Friday, 12 March 2021 19:04

What is the 'post-COVID normal?' Featured

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What is the 'post-COVID normal?' Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

We asked a number of IT executives what the 'new normal' might look like as the impact of COVID-19 wanes.

As part of our ongoing 'controversial question' series, we asked a large number of execs for their thoughts in response to this question. If COVID never really goes away (or keeps morphing), what does the new normal look like? We had a total of 60 responses. Here is a curated summary of their thoughts.

Garrett O'Hara, Principal Technical Consultant, Mimecast opens the batting, reminding us that "2020 was the "do what it takes to survive the surprise" year for IT, security and business (and people!) in general."

Aaron Hornlimann, CEO and Co-founder of Elenium Automation suggests that "Australia needs to be fully prepared to have people coming back within our borders and across state borders, because if we don't wipe out COVID, we have to live with it." David Nicol, Managing Director ANZ, BlackBerry adds, "It does seem that COVID will be part of our lives for some time, even once the vaccines rollout and borders reopen. Hornlimann continues, "We must operate on the assumption that even with the vaccine, it may not be 100% effective, or will become an annual health process."

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Taking a more positive view, Chris Ellis, APAC Technical Evangelist, Nintex says "Personally I'm of the belief that COVID will go away. Too much has been sacrificed by too many for this to become part of our every day ongoing. So maybe the question could be rephrased as "When we emerge into a post COVID world, what lessons will we bring with us?" As the saying goes, never let a crisis go to waste."

Ever the pragmatist, Serkan Cetin, Asia-Pacific Technical Director at One Identity reminds us, "COVID19 was not the first global outbreak of a virus, and we would be lying to ourselves if we believe that it will be the last. The reality is that there are threats which have the potential to have significant impacts on our lives. We will need to adapt to the changing environment around us to overcome the challenges."

"There is no going back from the world's largest "forced" work-from-home experiment," adds John Boesen, Chief Technology Officer, MNF Group. "Almost every business accelerated remote working agendas, giving birth not only to new ways of working but work life balance that many never thought possible."

Continuing this thought, Jason Bourg, vice-president of Sales for EdgeMicro adds, "The COVID-era caused a permanent shift in the way enterprises and consumers work, deliver and consume information and services." Lara Owen, Director of Global Workplace Experience, GitHub adds, "The shift to remote work was disruptive, but many companies are starting to embrace the long-term value of the concept."

Attempting to better define the 'new,' Lynette Clunies-Ross, A/NZ Region Vice President, SAS says "From hybrid models of work to fundamental changes in consumer expectations, there are many soon-to-be permanent shifts shaping our "new normal" which organisations must adapt to."

Seelan Nayagam, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, DXC Technology continues, "As we work through this recovery period, and business leaders continue to understand what the 'new normal' means for them, I believe the key word here is 'new'. We are in unchartered territory and most businesses will find themselves taking forward the learnings and resolutions from 2020."

O'Hara sums things up, "With time to breathe and think, what's next? 2021 will see a slower and deeper look at hurried decisions and contracts that were negotiated to quickly make staff as productive as possible, in the whirlwind of office closures and setting up tech and processes for working from home."

Lee Thompson, Managing Director at Nutanix A/NZ agrees. "Although it's tempting to think COVID will one day be eliminated and there'll be a return to pre-pandemic ways of working, the truth is that the world of work has changed forever."

SECURITY

Many of our respondents (quite correctly) pointed to the security implications of our new work-from-home paradigm.

In a somewhat pragmatic mood, Nick Savvides - Senior Director Strategic Business, Forcepoint suggests that "Many of the restrictions we as a society have lived with will be eventually be lifted as we overcome the pandemic, but certain practices and attitudes will remain. I think that this is very true for technology and the way we build applications, networks and systems; and my speciality of cyber security, I think it will significantly impact the way we secure these things."

"Data protection will become an important aspect when developing a strategy," offers Corne Mare, director, security solutions, Fortinet. "Organisations must cover the basics of cyber security and aligned strategies to confidentiality, integrity, and availability."

Going a little deeper, Stephen McNulty, President, Asia Pacific, Micro Focus says, "Security analytics and automation will become mainstream to help organisations detect anomalies in user behaviour and deploy quick remediation to block malicious activities."

Letting down your guard

"We expect to see people seek greater online engagement with others as a result of travel restrictions and isolation," offers Joanne Wong, Vice President International Marketing, EMEA and APAC, LogRhythm. Combine this with a rapidly growing remote workforce, and we may see dire consequences from users and employees letting their security guard down. Threat actors will strike once they see an opening."

