The 21st-century workforce, addicted to the wealth of choice they enjoy as consumers, has been pushing back against the rigid work schedules, locations, job descriptions and user technologies of traditional offices. According to 2017 research by Herman Miller, on average, private offices are empty 77 percent of the time, and workstations are empty 60 percent of the time. In one way or another, users have already left the building. This shift in workforce dynamics is leading many organizations to consider moving toward choose your own workstyle (CYOW) models, the natural next phase in workplace evolution. The movement started with bring your own device (BYOD), which many IT leaders resisted but now manage to their advantage. Efforts to maintain some control and, thus, security, led to choose-your-own-device programs, where IT teams issue and manage devices chosen by users. Now, organizations are realizing they can see significant return on investment (ROI) by giving users a say in where they work and leveraging on-premises and cloud services to deliver a personalized digital workspace.

Employee Engagement Meets Office Optimization

Progressive organizations are rolling out formal CYOW programs to better attract, retain and engage talent and optimize their real-estate footprint. They’re designing appealing, activity-based workspaces; assessing performance based on results rather than process; and investing in technologies that support objectives. Generally, effective flexible work models have users work remotely at least part time, with the cost-savings/productivity sweet spot somewhere between two to three days a week.

Giving users the autonomy — and preferred devices and apps — to work where, when and how they want is a business booster shot. Those putting CYOW programs in place in 2017 will increase employee retention rates by more than 10 percent by 2020.

Partners in Strategic Flex Work

To realize the substantial ROI of a CYOW program, top executives must make it integral to their long-term strategic business plan. Typically, one department, usually IT, human resources or facilities, launches a flexible work program with different priorities, says Lister. It’s when these key functions collaborate on a shared strategy that they drive business growth and cut costs.

For CIOs, a CYOW model helps to eliminate shadow

IT, a situation that occurs when users deploy their own technology solutions and services without IT staff oversight, says Tim Banting, principal analyst at Current Analysis, who focuses on collaboration and communication technologies. To make it work, he says, IT leaders must advocate for their users while assessing their needs. That means getting their input before choosing new collaborative applications. “IT managers not only make users more productive, but see returns on their investments,” Banting says. “Nobody wants to see a lump of plastic they purchased sitting idly on a desk, doing nothing for the user or business.”

Technologies Driving the Digital Workspace

CYOW demands more than just email or chat to deliver. Atop the must-have list are digital collaboration platforms, with integrated tool-sets that enable IT to add new functionality through third-party services. Banting says team collaboration platforms, such as Cisco Spark, are the new productivity platform, supplanting unified communications (UC) solutions. “They integrate with third-party apps and are equally effective for individual or collaborative work, as they bring together voice, video, screen-sharing, content-sharing and persistent messaging in one space,” he says.

Serve Up a Stellar, Secure Experience

Compared to rigid workforce structures, CYOW increases the moving parts comprising IT ecosystems by many multiples. IT teams should review their mobility management and security posture, as well as the infrastructure’s ability to handle diverse sets of endpoints, access needs of distributed employees, new collaboration suites and larger, more complex data sets. “Today, the conversation’s all about workspace services,” says Dan Cote, Citrix director of product marketing for desktops and apps. Using XenDesktop and XenApp to virtualize desktops and applications, administrators can centralize management of personalized digital workspaces. Both products integrate federated authentication services, which improve security and user satisfaction through single sign-on (SSO). Services communicate with Active Directory and other identity management products. “Employees can access their web, Software as a Service (SaaS) and on-premises applications via SSO, a highly productive way to use all their apps without jumping through the usual hoops,” says Cote. To cover the mobile security landscape, Citrix, VMware Airwatch and others provide enterprise mobility management solutions. Citrix’s XenMobile, for instance, combines mobile device management, mobile application management, business-grade productivity apps and security policy enforcement.

The Cloud’s the Limit

The agility needs of CYOW models will drive increasing reliance on cloud services as organizations strive to stay nimble while easing infrastructure burdens. Cloud services are moving toward becoming the dominant deployment option for collaborative apps. Today, more IT teams run hybrid clouds, keeping sensitive systems on-premises but using cloud-based collaboration applications. Videoconferencing, for one, is tailor-made for the cloud. “IT gets scalability and can mix and match components without deploying premises-based equipment,” says Banting. For its part, Citrix has developed cloud versions of its entire product line. If CIOs don’t have an administrator with the skills to manage a virtualized workload infrastructure via XenDesktop, they can have it running through the cloud in hours. With its Unidesk acquisition, Citrix acquired app-layering technology, a game changer for teams managing templates for hundreds of virtualized applications. With layering, each app is abstracted from the operating system and put in its own layer. “IT builds images on the fly, based on user preferences,” says Cote. “They only manage layers once for use anywhere, so they see tremendous efficiencies.”

Tools As Diverse As Their Users

Adoption of agile, collaborative work-spaces continues to grow. Among digital transformation trends is the Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) market.

CPaaS enables developers to make any business application a real-time communication vehicle, says Tim Banting, a principal analyst with Current Analysis. While click-to-collaborate functionality is available in Microsoft Office 365 and Google G Suite productivity applications, this takes communication to a new level.

With CPaaS, Banting says, IT teams can embed voice, video, content sharing and other communication features in any business application — from in-house and mobile apps to customer relationship management or enterprise resource planning suites. “Anyone with a new idea or coding skills can add this functionality to their own applications overnight and have a new internal productivity tool or a competitive offering to take to market.”

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