The New Workspace: Why Organizations Should Embrace It

11 minute read
Workspace Keyboard with Apps

Among the things former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is remembered most distinctly for is hastening the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. And nothing epitomizes that effort more than his bold statement, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” challenging Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev to remove one of the most visible symbols of the division between East and West, the Berlin Wall.

Now, more than 25 years later, chief executive officers (CEOs) and other IT leaders would also do well to heed President Reagan’s advice. Only this time, the walls you’re tearing down aren’t literal. Instead, they are the symbolic walls that represent old-school corporate computing—the type that revolves around corporate-issued devices and apps, all contained on a standardized desktop.

Today’s knowledge workers—especially the Millennials, whose numbers in the workforce are now equivalent to the Boomers—look at that type of computing the same way they view big hair, parachute pants and other holdovers from the 1980s. Instead, they are embracing the new “Workspace” concept. Your organization should as well, or you may quickly fall behind the competition and find your employees pouring out the door with the same sense of urgency East Berliners used when the wall finally did tumble down.

What Is the New Workspace?

At its most basic, the new Workspace is a holistic technological blend of applications, mobility, and communications that enables users to take control of how they interface with technology and data. Driven by bring your own device (BYOD) and the consumerization of IT, Workspace revolves around users moving away from accessing an organization’s information exclusively through silos of technology such as traditional applications and a corporate-issued desktop/laptop in favor of working on smartphones, tablets, phablets or even laptops they purchase themselves. It also replaces the traditional “9 to 5” approach that calls for fixed hours in a corporate office. It is about the ability to work when you want from any location on any device (and it may be more than one device simultaneously).

Needless to say, this is a sea change in mindset for IT.

The traditional corporate computing model has been very autocratic. IT issues the devices that can access the network, determines the applications that can be used on those devices as well as the protocols for using them, and essentially controls everything about them. The goal is to put everyone in the organization on a single technology standard, which makes everything about corporate computing easier to manage.

The modern Workspace is more like free enterprise.

Each user decides which device they want to use, and they download the applications (apps) they think they need to get the job done. Yes, they also depend on IT for some things, but increasingly each device is more different than the same as any other user’s device.

Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

While Workspace delivers many benefits to users, IT does have some reason for concern. Security is one of the biggest issues. With users all over the place accessing the network on devices over which IT has no control, and using unsecured hotspots to do it, the job of keeping corporate data safe becomes infinitely more difficult. Add in Millennials removing what security their devices have built into them through a process known as jailbreaking, and you have every IT security manager’s nightmare.

Support is another. There are so many devices available today, it is impossible to support them all. IT has to choose which devices it will support, and then deal with anything outside of them on a case-by-case basis.

Then there are the applications users are downloading. Some are perfectly fine. Others are not. An application such as Dropbox may make it easier for users to share large files, especially with business partners or customers, but it is not enterprise-friendly due to security flaws. It becomes a balancing act.

The net result is that while users love the new Workspace, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for IT. In a time where IT is already being asked to do more with less, if the Workspace isn’t managed properly, it can add significantly to the workload.


So why not just clamp down on the Workspace concept and go back to the way things were? Because you can’t. The genie is out of the bottle, so to speak, and the business likes the results.

Instead of requesting an application and waiting six months, or a year, or a year and a half for IT to deliver it with its limited resources, more often than not, employees can use their devices to pop out to whatever app store(s) they use and download what they need in minutes. They’re no longer dependent on IT for their technology. They’re able to get what they want, when they want it. So they can work how, when and where they choose.  

That capability is particularly important to the Millennials, who are digital natives. In MTV’s No Collar Worker Survey, 81 percent of Millennials said they should be allowed to make their own hours at work. They also prefer a flexible approach that gives them the right to be remote workers who go into the office only sometimes or maybe even not at all. Workspace allows them to do that.

As more Millennials enter the workforce, and then rise to leadership roles, the pressure to support a Workspace approach will only grow stronger. IT needs to recognize that control over technology budgets is now being shifted to the business side of the organization, which means IT has to work with the business to deliver what it needs. After all, the business doesn’t care what type of server you put an application on or where that server is located (on-premise, the cloud, with a managed services provider, or somewhere else), as long as it delivers the service required. The confusion lies in how to make it happen.

Achieving an Intelligent Workspace

The mistake many IT organizations make in the rush to meet user demands for a Workspace is to start by throwing technology at it. This is like providing answers to questions that have yet to be asked. They’ll buy a mobile device management (MDM) software or unified communications (UC) solution thinking it will solve the issues. While it may work temporarily, or solve part of the problem, as the need for Workspace grows, they find that the technology is merely a temporary fix to a larger issue.