Planning and review

"Organisations should ensure ongoing review of their cyber security program, and not just assume what they put in place 12 months ago is still effective and secure," says Prescott Pym, Operations Director for Network Security at Verizon.

Mark Lukie, APAC Sales Engineer, Barracuda agrees. "As companies worldwide deal with shifting local requirements to adhere to COVID-19 outbreaks or potential downtime due to outbreaks in their offices, emergency measures may need to be implemented quickly and repeatedly. Every IT security executive should make sure these plans include security compliance checks that are straightforward and quick to implement without having a long-term impact on productivity. In addition, thorough and comprehensive backup and recovery solutions will be critical."

Zero trust

Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN reminds us that the entire 'zero trust' paragigm is increasingly important. "Corporations will start to accelerate the adoption of zero-trust infrastructures because leveraging the risks associated with a single employee being the "office" will require holistic changes. Microsegmentation on implicit legacy of trust won't help if we have an underlying belief that individuals can be trusted. Zero trust means zero trust."

Criminals too are learning

Of course the bad dudes aren't about to take a holiday, as Crispin Kerr, Proofpoint's ANZ Area Vice President reminds us. "Cyber criminals will also continue to pivot. As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve around the world, scammers will continue to use social engineering to tie their attacks to the news agenda, with phishing remaining as one of their strongest tactics of choice."

CyberArk's Solutions Engineering Manager, Andrew Slavkovic agrees, "In 2021 we will see the impact this will have on the new working model where bad guys have also had time to adjust and probe for weakness that may not have been immediately obvious last year."

PROJECT ACCELERATION AND BUSINESS PRACTICES

Faster projects

James Alliband, security strategist, VMware Carbon Black, points to the fact that some remote access projects suddenly had to be completed very quickly. Upper management toke note and now have expectations that more projects will happen on a rapid time scale. "Remote and hybrid work arrangements are now the new normal, and will be post-pandemic. Organisations have accelerated projects that would have typically taken five years to implement to being developed and deployed in a months, proving business continuity was and still is the highest priority for organisations globally. However, accelerating projects comes with risks. Working remotely means the responsibility of security is now distributed to everyone within these enterprises and every user must be prepared for malicious attempts such as phishing attacks."

Mark Jobbins, chief technology officer, Asia Pacific & Japan, Pure Storage, has a similar thought. "Projects that used to take six to 12 months or even longer have accelerated due to COVID-19. As a result of this, business leaders will want to see projects continue to come to fruition sooner."

Collaboration

Boesen points to an increase in collaborative tools and activities. "Looking ahead, 'anywhere/anytime' work practices are here to stay but we now move from a reactive to a proactive position as we rethink our systems, our processes, our communications, our cultures and how we remain socially connected. Harmonising on a single collaboration communication hub is a must, but not enough now – we have realised there is an even better way. Integration of our operational systems into the same conversational style interface delivers next level improvements in efficiency and velocity."

Mike Hicks, Principal Solutions Analyst, ThousandEyes, also points to the reduction in travel as a driver of collaboration tools, noting: "Reduced international travel will also further cement the shift toward more online collaboration, including global conferences becoming virtual, as well as schooling, and training. To date, a lot of these efforts have been one-way formats, set up as broadcasting sessions, but as we move into this new normal, these will become more interactive to drive audience engagement."

Subscription licensing

"There will also be a further uptick in subscription-based licensing models for all technology investments, Adam O'Neill, managing director - Australia and New Zealand, Y Soft tell us, "with organisations looking for business continuity and resilience through the ability to scale services up (and down) as required in response to market demands or other external factors that are out of their control, such as COVID-19."

Standardisation

One of the most important outcomes will be the increase in standardised tools, according to Ellis. "One lesson I really hope we adopt in the new normal is an appreciation for process standardisation and collaboration. Turning a company into hundreds or thousands of standalone remote offices meant we had to evolve our collaboration and communication muscles with the by product being a standard approach to 'this is the way we do things'. More meeting minutes were recorded, more tasks logged and audited, more conversations were 'on the record', more data analysed. With all that standardisation comes an ability to analyse and improve."

Change in corporate behaviour

It's all about behaviour says Steve Bray, Regional Vice President for Sales - Australia and New Zealand, Zendesk. "From an internal perspective, it's about empowering employees to do their best work. The strategies, processes and technology must be in place for them to build better customer relationships. Ultimately, it will be how companies adapt and advance their customer experience that sets them apart in the 'new normal'."

