How to Create a Secure, Hybrid World of Work

Virtual Coffee Break – 11th August 2020

In the continued presence of Covid-19, how do we build a secure, sustainable and productive hybrid working environment?

To withstand the impact of lockdown, most companies adopted temporary work-from-home measures. But now, as the government tries to breathe life back into the economy and businesses formulate their plans for recovery, we need to build more durable, permanent solutions.

This will be challenging. In the long-term hybrid world, some people will be returning to the office while many others will continue to work from home. Finding the right balance and delivering productive, secure answers for the ‘new normal’ will be critical.

Our guest speakers for this special, extended Virtual Coffee Break, were:

  • Aaron Alburey, Managing Director and co-founder of LACE Partners, the leading HR transformation consultancy, who addressed the question of how to make both WFH and WFO staff feel and secure in this new hybrid world.
  • Kevin Murray, Regional Director of Zuhlke Engineering, the masters of bespoke agile development, who explained how companies are able to work in new, agile ways, while their people are distributed and working remotely,
  • Nithin Thomas, CEO of SQR Systems, creators of a secure mobile communications platform, who revealed how savvy companies are building secure working environments for WFH staff.
  • Andrew Simmonds, certified master coach and consulting lead here at Clustre, who addressed some of the crucial psychological issues of motivating key workers who are operating from home.

Aaron Alburey – How to make both WFH and WFO staff feel secure in a hybrid world

How are people coping with working in this new hybrid world?

If you look at the surveys and statistics that have been produced in recent weeks, it would seem the answer is: not very well. And there is certainly work to be done, particularly to help employees feel safe and secure, whether they are working from home or in the office.

We’re an HR transformation business and, both through the lockdown and now as some people are returning to work, we have been very focused on supporting HR directors who are dealing with a lot of very difficult people issues.

There is very much a view that this is long term situation, which means everyone I speak to is thinking about how to deal with a workforce that is spread between offices and remote working and the implications of this hybrid environment.

When we started supporting HR directors through this process, we put together a 12-point plan, covering three broad phases:

  • The first phase was Reaction to the immediate crisis, at the start of lockdown, making sure everyone was moved out of the office and we knew what they were doing.
  • We then moved into a very active phase of Supporting employees, whether they were working from home or on furlough, helping them understand what this meant and really engaging with them through this process. We spent a lot of time focusing on wellbeing, creative engagement, leadership behaviours etc.
  • And then, we all thought, we would enter a phase of coming back into the office, coming back into the new business as usual, and transitioning back into working in the office.

I think what we’ve found is, in effect, we’ve set ourselves, as a country and as employers, in a situation where we need to continue the Supporting activities; we need to continue to engage people, even more so because there is so much working from home.

When we are considering keeping people safe, working from home, we need to think about two types of people; those actually working from home and those still on furlough. And when we think about the workforce more broadly, we need to think about them in three situations. When they are:

  1. Working from home;
  2. Working in the office;
  3. Travelling to the office.

A recent EY survey found two-thirds of people felt uncomfortable on public transport. This is a real concern for people coming back to work. Especially the fear of the unknown. And for people working from home, a survey in April found 44% felt their mental health had declined during lockdown. This is a real challenge, and one that needs to be addressed.

Some of the things we have learned, as we talk to HR directors who are dealing with these challenges are, as regards travel:

  • The important thing is taking the fear out of it by helping people to understand what it will actually be like. A good way to do this is by having employees share their experiences, through collaboration tools and by sharing blogs and videos.
  • On a more practical level, of course, encouraging people to avoid having to travel at all if they can still work from home and, if they do have to come in, staggering travel times.

As regards working from the office itself:

  • Practical measures include things like one-way systems, keeping spacing between desks, making changes to the way shared spaces are used, especially the canteen, increased use of hand-sanitisers etc. One HR director told me they’d changed all the door handles so doors could be opened using elbows rather than hands.
  • It’s also a common practice now to bubble teams together, so if someone does become infected it doesn’t take out the whole office.
  • Another focus area is information and a lot of our clients are reworking their employee handbooks, policies and procedures, to provide explicit detail about what to do in different circumstances, again removing the fear of the unknown.

And in terms of home working:

  • Things to think about include continuing a lot of the collaboration and teaming initiatives we saw started during lockdown. Things like wellness Wednesdays and feelgood Fridays. The real challenge here is about mental health and really making sure people working from home are OK – having line managers check in with everyone regularly, and the use of new mindfulness tools such UnMind and BioBeats
  • Other practical issues related to working from home are things like workstation assessments and other health and safety factors. For example, it’s important to allow people to participate in videoconferencing with their video turned off from time-to-time, because being constantly on screen is quite intense and can quickly become very tiring.

Kevin Murray – How to work in new, agile ways, while people are distributed remotely

The theme of my talk is: Don’t let remote working be a barrier to starting a new project.

