A Life Less Analog, Technology

FLEXWORK: Why the future of work is employee-centric

Technology column header

Working from home isn’t for everyone. Some people love it. Some people don’t. But whether it’s due to resistance to change, fear of technology, or generational differences, those who hate working from home should not get in the way of those who love it. That’s why the future of work is FLEXWORK, with companies adopting employee-centric practices that emphasize flexibility and choice.

“The world that we’re moving forward to right now is one where companies are able to provide flexibility to their workers. I think in some instances, we’ve seen that people commute to work for an hour, an hour-and-a-half. Some people have an extremely long commute up and back each way. And some people feel that if they work from home, they would actually be more than happy to give that two hours each way back to the organization for time to work. Some people love the idea that they can be a little bit more flexible around their routine. Maybe they don’t start at 9 o’clock on the dot. They can do their shopping in the morning, but they’re actually managing their day accordingly,” said Sean Duca, Vice President and Regional Chief Security Officer, Asia Pacific and Japan of Palo Alto Networks.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation

The future of work is FLEXWORK, with companies adopting employee-centric practices that emphasize flexibility and choice. Image credit: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash
Image credit: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Duca was responding to my question at their virtual press briefing. I asked about how managing remote work is further complicated by the fact that companies, particularly the human resources and information technology departments, must deal with generational differences. Five generations are in the workplace: the Silent Generation (born between 1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Generation X (1965-1980), Millennials a.k.a. Generation Y (1981-1996), and Generation Z (1997-2012).

I pointed out that as a proud member of Generation X who also happened to become a tech journalist, I’ve been digital for over two decades now and have been working from home and championing it before it was even called work from home. And while I’m not happy about the COVID-19 pandemic, it has definitely forced companies to undergo digital transformation and consumers to embrace the digital lifestyle. As I’ve previously said, sometimes innovation means dragging people screaming and kicking into the future.

Duca acknowledged that generational as well as individual differences do exist, and what is important is for organizations to recognize the preferred working style of employees, and make it possible for them to perform their jobs this way.

“Some people want to work five days in the office, great. Some people say, I never want to go back in, or others say I want to work two days. I think if an organization is flexible, and the whole FLEXWORK policy for us at Palo Alto Networks is exactly that, you can choose when you need to do it,” Duca said.

Cybersecurity in the age of remote work

Working from home also presents new cybersecurity risks, particularly since individuals and generations prefer different devices and platforms, and have different attitudes towards cyber hygiene.

Duca, however, said this is all the more reason for companies to become flexible in supporting the needs of their employees.

“Businesses should be thinking of this as an opportunity. That you can actually allow people to do something that’s different that’s going to be a little bit more productive. Security should not be the “Department of No”. Our job should actually be to say: ‘You want to use Zoom. You want to use Skype. You want to use Discord.’ Because there are five generations, work out if there’s a true issue around risk one of those applications, and if there is, I get it, don’t allow it. But if it’s not really a risk, allow it to work. But make sure it’s secure. Because that’s the big thing. You can allow all these applications, and our job as security should be to say, thank you if that’s what you like to do. Let’s do it in a secure way. Not simply say no,” Duca said.

FLEXWORK and Palo Alto Networks

Duca isn’t just talking about theory, because Palo Alto Networks actually introduced this new program called FLEXWORK as a new way of working for the company.

More than a program, FLEXWORK is also a consortium of five companies: Box, Palo Alto Networks, Splunk, Uber, and Zoom.

“As we grapple with remote working we are unearthing complexities that have never been faced before. We don’t have proven processes, playbooks or even much data to guide us. That creates a huge opportunity.

“Being forced into remote working and making it work at breakneck speed, we realize we can explore and disrupt the way our companies move to the future.”

For his part, Palo Alto Networks Country Manager for the Philippines Oscar Visaya emphasized that the future of work is employee-centric.

“If you look at the Philippines, there’s still a question of whether culturally it’s going to be accepted. But I think what I’m seeing right now is that they’re opening up. Management, the board, companies, from conglomerates to small ones — they’re opening up to this idea of really transforming these digital connections into meaningful human interactions so that they can the best out of their employees.

“In the first three or five months, I could still see customers mandating that you have to go back to the office. Anyway, there’s already a way to be able to protect yourself. But some of the employees — actually, I’ve seen them resign. Because they’re just not comfortable going to the office,” Visaya said.

Predicting the future

Apart from the human factor, Visaya also addressed the technology aspect.

“When it comes to technology choices, this is where, again, you have to balance business and the current situation of employees. One of the challenges raised by executives in our survey is the difficulty in monitoring and managing employees’ cyberhygiene when they work from home. I think that somehow impacts the way they make a decision in allowing employees to work from home. If we solve that problem with some of the security tools that we have in the industry, including the ones from Palo Alto Networks, then I think it’s much easier for companies to evolve and embrace this concept of FLEXWORK or working from home,” he said.

At the virtual press briefing, Palo Alto Networks shared four predictions for 2021, one of which is that working from home will get smarter and safer. The other three predictions are:

  • Miss travel? Get prepared to share more personal data
  • The wait for 5G is over… for those who are ready
  • The year of getting the house back in order

So, are you ready to embrace the future of work?