Owen agrees, adding that "Tools to support remote working abound, but successfully building a distributed team demands deliberate changes in the way people work. That requires a shift in the way companies train, empower and support people to work in new ways. From a workplace perspective, our decade of experience with a distributed workforce tells us that offices are not going away, but the way we use them will change. Offices will be designed for collaboration: team deep-dives, customer and community events, celebrations, planning and design work."

Pym makes the point absolutely clear: "While businesses initially were trying to figure out how to react, or if they even needed to, the new normal today is to ensure that they're on the front foot."

O'Hara suggests that the heady days of travel and expense accounts are probably behind us. "2021 will see organisations look at their balance sheets and likely notice savings on infrastructure running costs and — for those with once-healthy expense accounts — almost a zero next to travel/entertainment. And in many cases won't see a corresponding drop in productivity.

"Along with that, this new normal we keep talking about will see not just perimeter-less security but lean and virtual organisations that are now remote-match-fit thanks to the hustle at the beginning of the pandemic."

"You don't have to look very far to find examples of industries in which the fundamental ground rules they've been following for years have changed as a result of COVID," Katrina Wong, VP of Marketing, Twilio Segment reminds us. "Around the world, bricks-and-mortar retail giants are grappling with challenges posed by nimble, online-only competitors. But it's not just the extent of the changes that has taken many people by surprise - it's the pace at which they're happening. Established business models are pivoting at an increasing pace."

Claudia Pirko, ANZ regional director, BlackLine, sees this as a boom-time for the accountants. "Whether or not COVID continues or another pandemic strikes, Australia's finance professionals will need to have access to real-time access and visibility into the latest data so that their organisations can rapidly respond to unpredictable market changes.

"At the same time, Australian accounting departments and practices willing to embrace cloud digital finance technologies and process automation will increasingly reap significant business benefits as their ability to eliminate repetitive tasks and processes continues to spread. Cloud and process automation solutions aren't technologies of the future. They're here now and accounting departments and practices which don't embrace them in the post-COVID economy may find themselves falling behind to early adopting rivals that are already reaping the benefits of improved data quality and process efficiency."

Of course the pandemic hasn't happened in isolation and Mike Middaugh, managing director, Stax, is quick to point out that the COVID-induced changes will go hand-in-hand with the response to climate change. "The renewable energy boom will start to produce environmental outcomes which will help society place more focus on shared responsibility. There is also an ability to improve the digital aggregate efficiency of all aspects of the consumer life cycle. Organisations will be looking for innovative ways to generate less energy to move goods and services around the world."

Drini Mulla, chief executive, DEK Technologies, also points to the uncertain future of office-space landlords. "Businesses will find more cost effective use of office space and working from home will increase the importance of high security IT infrastructure and equipment. We will also see an acceleration of digital transformation projects within organisations as well as increased cloud usage."

HR teams are grappling with how to onboard new employees in a remote world and this will continue for some time, Matt Seadon, General Manager - APAC, Achievers reminds us. "It will be interesting to see if this has a long-term impact on engagement and if retention rates impacted positively or negatively."

"It'll be a workplace, but not as we know it," agrees Mark Blum, co-founder and chief executive, Cognian. "Spaces will continue to be repurposed - sometimes you'll want to increase collaborative spaces, other times traditional workstations. The days of a traditional fixed fitout that you complete and leave for five years is far from ideal and will become less common. At the same time, the services that keep the office space running, contemporary, cost-efficient and comfortable also need to adjust as the use of the space changes."

In summary, Peter Fuller, managing director, Australia and New Zealand, Micro Focus, offers, "Organisations are prioritising a kick-off of new DX initiatives now, and many others are accelerating investments they had already planned for 2022 and beyond, so they can help their enterprise run and transform at the same time as soon as possible. This acceleration spans many areas in the technology landscape including cyber resilience, application delivery, analytics and IT transformation."

De-urbanisation

"Hopefully remote working will lead to a friendlier view on and development of new tech hubs," says O'Hara. "There's a huge amount of talk of people looking to live in regional areas, showing a pent-up demand to not live in cities. Given the opportunity, many people are happy to trade the easy convenience of city life for the more relaxed quality-of-life in more rural settings. With remote working tools now as common as work devices, hopefully this will be seen as a standard option in our new working world."

