True hybrid working

Mike Adler, chief technical and product officer, N-able, examines whether Windows 11 will act as the catalyst for true hybrid working.

As the world continues to adjust to hybrid working, the devices we use for work are changing. A couple of years ago, many employees used to regularly work from a computer in an office. But now, due to advancements in security and technology, people are working anywhere—from coffee shops to trains—using laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones.

While this has caused some huge headaches for IT teams, who have desperately tried to maintain their businesses digital infrastructure, the reality has settled in—the hybrid workplace is here to stay.

The changes Microsoft has made within Windows 11 demonstrates its commitment to supporting the move to hybrid working. In total, 1.3 billion workers use a Windows operating system (OS), and the upgrades designed to improve digital collaboration, productivity, and security will affect these people, signifying a shift in the way we interact with our devices for work.

Although many of the updates are predominantly cosmetic, managed services providers (MSPs) will see added layers of security and an ease of deployment which will help them modernise IT systems globally without having to leave their desks. Although there will be some push back from companies that don’t wish to upgrade systems due to the minimum hardware requirements, ultimately the new system is designed to empower the remote worker.

The user experience

According to Microsoft’s general manager, Wangui McKelvey, computers are no longer just word processors. Since the mass move to work-from-home, McKelvey believes that computers have become “our window to the world. They connect us with our colleagues, friends, students, and family, with knowledge and tools to solve problems and create in new ways.” In short, productivity and collaboration have become the main focus of the Windows 11 update.

Microsoft Teams has been instrumental to remote working and is set to become the default collaboration tool for the distributed workforce. In fact, the number of users doubled from 70 million to 145 million between April 2020 and April 2021, so it makes sense that Teams has taken centre stage in the new OS. As part of the Windows 11 update, Microsoft has integrated Teams into the taskbar as a chat function.

It’s a simplified version that allows users to manage conversations outside of the app to enable and support easier multitasking. The startup menu has also been updated to improve compatibility for mobile users. With more workers using mobile devices, the new OS makes transitioning from desktop to mobile easier and more attractive.

Ease of deployment for MSPs

MSPs should rest assured that the upgrade to Windows 11 won’t be a laborious undertaking. In her blog, McKelvey describes the transition from 10 to 11 as being as simple as a feature update. In addition, management tools such as Endpoint Manager, Windows Autopilot, and Windows Update for Business will work just as effectively as they do on last-generation Windows.

The transition phase should not flag any technical problems either—Windows 11 is not only compatible with 10, but many features of the new OS bear similarities to its predecessor. This should make the upgrade an “easy sell” for MSPs—a smoother transition means businesses should not expect much disruption as devices begin updating.

A more secure workforce

Remote and hybrid working have exposed several security concerns, including insecure external network access, shadow IT, and multiple unknown devices. It’s important for businesses to remain secure and keep workforces safe; especially given the increase in cyberthreats and ransomware over the past year.

MSPs should focus on security improvements when liaising with clients on the upgrades. It may require hardware investments as the new OS relies on devices with the TPM 2.0 chip and a device that was released within the last four years. But this investment will be a small price to pay for a workforce that is more secure and better equipped to handle the challenges of hybrid working.

2020 saw malware increasing by 358 per cent, so the decision by Microsoft to require more secure hardware has been made in the best interests of global security. Businesses should see this as an important security investment—Microsoft found that by using the new TPM-enabled security features, they were able to reduce malware instances by 60 per cent.

As the update begins to be pushed out there will undoubtedly be more questions from businesses about why they should bother upgrading. So MSPs should be ready to advise on the next steps and the process in a way that keeps their client’s businesses uninterrupted, secure, and cost effective.

Windows 11 is clearly aiming to support businesses with a remote and dispersed workforce, and is an example of how Microsoft is helping its customers adapt to the new normal. Not only is collaboration a key feature, but in a bid to make remote working seamless and more productive, the new OS also puts a keen focus on keeping businesses secure.

This provides an opportunity for MSPs, as they are in a prime position to help advise businesses on next steps. As IT experts that have overseen the migration to remote working, MSPs know how businesses can benefit from the new OS and should be poised to help businesses upgrade. With the support of MSPs, those businesses will be better prepared for the hybrid workplace of the future.

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