As companies unlock the opportunities of the next decade, business leaders recognize the value of secure, digital collaboration. We can now connect in ways never before possible with new tools and platforms from anywhere. This allows companies to work faster and smarter, improving overall productivity and efficiency.

At a virtual panel discussion hosted by Lenovo and Microsoft, in partnership with CDOTrends, panelists shared their insights into making the digital workplace a secure and tangible reality for companies in Hong Kong and everywhere.

State of hybrid working

Fan Ho, general manager of Hong Kong and Macau, Lenovo, presented findings from the latest “Lenovo Future of Work and Digital Transformation Study,” which explored how employees want digital collaboration to happen and how their companies and technologies can enable the digital workplace.

Over the last two years, companies have been driven to rethink ways of working in the pandemic’s wake and the so-called Great Resignation resulting from it. The traditional office as we know it is long gone. And with the advent of technologies such as cloud-based tools and video conferencing, there is no reason for businesses not to embrace a remote-first approach.

It’s not just ways of working — management roles are also changing. For example, the role of the CIO is becoming more critical as companies invest in new technologies. The study found that new C-suite skills are needed to unlock the opportunities of the next decade and respond to emerging threats and challenges from new technologies.

C-suite roles are evolving to focus on business outcomes rather than just technology. Ho said that to enable the digital workplace, CIOs need to move beyond their traditional technology focus and into areas like business strategy, ESG, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and M&A. This is especially important to future-proof the future workforce.

The separate CIO study also highlighted two additional takeaways. The first is that the current tech stack needs to evolve. If given a chance, 57% of CIOs surveyed said they would replace half or more of their company’s existing technology; 25% said they would replace most if not all.

Tech stacks are not the only place where current IT leaders see the need for a reboot. Many also see the increasing value of vendors changing the way they view technology vendors. In the CIO study, 92% of CIOs viewed their vendors as most important or very important for continual business operations.

This changing dynamic between users and technology vendors offers promising opportunities. Tech vendors can build deeper relationships and develop better solutions for specific requirements. Meanwhile, CIOs can use the relationship to gain new knowledge and stay abreast of advances as they stay agile and resilient to market dynamics.   

Framing the digital workplace discussion

So, what exactly is the digital workplace?

According to the panelists, it’s an environment where technology enables employees to be productive and effective wherever they are, whether in the office, at home, or on the go.

The digital workplace, therefore, is not just about technology; it’s about using technology to create a better way of working. It’s about breaking down the barriers between employees and the tools they need to do their jobs.

Cally Chan, general manager of Microsoft Hong Kong and Macau, noted that the first step is recognizing that remote and hybrid work is more than just videoconferencing. According to her, it is about creating a digital ecosystem that helps people connect and collaborate in new ways while still meeting the security and compliance needs of the company.

Device-as-a-Service, or DaaS, is another rising need. In the Lenovo Future of Work study, Fan noted that DaaS is a key priority for companies regardless of size. More than 60% of respondents from medium and large companies said they were “very interested” in it.

DaaS allows companies to ease their capital requirements and be flexible to changing employee and market requirements. It offers budget flexibility when companies face various competing investment requirements as they manage market uncertainty.

It also allows vendors like Lenovo to add more value. With DaaS, businesses can get the latest devices and technologies without worrying about upgrading or maintaining them. And because companies are leasing the devices from their providers, they only pay for what they need and update them as needed.

Brian Chan, information technology director at Jebsen Group, also discussed the importance of workplace culture and employee and vendor mindsets that underlie these digital ecosystems.

According to him, the digital workplace is also about people. It’s about creating an environment where employees are encouraged to learn new technologies, understand their benefits, and use them to their full potential. “So what we’re doing now is, instead of always giving them fish, we teach them how to fish,” Brian Chan said. This requires being open to new ways of working and collaborating with vendors. It also means providing a wide range of services to meet each customer’s specific needs.

Fan Ho weighed in on workplace culture and highlighted how digital collaboration could also go beyond just working — to ensuring that employees receive a good balance between their daily tasks and the time they need to regroup.

“We actually also use collaboration tools to do yoga training together to enhance well-being in the office. For many of these things, I still think that it comes down to the basic principle of human needs, which is that we need a certain period of quiet time. So, therefore, we can stay focused and do our work properly. But we also are social animals, right? Just different degrees. [We need to] strike a balance to interact with colleagues and friends from the workplace,” she said.

Secure collaboration

The rise of the digital workplace has also led to a surge in demand for secure collaboration. With data being stored in so many places, it’s more important than ever to have a secure way to share and store it. Hybrid working can be a challenge for security, as companies must consider the need for security and flexibility.

Cally Chan discussed the concept of a zero-trust framework, which is designed to help businesses secure their digital environments. A zero-trust framework is based on the idea that you can’t trust anything, preventing unauthorized access to data and systems. It uses various methods, including identity management, access control, and security analytics, to ensure that only authorized and verified users access the data and apps they need.

Fan noted that any zero-trust security approach should cover all infrastructure aspects: endpoints, data access and management, and networking. She said that companies need to adopt a secure-by-design approach throughout the R&D process that extends to their supply chains. It needs to begin at the chip level and extend to the various devices, platforms, and the software and networking layers.

According to Brian Chan, a zero-trust framework should also involve a strategy of data recovery, backup, and archiving. This is especially crucial in emergencies, as the pandemic revealed when companies need to be able to quickly and easily recover their data and get back to business.

Cally Chan highlighted three areas where companies must focus on creating a zero-trust framework: employee training, technology enablement, and finding the right partner.

Technology is the key to a successful digital workplace, but it’s not enough. Employees also need to be trained in using technology and how to work securely in a hybrid environment. And companies need to find partners who can help them create a secure, productive, and compliant digital workplace.

Future Outlook

The modern workplace is constantly evolving, and digital technologies are at the forefront of this change. As more businesses embrace a hybrid working model to balance employer and employee expectations post-pandemic, the need for secure collaboration and a zero-trust framework will only become more significant.

Newer innovative technologies and ecosystems, such as the metaverse and blockchain, are also paving the way for a future of even more seamless collaboration. By investing in the right tools and technologies, companies can create a more productive and efficient workplace for their employees.

Still, the call remains the same: how can Hong Kong businesses make the most of the latest technologies while still meeting their users’ security and compliance needs? It’s a delicate balance that every company is trying to figure out with the latest technologies.

Image credit: iStockphoto/Andrey Suslov