Since the start of lockdown, I’ve been involved in starting five new projects and I’d like to share six key insights that have really helped make this process a success.

I’m going to talk specifically about starting the Discovery phase:

  • This phase of a project is typically between 1 and 8 weeks long, depending on complexity, and answers questions like: Should we do this? Can we do this? and How should we do this?
  • The main outputs of the Discovery phase are things like user needs, business goals, starting to build out the product backlog, understanding the minimum viable product, project roadmap etc.

Insight #1 – Do your research:

  • Talk to people who have started projects remotely and read any of the many blogs that cover this subject. In fact, when I did my research on this, I wrote my own blog which includes links to all the blogs I accessed.
  • You can find Kevin’s blog here.

Insight #2 – Timing is everything:

  • What we learned during lockdown is timings are very different. The best piece of advice I received was that remote workshops take twice as long.
  • We had originally planned a one-week Discovery with a one-day project lift-off. We took the decision, just before lockdown, to go fully remote and redesigned the Discovery phase as a two-week exercise with a two-day project lift-off at the beginning. Even this was really intense and on the cusp of being sustainable.
  • We’re also working differently, we’re more accessible and more distractible. We don’t have the barriers of meeting rooms. We don’t have commuting time. Technology is actually impeding us in some ways. We’re getting bombarded by Slack, WhatsApp, emails. And lots of asynchronous communication makes things difficult.
  • So, when you’re planning workshops, make allowance for this – give people space rather than adding to their anxiety. Don’t start too early. Make sure you have proper comfort breaks and lunch breaks etc.
  • The same applies to regular meetings, like daily stand-ups. It’s quite hard to keep these short and succinct, because it’s hard to corral everyone to turn up on the videoconference on time. So, what we do is start our daily stand-up fifteen minutes early, with these first fifteen minutes used as a sort of water-cooler session.

Insight #3 – Preparation is critical:

  • Preparation is critical when working remotely.
  • One of the techniques we use in agile development is called user story mapping. It’s highly effective but quite difficult to facilitate, even when everyone’s in the same room.
  • So, what we did prior to lockdown was bring together the product owner, technical lead and subject matter experts to practice and run-through the story mapping, before we brought 20 people into the remote workshop.
  • It’s also important to practice with the different technologies you will be using during the remote workshop and make sure the attendees know what is going to happen before the workshop – no surprises. Make sure they know the objectives and outputs well in advance.

Insight #4 – Facilitation of remote projects is a lot harder:

  • Facilitating remote workshops is a highly intensive process. Especially if you’re simultaneously handling video, text chat and possibly other collaboration channels.
  • So, we recommend pairing facilitators. This way you have two people supporting each other and sharing the burden. You also have some contingency if one person is having technical difficulties.
  • Similarly, make sure you’ve got a backchannel, e.g. WhatsApp, to allow the facilitators to coordinate, and also a fall-back technology for the workshop itself.

Insight #5 – Develop a team charter:

  • It’s really important to allow time for team bonding and to allow people to get to know each other. Especially if you have new people joining the team.
  • One of the things we do at the start of each project is co-create a code of conduct. This might include, for example: use headphones; turn up on time; stay on mute if you’re not talking; don’t make fun of people who forget to unmute; it’s OK to turn your video off; etc.
  • We also like to do a future-spective (like a retrospective but looking ahead rather than backwards). In these sessions, we ask questions like: What is the vision for the project? How will we achieve success? What might cause us to fail? What are the key roles in our team; etc.

Insight #6 – Increase your feedback loops:

  • If you’re working on an agile project, don’t wait an arbitrary two weeks to do a show and tell or a retrospective. A retrospective is, essentially, a quick lessons-learned exercise and this can be done very effectively at the end of a workshop, especially if you’re using an online collaboration tool that allows for feedback – on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being a waste of my time and 10 being really valuable, how was today’s use of your time?
  • Similarly, don’t wait two-weeks to do a demo – do them daily. Make them low ceremony, low effort, but make sure everyone gets the opportunity to see how things are progressing.

So, in summary, the key insights are:

  • Do your research;
  • Timing is everything;
  • Preparation is critical;
  • Facilitation is harder;
  • Develop a team charter;
  • Increase your feedback loops.

Nithin Thomas – How to secure working environments for WFH staff

A little bit of context as to why communications security is particularly important in the hybrid working environment.

If we think about the traditional way that organisations used to communicate, either internally or externally with their customers, it was typically over the telephone. A very simple form of communication relying on a single channel that’s been around since the 1800’s. It wasn’t particularly secure but actually the risk was fairly minimal because hacking a telephone call required significant resources and there was very little risk of anyone being able to carry out mass surveillance of communications.

But, of course, if you look at the last ten years or so, the way we communicate has changed beyond all recognition. We now have so many different digital tools, like Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack to name just a few.