Rod Taubman, managing director, Acclimation, offers a similar view, but from the perspective of the supply-chain. "The reality of COVID-19 and restrictions such as travel means that organisations looking for technology partners may not even meet their prospective provider in person when choosing them for their technology deployment. This also means technology providers may be able to extend geographical boundaries through virtual business, increasing competition, as more organisations will be open to working with technology providers no matter where they are located."

DATA MANAGEMENT

Mark Fazackerley, ANZ regional vice-president, Talend, points to the data explosion caused by endless Zoom meetings, all recorded and stored. "The good and bad thing about digital meetings and interactions is the ease with which we can record, transcribe, and capture information and relevant details from all interactions. This in turn means a massive data explosion for every company, and the demands on data capture, storage, classification, retrieval, and analysis will expand exponentially. Without a structured platform to manage this many organisations will struggle to keep up with the times."

Rod Lester, managing director – ANZ, NICE, agrees. "Solutions that integrate artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics capabilities will be increasingly important as contact centres work to improve both the employee and the customer experience. The latest AI-based technologies automate the qualitative analysis of call monitoring which, when combined with machine learning, lets organisations put numeric values on previously unquantifiable data sets including agent behaviours and customer emotions. Similarly, the continued investment in omni-channel solutions will provide more opportunities for customer engagement, leading to a better customer and agent experience overall." Surely this isn't creepy at all.

Theo Hourmouzis, senior regional director, Snowflake, continues, "Data takes on a new meaning in the post-COVID world as forecasting, modelling, and predictive analysis become even more critical.

"Traditionally, the data we've used has been our own historical data, which doesn't account for trends in a pandemic world. As we enter the new normal, we are beginning to see organisations curate and share data with other organisations at a rate and volume we haven't experienced before. Those that take advantage of data sharing to improve their operations or accelerate innovation will be the winners."

Markuson also points out an increase in regulatory attention. "Governments will put more effort into protecting user data. What Europe did with the GDPR has been adopted across the Atlantic. Now they are implementing the Digital Services Act, and other governments are also becoming more vigilant. As a result, entities will face higher requirements to protect user data. This means that cyber criminals will have to come up with more creative ways to get that data, which will in turn impact the prices of stolen data on the dark web – they might go up."

LOW CODE DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENTS

One of the more interesting predictions comes from David Pickering, Director, Solution Engineering, APAC at Cherwell Software, where he suggests that "Australian companies will start looking at enabling employees to create or improve workplace apps and their own experiences without knowing how to code software." In fact recent announcements from Microsoft related to their 'excel-like coding environment seem to support his view.

Pickering continues, "By the end of 2022, the output of these citizen developers will outpace that of the traditional IT teams."

Anthony McMahon, Regional Director, APAC, GitLab agrees, stating that "To get ahead of the changes affecting customers today, companies need to be ten times faster to market and that requires a dramatically different way of developing, securing, and managing software.

"Put another way, think Idea-to-Code-to-Cloud-to-Consume."

CLOUD FOCUS

Many of the execs pointed to the fact that a significant number of organisations turned to the cloud in order to ramp up remote operations as the pandemic hit. Most suggest they will not return these functions to on-prem operations.

"Ensuring business continuity while simultaneously maintaining a secure and remote workforce will be high priority moving forward," noted Brent Johnson, CISO at Bluefin. "I see a definite shift on the horizon in favour of new cloud based technologies where employers don't require an office VPN connection to manage employee access, security policies, storage, and security monitoring. Going forward, cloud security solutions will almost be a requirement to ensure corporate assets are afforded the necessary security elements while also not hindering employee operations."

Thompson continued, "Many organisations made a slew of new cloud and SaaS investments in the panic of late March/early April 2020 when work-from-home capabilities had to be rapidly scaled up. Given the speed with which these investments had to be made, there was little time for strategic thinking. This year, businesses need to simplify the management of these complex multi-cloud environments, particularly when it comes to data integration and application mobility across multiple clouds."

Michael Warrilow, VP analyst at Gartner indicated research showing that "2020 accelerated cloud adoption to the point where it is already the de facto new normal. Without cloud, many businesses would have struggled to survive and many government agencies were able to showcase the benefit of digital government. Although the impact varied between sectors, overall the pandemic led to an acceleration of cloud adoption. It increased trust in cloud solutions as the hyperscalers demonstrated their scale and elasticity."