Instead, IT departments should consider what the questions are first. What do users need? How will this add value to the business? How can we enable our users to be more productive? In order to accomplish this, the wise thing to do (as with any major technology initiative) is to first perform an assessment, determine requirements on the business side and seek out the end-user’s perspective. You may want to engage an outside firm with experience in the Workspace area to help with this initial process so you know what questions to ask and dig out the best information.

The key is to avoid thinking of Workspace as simply another technology and instead look at it in the bigger context. In other words, you’re not trying to enable UC, or a virtual desktop, or some other piece of the puzzle. You’re trying to enable users to work the way they want and need to work. If you start with that premise, you’ll keep your organization from investing a lot of money in technologies you have to change three times before you get it right.

It is critical to assess before you invest. It is important to have a strategy and blueprint into how the business can be transformed by technology.

Think Bottom-Up

Think about how users will connect and interact with one another. What do they need—and what do you need to do to enable it? This is not a top-down type of evolution. Like the fall of Communism, it’s a bottom-up initiative—in this case, driven by thousands of users in the enterprise. The different lines of business know what they need—talk to them about it.

Once you have those requirements and understand what users need to be successful, it is time to create the overarching strategy for the Workspace. This is where having a hybrid data center is very helpful. Some applications will be best accessed in the cloud, or through an MSP. Others, especially those that revolve around the organization’s most sensitive data, will need to remain on-premise. With a hybrid data center, you can place applications and data where they serve users (and the organization) best.

The users won’t care that they’re going to different locations for different needs. The only thing they’ll care about is that you’re delivering the user experience they require to do their best work.

With the strategy in place, you can begin creating policies and processes. At this stage, you should re-engage with the user community to ensure what you’re planning to implement is in line with their needs and expectations. It is only after you have done this groundwork that you should even begin thinking about which specific technologies to implement and how to integrate them together. There is a good chance much of the execution will lay itself out once you have the background information.

Getting Away from 0-1 Binary Thinking

Because of the nature of technology, there can be a tendency for IT to think in 0-1 binary terms (i.e., done or not done). Concepts such as Workspace, however, are never done, because user needs are always evolving—especially as they discover what else they can do.

A good parallel is the concept of cameras in smartphones. When they were first introduced in mobile phones, cameras were considered a minor added convenience feature. Need to take a quick snapshot? Grab your phone, take a digital photo and save it to your computer later.

Users liked that convenience, but then wanted to be able to share those photos right away. So the ability to share and upload through social media was added. Then came the desire to do the same with video. That idea led to live video chatting, which evolved into cameras facing the subject and the user. The things you could do with a camera also expanded, enabling the scanning of bar codes and QR codes to obtain information, or using the phone as a magnifying glass.

You can and should expect the same thing to happen with Workspace. At first users will be pleased with their added capabilities. They will find unique ways to use these capabilities to produce business value.  Then they will want more. It is a continuous cycle of improvement.

Since your IT organization won’t be able to handle every development request internally, you should also keep abreast of important business applications that are being developed by outside providers so you can make intelligent, helpful recommendations for users. If you don’t want them using a particular application, don’t just say “no.” Be able to offer them an alternative that fits their needs as well as the enterprise’s needs. Because if you don’t, they’re just going to go around you anyway. That’s the reality of today’s workplace.  

None of this is to suggest desktop vs. tablet or smartphone is a 0-1 binary decision either. Just because users can access certain applications on a tablet or smartphone doesn’t mean they want to work on that application on their mobile device for 10 hours. If they’re writing a report, or developing a new spreadsheet, or performing some other labor-intensive work, they often will prefer the mechanics of a more traditional desktop (e.g., keyboard, large monitor and mouse). But if they simply want to look at the edits someone else has made, or get a quick view of the latest sales figures, they may very well use a tablet or smartphone. The challenge for IT is to make moving between the two a simple, seamless experience. Again, it is not about the device or the technology. It’s about getting the work done.

Adding Value

When the Berlin Wall fell, it was hailed as a milestone for freedom. It was in all the news media, and remains an iconic moment of the 1980s. Yet the celebration was quickly followed by the realization that there was no plan in place for what would come next, which created hard times for people on both sides of the former wall.

It doesn’t have to be that way in your organization. The walls between business and personal technology are already falling. Business users are tearing them down. You now have a unique opportunity not only to accelerate that process but also (and more importantly) to determine what comes next.

By resisting the temptation to bandage the issues with technology, and instead focus on assessing the needs and creating a strategy to answer them, IT can add tremendous value to the business while protecting the organization against a lawless aftermath. 

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