And so, this creates a problem for organisations because we don’t have any consistency of security across these platforms, many of which were built of consumer use-cases rather than enterprise grade security. This is especially true of social media applications and the like.

So, if we think about what this means to an enterprise now that we have a remote working environment, in which staff are having to use such a wide range of tools and can’t rely on a single mechanism anymore. We might be on a breakfast meeting on GoToMeeting and then jumping on a Zoom call and then having a conversation on WhatsApp.

The organisation doesn’t really have control over these channels, so how can we know what level of security we have in place on each of these platforms. This is a problem in terms of staff communications, especially in terms of compliance and data security. A key question being: where is the data on all these platforms being stored?

Some applications are very clear on this question and even allow some level of control over where that data is stored. But other platforms are less so.

And when we think about customer communications, the problem becomes even more challenging. A typical organisation, dealing with customers and suppliers, will handle a wide variety of personal data, some of it quite sensitive.

Organisations with call-centres that had to move, almost overnight, to remote working have had to apply a range of solutions, including the use of VPNs and even, in some cases, routing calls to employees’ mobile phones.

All this makes the problem of consistency of security across the multiple devices and applications even more difficult. How do we make sure we are compliant from a regulatory perspective? How do we make sure we have the level of security we think we have when we’re using so many different tools?

This is the area where we, SQR, do a lot of work and I’d like to share some of things we believe are important to focus on when tackling these issues.

One of the biggest challenges is consistency of security:

  • When considering any platform, it’s important to think about whether that platform fits in with your security policies. If a platform is not transparent about what security protocols it uses, or what its policies are around the data that is handled on the platform, then that should be an alarm bell as regards using that platform.

The second area is around control of data:

  • In a lot of regulated environments there are requirements around retaining data – particularly personal data. Some platforms are a lot better at providing this capability than others. So, it’s really important to consider whether a platform you are considering using really allows you to have control and retain the data that’s being generated in that particular platform.
  • There are some platforms that don’t necessarily have this capability out of the box but allow you to build this on top of the platform, either through open API’s or through some add on functionality. So, a key question is how extensible is the platform to allow you to implement data retention and compliance tools?

The third challenge is around future proofing:

  • One of the trends we have seen is that just because a platform is dominant and extremely prevalent today, does not mean it will continue to be so in the future. A good example is Blackberry messenger, which had about 800 million users at one time but has a very small market share today.
  • So, whatever tools you use to implement security and protect data, it’s important to make sure you don’t lock your users into a platform in such a way that it makes it difficult for them to move away from it if it becomes a legacy platform that nobody is actually going to use.
  • It’s also important to think beyond the boundaries of the platform you’re deploying to avoid creating an island of security, where users are effectively locked into the platform and cannot move beyond it without compromising that security.

So, how do we manage an environment that has this level of complexity and is constantly changing? How do we make sure we are staying secure across all these devices and platforms?

The answer we give our clients is, don’t focus so much on each specific platform. They often ask us should we be using this platform or that platform and is it secure? But these are the wrong questions to be asking.

What we should be asking is how do we build a security bubble around my organisation that allows me to have exactly the same level of security across all the channels and platforms that I want to support as an organisation?

The goal is to move away from building islands of security around individual platforms and to build something that is much more flexible and allows you to respond to changes in user behaviour. This is the key to building a secure environment for our new hybrid world of work.

Andrew Simmonds – How to motivate people who are working from home

We’re about five months into one of the largest social experiments ever conducted:

The wholescale shift from working in an office-centric world – embodied in the gleaming towers of our city centres – to working remotely, from our houses and apartments, connected by videoconferencing and other forms of technology.

I say this is a social experiment, because, of course, we don’t go to work just to work. A large part of why we go to work is the social dimension. They say you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and that’s certainly true of the day-to-day social interaction of the workplace.

Despite this, many of us have made a successful transition to working entirely from home. But I think this is because we went into this with a well-established legacy of social networking.

The people on our videoconferences are people we know, people we’ve met and socialised with, in the workplace and outside, over an extended period, prior to lock-down. We’ve carried a sort of flywheel of social-momentum with us into this new hybrid world.

My concern is, that flywheel is staring to run down.

This is particularly noticeable when you speak to people who’ve just started new jobs in companies they’ve never physically visited; working for people they’ve never physically met; working with colleagues they’ve only ever seen on their computer screen.

We may like to think we’re digital nomads, capable of working anywhere, via our smart phones and laptops. But the reality is we’re social animals. We need real human contact to survive and thrive.

So, what does this mean for the hybrid world of work? Well, as with any problem, the first thing is to recognise and understand it. And I think we’re just in the early stages of this. Perhaps even still in denial.

We want to think we can make this work. But we know we can’t just pick up the old world and make it virtual. Some things are going to have to change.