Gazing into his crystal and finding something useful, Tony Hudson, commercial director, Vertel suggests that "As we move to the new normal, organisations now have a clearer picture of what the future looks like with some certainty and are beginning to recommence new initiatives. This includes the further acceleration of cloud migrations as well as reassessment of the suitability of their critical network infrastructure, which may be facing increased pressure following the significant, new normal shift to a hybrid workforce."

Hicks also points out that just because our workload has moved to the cloud, we still have management and monitoring responsibilities. "In the new normal, the new enterprise IT realities created by the move to remote work and online services will put new demands on CIOs and IT teams to see and understand how applications and cloud services are performing, both within their own networks, but also within the external cloud and Internet-centric environments they now rely on but that they don't control."

WORK-FROM-HOME SECURITY

"Months of sustained remote working has cemented the notion that people are the new perimeter, and with it come new attack vectors," offers Kerr, suggesting that we have added a lot of extra complexity to our IT infrastructure.

Looking in the opposite direction, Thompson adds, "When it comes to actually doing the work, there's a real concern around how to ensure secure remote access to the business critical apps and data employees need to be productive like ERP, CRM, SCADA, databases, etc."

Offering a certain amount of praise for the rapid work done by IT teams around the country, Savvides says, "When faced with the existential threat of the pandemic, businesses adapted quickly, they scrambled to continue operating while sending the bulk of their employees to work from home. This upended many security policies and hyper-accelerated many digital transformation projects and led to rapid adoption and transition to cloud services.

And how attitudes change, as Savvides adds, "What was inconceivable and unacceptable for some organisations in January 2020, like allowing remote access to internal systems to employees with their own unmanaged devices, became acceptable and common by March."

In a clear description of the new normal, David Endler, Chief Product Officer at SpyCloud describes the new order. "Regardless of what happens with the virus, one of its lasting effects will be that working remotely is going to be the norm for millions of people who used to go to an office every day. The security community needs to come together to ensure the safety of online work and life now that professional and personal accounts and devices are intermingled."

Cetin also takes up this theme, "The changes which were forced upon organisations and employees due to COVID has also been a contributing factor to the increase in cyber threats, scams and attacks targeting governments, organisations and citizens. In the new normal, cyber security and cyber resilience needs to be at the forefront for any organisation's IT or business agenda in order to protect their employees, customers and their applications and data.

"The new normal will also require for organisations to become more agile. In addition to business processes and plans to support business continuity, becoming agile will require that organisations have the cyber security capabilities and technologies in place to allow employees to access company apps and data, such as provision and de-provision access and making access to apps and data available at the moment that it is needed, and on very short notice." This appears to be an argument for increased cloud adoption.

Mark Sinclair, ANZ Regional Director, WatchGuard Technologies supports these thoughts. "This change in working demographics has a flow-on effect to the shape of IT infrastructure and specifically implications on how to secure it. While boundary-less networks were growing pre-COVID, they are now mainstream with more people working from home. Traditional perimeter security models no longer work on their own, so IT providers need to adapt and focus a lot more on securing remote worker endpoints."

"There will be an enhanced need for applications in architecture and greater investment in the digital experience to make it more human and reassurin," says Richard Marr, General Manager, APAC, Auth0. "Users want the continued promise of speed, convenience and choice from an enhanced digital offering and for businesses, that typically translates to the need to provide customers a frictionless user experience."

"However, it's important to recognise that friction isn't binary. A provider can choose to be really secure and ask every time for a password, and a code, and security questions like where the user went to primary school, which will add up to a cumbersome experience for the users. Alternatively, they can choose to be truly frictionless and require no login or security at all. Neither situation is ideal."

Of course, as Carolyn Crandall, chief marketing officer, Attivo Networks, tells us, just because someone is working from home, doesn't mean the rules no longer apply. In fact quite the opposite. "Companies may start to enforce minimum security standards for home offices and that they segment office work from home networks. Staying on top of securing endpoints and home networks is a monumental task and many organisations simply won't have the resources or budget to do this. This will drive a strong push towards delivering 'just enough trust and access'."

Kerr continues this… "Network access needs to be rethought with a zero-trust lens to restrict users to only have access to what they need to conduct their job duties, when they need it. Organisations must also limit or potentially prohibit the use of personal devices to conduct business, these are often shared with family members and can therefore significantly increase the risk of data loss."

"Identity is the new perimeter," explains Slavkovic. "Specifically, identity is what connects users to their devices and apps – which themselves are connected to data, systems, and services, also through identity. In transforming their security, businesses need to employ an identity-centric approach - one that will allow them to deliver secure access and privilege for any identity to any resource, using any device, from anywhere."

