overcrowding. Additionally, Cisco says that the DNA Spaces Right Now app provides a unified and simplified dashboard that leverages Meraki Wi-Fi to present and analyze historical and real-time data of how people use, move, and occupy spaces throughout the day.

“We have also introduced updates to Cisco Webex. Leveraging Machine Learning, WebEx will help ensure compliance with room capacity limits, counting people whether they are wearing face masks or not –no matter where they are in the room. Additionally, Webex Control Hub provides visibility into room utilization and room environment metrics to prevent overcrowding,” shares Patil.

Nokia’s Automated Analytics Solution for an absolute safe workplace

As Nokia’s factories reopened to production and as over 1,000 employees returned to work, the Finnish telecom giant had ensured it abided by local regulations for monitoring temperatures and mask usage for every single person entering and leaving the site.

Nokia has its own Automated Analytics Solution that helps the organization to ensure regulatory compliance is brought to effect in an automated way, round the clock with zero misses in real-time. Nokia trusts this solution enabled the company to boost employee availability by reducing the waiting time in queues and removing the need to assign additional staff to carry out manual checks.

Sudarshan Pitty, Head of the Nokia Chennai Factory, says, “Leveraging advanced analytics, a business rules engine, centralized management, machine learning and ubiquitous connectivity, the Nokia solution dramatically reduces the cost of detection and ensures business continuity and supply chain resilience during the pandemic. Organizations can also expand the solution to support other ongoing use cases to protect employees and building assets, including predictive surveillance, machine maintenance and security threats.

Nokia has also deployed an automated, zero-touch elevated temperature detection solution designed to help spot potential COVID-19 infections in facilities with thousands of people. The Nokia Automated Analytics Solution for Access Control streamlines and fully automates the process of identifying people with elevated temperatures and confirms mask compliance, in large environments with multiple accesses. This kind of system in a large setting has a very meaningful role in the absolute containment of the infection.

It is interesting to note the versatility of Nokia’s Automated Analytics Solution. The system uses a thermal camera to capture video footage and takes individual temperature readings for every person that enters the screening site. The analytics engine quickly processes the video clip to determine whether the individuals require additional screening, or are not complying with mask-wearing rules.

Through its centralized management approach, the solution triggers an institution’s chosen operational workflow. If an irregularity is detected, a centralized, enterprise-wide view is presented and a real-time SMS or email alert is automatically sent to personnel in the field to initiate track-and-trace or post-detection actions. The entire process takes place in near-real time and the human-less operation enables scaling to very large environments with thousands of people and multiple access points.

“Whether in factories, ports, offices, airports, schools, or outdoor screening centers, mission-critical networks and digital automation solutions play a leading role in ensuring supply resilience, business continuity, and workers’ safety in real-time. Our Nokia Automated Analytics Solution brings centralized data, analytics, and an automation management system, allowing large organizations to make intelligent decisions to protect their people and facilities during and in a post-pandemic world while respecting individual privacy,” remarks Amit Shah, Head of Analytics and IoT for Nokia.

Cybersecurity post-COVID-19: How to ensure a safe return to work

Now, it is very important to remember that when employees return to work, they are not bringing just themselves back to the work environment but also their devices. There are potential risks to the company when such alien devices are introduced into the work network.

As employees adapt to the ‘new normal’, many people are looking to make the transition back to the office and there are a new set of challenges to ensure a safe return to work. The relaxation of stay-at-home orders and work restrictions are going to result in additional cybersecurity concerns that arise from the rapid reintegration of remote workers.

Neelesh Kripalani, Sr. VP & Head- Center of Excellence, Clover Infotech says that the new work-from-home world has poked countless holes in security perimeters. In the new normal, organizations and especially CISOs need to remain vigilant to various forms of risks and vulnerabilities that may appear once employees start returning to the workplace.

Kripalani nails it by saying, “While the health of your employees must be the top priority when planning the return to work, you must also give due importance to the cybersecurity aspect to safeguard the organization’s systems and data.”

cyber security division

As there was a sudden switch to remote working style, there is an increased reliance on personal devices (such as personal computers, USB drives, and other peripheral devices) for office related work. If any of these personal devices are compromised due to a lack of security measures, then they can pose a serious threat to an organization’s infrastructure as soon as they are connected to the internal network.

These risks are likely to impact all the organizations irrespective of their size unless the necessary steps are taken. Kripalanai suggests a few steps to bear in mind:

  • Scan all returning devices for vulnerabilities before they are connected to the office network to avoid the spread of digital germs (if any).
  • Use a phased approach for employees’ return instead of calling them all at once and putting unnecessary stress on the internal IT team. It can lead to errors while they perform clean-up/patching of devices.
  • Conduct awareness training before employees get back into action. Employees were used to certain routines in order to ensure cybersecurity. However, the work from home may have changed those habits. Educate employees on cybersecurity so that they get attuned to the safe and secure practices required at the workplace.
  • Re-define cybersecurity policies in order to safeguard against modern threats. The hackers use modern techniques to launch attacks and thus, it is imperative for cybersecurity teams to constantly update the policies to cover modern threats.
  • Make frequent security assessments and monitoring. Many organizations are adapting to the new normal of allowing employees to work from home and return to the workplace whenever required. Thus, it is important to make frequent security assessments and not make it a one-time activity.
  • Adopt a ‘Zero Trust’ model – As the no. of endpoints in use are on the rise, it is increasingly difficult to define a security perimeter. Thus, the best approach to reduce the risk is to adopt a zero-trust model, which follows the principle that until proven otherwise, any attempt to gain access to the network is considered a potential attack. The model benefits from applying traditional perimeter security measures and additional levels of security within the network, and not just security around the perimeter of the network.

Thus, the conclusion in a simple way is to be safe and trust tech to create a safe workplace bearing all factors that cause to prevent the spread of COVID-19, keeping employees safe and caring for their wellness in the most humane way.

Pic courtesy: Pixabay

(Anusha Ashwin – x-anushaa@cybermedia.co.in)

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