If you never go into the office and you never actually meet your boss or your colleagues or the people who work for you, then the whole relationship between you and your work is very different.

You’re not going to get the social dimension of your working life from your computer, so you’re going to have to get it from somewhere else.

On a recent call, someone coined the phrase Working Near Home, for the idea that we might see people going to shared workspaces near their homes, where they work alongside other people, all doing different jobs for different companies. We shall see.

So, what does all this mean for our companies and the organisations we work for? How do we keep our people motivated when they’re only connected to us by technology – not by those all-important social bonds?

Of course, keeping people motivated has always been a challenge and various management theories of the last 50 years have addressed this is various ways:

  • Annual reviews
  • Performance related pay
  • Productivity targets          
  • Gamification
  • 360 appraisals                 
  • Team building exercises
  • etc.

What these motivational programmes have in common, is the implicit assumption that everyone can be motivated in precisely the same way. Of course, this isn’t true, but it’s been masked by the social dimension of the workplace.

So, the first thing we have to remember, in our new hybrid world, is that different people are, in fact, motivated by different things:

People high in dominance, are typically motivated by:

  • The ability to make decisions
  • Getting results
  • Personal achievement

People high in influence, are typically motivated by:

  • Approval and understanding
  • Openness and transparency
  • Recognition

People high in conscientiousness, are typically motivated by:

  • Fairness and transparency
  • Correct processes and accuracy
  • Being seen to be right

And so on ..

So, if we’re going to motivate people, as individuals, we need to talk to them one-on-one and understand what it is that motivates them:

  • How are you doing?
  • What’s working for you?
  • What’s not working?
  • What’s going well?
  • What’s missing?
  • What lights your fire?

Everyone likes to know their contribution is recognised and appreciated. So, it’s important to make sure we know what each member of our team is doing and talk to them about their work. It’s time consuming, but the bottom line is, we’re all individuals and we need to take the time to speak to each member of our teams individually.

And we have to do this more in the hybrid world than we did in the office – because there’s less social interaction to pick up the slack if we don’t.

So, to summarise:

  • The hybrid world of work is missing a social dimension.
  • We haven’t yet figured out how to rectify this.
  • But we do know we can’t just pick up the old world and make it virtual.
  • It’s difficult to motivate people when they’re only connected to us by technology.
  • And it’s important to remember, different people are motivated by different things.
  • So, we have to speak to them as individuals, regularly, one-on-one.

Q&A and discussion

Working from home is really intense, but it’s not going away any time soon. So, how do we make it survivable long term?

  • The starting point is probably a conversation about what it means to work from home in our organisation and establish some ground rules. In can be very intense and can become all consuming, so you need to have an open conversation about this and train your line managers in how to deal with it.
  • Things like workstation assessments are very important, together with other aspects of health and safety. What’s your policy regarding the supply of ergonomic equipment for people working at home? And, on the social side, thinking about things like “working-near-home”, how is that going to work for your organisation? What are the social groupings you’re going to bring together?
  • It’s also important to make sure everyone has some variety in their daily routine and not just sitting in one place working on their computer from breakfast to dinner every day. Everyone will have their own routine, but things like going for a walk at the time you would normally be travelling to or from work and breaking up your day with non-computer activities are very important.

The use of personal devices, laptops, smartphones etc., is on the increase and is here to stay. What is the best practice to control the associated data security risks?

  • When thinking about security on non-corporate devices, think about the data you’re handling on those devices and think about the lifecycle of that data. Think about how you can encrypt that data right at the source and keep it encrypted at all times, even if it’s on a personal device, and only decrypt it when it’s actually being used by a legitimate user.

How is our productivity being impacted by working from home?

  • Some people are reporting increased productivity and others less so, but it seems as though everyone is working harder. The real issue here is a question of balance. People are settling into working from home and the challenge is to stop it becoming too relentless.
  • It’s very easy for your home life to blend into your work life. As leaders, we have a responsibility not to make matters worse by doing things like sending people emails out of hours and thereby implicitly encouraging them to extend their working day.
  • In terms of effectiveness, the key is a culture of continuous improvement – learning what works and what doesn’t. For example, starting meetings early.

How does hybrid working affect organisational culture?

  • To some extent, things that were in place before the lockdown have transferred online – if the culture was one of presenteeism before lockdown, then managers will often be looking for ways to maintain this online (e.g. by monitoring whether people are shown as online in various platforms and tools).
  • More forward-looking companies are taking the opportunity presented by the move to hybrid working, to redefine the future of working in their organisation. One of the biggest insights is what this means for questions of permission and trust, which of course links back to questions of motivation and engagement.


The implications of the hybrid world of work are far reaching, both for organisations and for the individuals they employ. Making this world safe and secure is a significant challenge. We are still in the early stages of what is, in reality, a revolution in working patterns. The answer, as always, will be communication.

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