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Tech Leaders Map Out Post-Pandemic Return to Workplace – The Wall Street Journal


Economy

Tech Leaders Map Out Post-Pandemic Return to Workplace – The Wall Street Journal

Businesses will be turning to enterprise technology to smooth out the process of getting employees back to the workplace in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by Forrester Research. Technology leaders say safety will be a top priority. The information-technology research firm’s report lays out an early-stage road map for IT…

Tech Leaders Map Out Post-Pandemic Return to Workplace – The Wall Street Journal

Businesses will be turning to enterprise technology to smooth out the process of getting employees back to the workplace in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by Forrester Research.

Technology leaders say safety will be a top priority.

The information-technology research firm’s report lays out an early-stage road map for IT executives preparing to reopen corporate offices—a process that will vary by industry, but for most businesses will involve multiple stages.

Chief information officers and their teams will likely be in the first wave of employees returning to the job site, said Andrew Hewitt, a Forrester analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals.

He said their initial task will be to develop a strategy for keeping employee tech tools—including PCs, mobile devices, monitors, keyboards and mice—germ-free without damaging them.

“IT teams will need to have a staging area that’s outside of the front door of the office where employees can bring their home technology in and sanitize it,” Mr. Hewitt said.

A second priority will be to convert remote-work capabilities—many set up on the fly as the coronavirus pandemic spread—into permanent features of the workplace, the report said.

The move will enable companies to maintain social distancing by limiting the number of on-site employees at any given time, according to Forrester researchers.

President Trump outlined new federal guidelines on Thursday to reopen the country, saying governors should take a “phased and deliberate approach” to restart their state economies. Photo: William Volcov/Zuma Press

For IT departments, that means boosting network capabilities and remote-access login and security features for corporate systems and business applications, Mr. Hewitt said.

Bob Worrall, chief information officer of networking-products company Juniper Networks Inc., said even as some employees return to physical offices, others who stay home will need expanded access to corporate networks.

Many companies relied on short-term IT fixes to keep operating during the crisis, like setting up remote meetings on Zoom, Google Hangouts or other platforms. Mr. Worrall said more robust solutions will be needed as complex business processes are shifted online over the long term—including accounting, sales and human resources applications.


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Doing that requires IT teams to closely monitor network performance and usage patterns of expanded remote-work tools to anticipate any bottlenecks down the road, Mr. Worrall said. To monitor corporate networks, many companies will need to deploy some form of load-balancing technology to spread surges in traffic across multiple servers, he added.

When any of this will happen remains unclear. The White House has deferred to the states the decision on when to reopen businesses.

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Roughly a quarter of Fortune 200 companies said they are considering reopening workplaces in May with some form of on-site Covid-19 testing, according to a survey this month by the Employer Health Innovation Roundtable, a benefits-focused industry group.

As of Wednesday, more than four million tests have been conducted in the U.S. and there are roughly 825,000 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The use of artificial intelligence and automation will also play a significant role in enabling contact-tracing of infected workers, said James Manyika, chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute, a research arm of consulting firm McKinsey and Co.

“The measures that will need to be in place to allow companies to reopen and people to return to work will further accelerate the digitization we’ve seen happen so rapidly during the pandemic,” Mr. Manyika said.

Aamir Paul, U.S. country president of global industrial firm Schneider Electric SE, said a new focus on employee safety will also include applying IT capabilities to physical buildings, such as smart ventilation systems to provide better environmental conditions.

“Safeguarding employees and enabling efficiency will need to take center stage,” Mr. Paul said. “We’ll see unprecedented levels of capital and technology spending devoted to these areas over the next two to three years.”

angus.loten@wsj.com

Bob Worrall, CIO, Juniper Networks.



Photo:

Juniper Networks Inc.

Kirsten Wolberg, chief technology and operations officer at electronic-signature technology maker

DocuSign Inc.,

said the San Francisco-based company has been working on its plan for employees to return to work since the city enacted a shelter-in-place order in mid March. The city has since extended the order until May 1. DocuSign has more than 2,000 employees.

“It’s clear that moving to a 100% remote workforce was a lot easier than it will be to have our employees return to the office,” Ms. Wolberg said, citing health and safety concerns for its workers.

She said the company will “take its time and follow the guidance of health organizations” and other local public-sector leaders in deciding when to reopen its offices.

Write to Angus Loten at angus.loten@wsj.com

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