GENERAL WORK-FROM-HOME CONSIDERATIONS

Robert Frendo, managing director, Versent, makes the point very clearly: "The new normal will shift emphasis on how we work, rather than what we work on."

"This pandemic looks to be a turning point in how many corporations intend to operate moving forward," says Johnson. "While in person meetings and on-site work will never completely vanish, businesses around the world are embracing and finding efficiencies operating with a remote workforce."

Thompson completes these thoughts, noting, "Off the back of new digital investments, accelerated transformation initiatives, and the widespread acceptance of remote work resulting from the pandemic, the workplace of the future — with or without the virus — will be defined as the 'Hybrid Workplace'."

Flexibility

Rajesh Ganesan, vice-president, ManageEngine, offers a glimpse of the flexibility we all expect to continue. "Now is the time for businesses to truly distribute their workforce and not necessitate all employees to be under one roof. This brings cost, efficiency, and productivity benefits and, more importantly, wellness benefits for employees. A practical tip is to operate multiple smaller offices as opposed to hosting a large workforce in monolithic buildings. As remote work becomes the norm, hiring only based on talent becomes a possibility, thereby relegating criteria like geography to the bottom of the list. This allows businesses to employ the right mix of people, ensuring both diversity and inclusiveness."

Lester agrees. "The pandemic response forced many industries to accelerate the adoption of technologies to support flexible working practices. The rapid adoption of remote working across the Australian workforce demonstrated our ability to adapt to changing working environments."

Stephanie Boo, APAC vice-president, Menlo Security, is also a supporter of this new 'hybrid' structure. "The new normal for the COVID19 generation is the 'hybrid workforce' of remote and in-office employees. Companies must now create a safe online space where their people can meet and work without interruption or worry, whenever and wherever they work."

Somewhat stating the obvious, Sinclair offers the thought that, "Two factors that will keep a larger percentage of the workforce at home is any lingering COVID strains and the fact that many traditional office workers have developed a preference for working from home."

Middaugh agrees: "Doing away with wasted commuted cycles: The idea of spending 10+ hours a week commuting to work will be replaced by hybrid workforces."

Hpwever, there are potential down-sides as Brendon Trezise, practice director, digital advisory ANZ, Empired notes. "For individuals, the benefits of greater flexibility as well as reduced travel time and costs can be offset by issues of social isolation and extended work patterns where work and social lives begin to blur. For companies, the savings in terms of reduced requirements for office space and amenities may be offset by difficulties in maintaining culture, knowledge sharing, and a feeling of belonging."

Seadon, however, sees a lot of silver lining. "For many people it has created an opportunity to challenge their "normal" and find an operating rhythm that works for them whether that be a mix of early starts, later nights or flex time for exercise. I wonder how many people are walking more than 12 months ago? That's got to be one of the benefits of working from home. Indeed, being forced to change and then embracing the change has been one of the advantages of the past year."

Employee relations

May contributions homed in on two interesting aspects of employee relations. Those of manager/team trust and how (exactly) HR is supposed to operate when they may never see a new hire for the entire duration of their employment.

For instance, Amir Liberman, CEO of Nemesysco tells us, "I see in the near future significant challenges to what can be referred to as the 'trust paradigm' between managers and their teams. On one hand, we will see many employees that will use the freedoms of working from home, with all its challenges, to prove their value and will succeed to make the best out of their self-managed time. In parallel, there will also be many others that will abuse this freedom - either intentionally or unintentionally - and will not know how to manage their time and will simply become less and less productive. Considering human nature, this will be unavoidable in the long run. I therefore foresee that compensation schemes will gradually move from 'pay-for-time' to 'pay-per-production'."

"Growth requires new staff. A year ago, we would never have hired without meeting in person, but with that option gone we have become very comfortable connecting online and hiring key members," notes Scott Willson, CEO, Forbury. "We've all become accustomed to connecting with each other and finding new ways to communicate and collaborate regardless of geographical location. Perhaps that is what the new normal looks like - reaching the point of fully recognising the abilities we have: to connect, regardless of where we are located, and to legitimately work from home, or from wherever we are, using the tools and platforms we've become accustomed to."

Lukie starts to identify the HR problems. "the COVID-19 experience means that every enterprise will now need to make sure they have clear processes and controls for managing a large percentage of their employees remotely for extended periods of time. Indeed, every company will need to have policies and procedures for managing remote access."

