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How IT must adapt to the emerging hybrid workplace

In spring 2020, tens of millions of people worldwide were suddenly thrust into remote work as the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns came into force. IT and users alike adapted quickly, and companies were able to keep doing business relatively easily given the scope of the change. What’s more, employee productivity actually went up — and stayed that way even after the initial adrenaline surge wore off — across the globe, from Australia to the US.

“Leaders across the board were shocked and amazed how quickly all their workers made the transition once they had the equipment — and by how productive everyone has been,” says Gartner analyst Suzanne Adnams.

Management consultants had been saying for years that a distributed workforce was going to be the new normal, and suddenly it is. Although the pandemic has not ended, the outlines of the post-pandemic workplace are becoming clear. They have major implications for not only workers but IT, which will need to adapt user-supporting processes and play a greater role partnering with HR on the policies and approaches that underpin work processes and a changed culture. IT will also need to reprioritize its technology investments as a result.

In interviews with Computerworld, analysts from Forrester Research, Gartner, and IDC were practically of one mind on the shape of the emerging hybrid workplace, the notions of flexible work, and where IT needs to adapt to best serve the business in the “new normal,” “next normal,” “new reality,” or whatever you want to call it.

The changed context for workforces

Although management consultants have been saying for years that workforces would become more geographically dispersed due to the use of software- and cloud-powered digital tools, the COVID-19 pandemic made that shift happen all at once, says Gartner’s Adnams. “What COVID has done is forced us to leapfrog five to 10 years, or more in some sectors.”

Forrester analyst Andrew Hewitt agrees: “The extended enterprise is the larger trend, … and that requires a robust change-management program” for users, managers, and IT.

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