Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress, has been an advocate of the distributed workforce for many years now. I’d never encountered this concept until listening to his recent podcast with Sam Harris titled, The New Future of Work. As many organizations have scrambled into WFH environments the background IT that was in place has been the difference between a seamless transition and chaos. Should we come out of this pandemic with a functioning economy intact it’s almost certain to change the range of possibilities around workplace environments, remote work, teleworkers, and security.

Having observed the recent transitions that worked best it struck me that I’m already working with technologies that make a distributed workforce more than possible. The potential to automate the configuration of mobile devices using dynamic groups, to roll out policy and compliance and security from a cloud-based MDM portal like Intune and the functionality to reduce attack surfaces, encrypt files and hard-drives or automate remediation without ever visiting the device in person. Without boundaries a traditional firewall becomes less important and in a fully distributed workplace, obsolete. In its place we must adopt the zero-trust approach across several vectors including identities, devices, applications, data and network– “never trust, always verify”. Combine this with the Microsoft 365 productivity suite like Microsoft Teams (Unified Collaboration and V-Conferencing), Office 365 Apps (Formerly called Office 365 Pro Plus), and EMS (Enterprise Mobility and Security) and you are well and truly on your way to creating a mobile distributed workforce that can tackle many of the modern challenges we are facing as well as create new economic potential in the future.

On Matt Mellenweg’s blog he provides a model of the stages of autonomy companies can traverse– level two is where a lot of companies find themselves today. By this time next year hopefully many more will have started moving toward level three.

  • Level two is where many companies have found themselves in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve accepted that work is going to happen at home for a while, but they recreate what they were doing in the office in a “remote” setting, like Marshall McLuhan talked about new media mediums initially copying the generation before. You’re probably able to access information from afar, you’ve adapted to tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but everything is still synchronous, your day is full of interruptions, no real-time meetings have been canceled (yet), and there’s a lot of anxiety in management around productivity — that’s the stage where companies sometimes install surveillance software on laptops. Pro tip: Don’t do that! And also: Don’t stop at level two!
  • Third level, you’re really starting to benefit from being remote-first, or distributed. That’s when you see people invest in better equipment — from a good desk lamp to solid audio gear — and in more robust asynchronous processes that start to replace meetings. It’s also the point at which you realize just how crucial written communication is for your success, and you start looking for great writers in your hiring. When you are on a Zoom, you often also have a Google Doc up with the other meeting participants so you can take and check real-time notes together. Your company has a zero-trust BeyondCorp security model. In a non-pandemic world you plan meetups so teams can break bread and meet each other in person a week or two a year.

Middle-management that obsess over measurements of how and when we produce instead of what we produce will become fossils of a bygone era….this is an opportunity to produce a sweet spot between productivity and security (zero-trust) while imagining modern ways to work and co-create.