"We are already getting a taste for the new normal, with a workforce being trusted and empowered to decide where they work. It is unlikely that we will see a major switch back to work in the office," says Stuart Strickland, Group General Manager, Empired. "It is also likely that we will see the sharp decline in travel continue."

Strickland is in favour of a more disperse workforce, with people potentially working from home within easy distance of their customers. "For companies, this means that a local presence will become key. Clients will want some presence on the ground; however, will become more accepting of an expert or subject matter expert (SME) sitting in a different physical location. We will continue to see strong investment in remote working and productivity tools. The sharp acceleration in clients moving to a digital presence to interact with their clients and the public sector launching citizen centric portals will continue.

Andrew Sykes, director, business advisory, RSM Australia agrees with many other comments, suggesting that there is a move away from measuring the time a worker occupies their post to measurement based on output or productivity. "There will also be more focus on measuring productivity rather than time spent in the office. For most companies, senior managers have seen their own productivity gains by working from home, so they are applying this to their staff."

O'Hara is in full agreement. "This goes to show that the notion of bums must be on seats in the office to be productive is well and truly ancient history. Part of the reason is that new collaboration tools are presence aware, so tech is creating WFH accountability like we've not seen in previous years."

Linking back to the previous point about having a dispersed workforce, Mulla sees geographical dispersal as an advantage. "Companies will be far more open to recruiting new employees not only from other states but other countries to harness the best talent possible."

Optimise work-life integration

One of the underlying drivers of all the points made in the previous comments was an improvement in work-life integration ('balance' is such an ugly word here!). Many people who work from home are able to integrate small aspects of their home life without affecting their productivity. For instance doing the school-run or attending a medical appointment. Some of our respondents wished to dig deeper into this.

For instance, Darren Murph, Head of Remote, GitLab says "The new normal will require a significant shift away from the office mentality. Remote will no longer be considered the future of work - it's the future of living. The average digital worker will reconsider where they want to live and how to optimize their work-life integration due to greater autonomy and flexibility. Remote will become the new Tier-1 job filter. The best talent won't apply if workplace flexibility is not supported up-front and companies slow to adapt will miss out on talent they see as "job hoppers." Second and third-order effects will begin to take shape as cities become more liveable due to reduced strain, highway traffic diminishes, and rural depopulation begins to slowly reverse."

Hicks also points of that the medical appointment may-well be conducted within ones own home. "In a more critical scenario, the needs of telehealth will both improve and become more important. With the volume of remote appointments increasing, as well as the range of services and medical expertise offered, the demands of the network will increase too. Network reliability to ensure high fidelity images will become a priority, for example, as you can't afford to compromise an x-ray image, using compression etc in case it corrupts even a single pixel that may lead to a miss-diagnosis. Network connectivity and visibility into the cloud and Internet centric environments that power these healthcare applications and digital services will be absolutely imperative."

Finally, Dave Eastman, VP of InCommand, Serverfarm would like to point out some positives related to the reduction in commuting and an increase in cloud-based IT. "The pandemic era has also centred the climate crisis in many ways, especially with recent severe weather events top of mind. Leaders must meet data centre efficiency and sustainability objectives. By injecting automation, efficiency, and sustainability into every stage of the IT pipeline, data centres operators are well-positioned to help enterprises become "pandemic proof" while meeting other objectives."

Duty of care

"Regardless of whether the disease itself is here to stay, there's no doubt that the pandemic has had a lasting impact on the way we live and work. In this new reality, we are likely to see a mix of remote and in-office working continue. This means that the extension of employers' duty of care - whether staff are in the office, at home, or working elsewhere - will also continue," reminds Nicol.

George Moawad, Genetec Country Manager, Australia and New Zealand also makes this point. "There will be a heavy reliance on ensuring the health and safety of employees and individuals in 2021 - social distancing will be around for a while to come, and technology can help monitor movements within buildings and organisations. Spatial analytics will help businesses unlock insights about people using their facilities, how many people are in the lobby, café etc. This data then becomes the catalyst for building improvements that enhance the visitor, employee or tenant experience."

Frendo agrees: "Businesses need to have the mindset that the health, safety, and wellbeing of employees first. We need to understand that people might be suffering from a mental health perspective due to the changes we've faced over the last year, but also may experience even more anxiety if they are asked to work in the office again."

Identifying yet another driver for the work-from-home arrangement, Crandall adds "Certain organisations may also extend the use of masks and health checks way beyond 2021 in order to show ongoing commitment to employee health. Those that don't uphold expected standards, may find that they will be less competitive in retaining and attracting talent within their organisation."

There will also be an increase in velocity as Neil Luo, VP, Global Head of SME at Airwallex suggests. "Rigid business structures will soon become a relic of the past. Organisations will look to prioritise agile, digital-first operations and often, scrap plans as quickly as they are created to meet changing health and safety guidelines."

Technology

"We will see continued investment in workflows and measures to improve organisational efficiency, while providing office hubs where structured systems and/or work environments are available for those who need to, or wish to, operate from the office when it can be done safely," O'Neill advises. "This will include investment in technology that facilitates document capture, conversion to text-searchable content and delivery to shared repositories."

Productivity

"Long corporate tenures will be replaced by acceleration of the gig economy," says Middaugh. "Higher payments for outcomes compared to a salary for effort." This has been a feature at the lower end of the wage scale, and it is already common amongst the contracting fraternity, but it is certainly a growth area.

Ashley Diffey, ANZ and Japan Country Manager at Ping Identity offers a useful summary. "The business shift has already happened irrespective of whether COVID goes away forever. Organisations have adapted to remote working and going back to an office five days a week will be optional. What we have learned over the past year is that remote working has had a positive effect on productivity but at the expense of innovation. The impact on innovation predominantly stems from decisions being made in isolation and the inability to freely bounce ideas off peers. To balance these two business objectives we will see organisations adopt a hybrid environment. The working week will be divided into productivity days where people work remotely and time in the office which will centre around collaboration between teams and face to face interactions with clients and partners."

DEFENDING AGAINST THE VIRUS

Hornlimann is somewhat pessimistic, but offers us a sane way through all of this. "The only way forward is making sure that Australia is as prepared as possible with every mitigation technique against COVID. It has to always be multi-modal - QR codes for tracing, testing, a vaccine, vaccine passports, symptom detection processes across all public access points, quarantine options, as well as getting people to declare their health every day. That human element will be key."

WRAP UP

Here we present a few 'random' thoughts in support of the overall theme.

Lester: "As remote working becomes more entrenched, business leaders will need to invest in new technologies and develop more innovative methods to foster productivity, coaching, and development for a dispersed workforce."

Marr: "The biggest challenge for businesses operating in the new normal will be to understand how customer behaviours and expectations are evolving in response to what is essentially the sophomoric phase of the pandemic, while ensuring they shore up their defences against the increasing threats online."

Graham Sowden, General Manager APAC at Okta: "The pandemic has dramatically altered the way businesses operate, both locally and internationally. As temporary remote working measures become permanent dynamic working practices, the new normal presents opportunities for organisations to build teams that cross traditional geographic borders. If employees no longer need to live in the city or close to an office, why should they have to live in the same region as the market they serve?"

Sowden: "Moving beyond business concerns, as people gain greater personal flexibility and autonomy over where, when and how work is done, we have the potential to realise larger social and economic benefits over the longer term. For example, we could see improved mental and physical health, better social outcomes from more flexibility around carers' responsibilities, a reduction in traffic congestion and corresponding improvements in environmental quality - as we witnessed during the initial lockdown in 2020. There are some truly awesome possibilities to be found in the new normal."

Blum: "One thing's for certain, the new normal looks nothing like the old normal. In reality, at least in the short term there probably isn't a normal."

Bourg: "Giving businesses the ability to have their employees connect from any location or device, in addition to an office building, is the wave of the future."

Daniel Harding, Director - Australia Operations, MaxContact: "The ability to be flexible with staff working environments will be one of the main changes in the new normal world. Even if COVID does go away, businesses are going to be a lot more conscious of any other virus in the future and will want to be prepared for any repeat of the 2020/2021 lockdowns."

O'Hara: "She'll be right? Not always. Sometimes she'll be really, really wrong and we need to be better at building organisations with that in mind. Post-COVID, hopefully we remember the lesson that a physical pandemic can morph into a cyber pandemic, like we saw with the wave of COVID-related malicious attacks."

Savvides: "Overall, I'd say that the pandemic has done what a crisis always does, it has challenged and changed us, and cybersecurity is no exception."

…and we give the final word to Mare: "It's the successes that are achieved during times of disruption that set the business up for future and ongoing success. Why go back to being less adaptable?"

…or as my own mother used to say, "Everyone tells me 'cheer up, things could be worse.' So I did cheer up and sure enough, things got worse!"


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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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