PJ Hough: The Irishman behind the future of work

Citrix chief product officer PJ Hough is an Irishman who has deftly shaped our digital working lives. Post-Covid-19 he believes people and technology are now at the heart of the world of work.

The coronavirus pandemic is demonstrating in a rather dramatic way how easily daily business operations and functions can be negatively affected or interrupted by a rapidly unfolding crisis.

Covid-19 also underlines the importance for companies to proactively implement measures that safeguard business processes and workforce productivity, while also ensuring that their employees remain healthy, safe and productive throughout an emergency.

“When a difficult time is over, employees will appreciate and remember that the company took care of them when it really counted”

The business need to keep employees productive requires that companies of all sizes, across all sectors, must ensure that they have business continuity plans in place that allow staff to switch to distributed processes and workflows as soon as a crisis hits. The traditional technological response to remote working requires companies to ensure that their cloud function supports continuity of core IT services and that their employees have remote access via a virtual private network (VPN).

A more sophisticated strategy involves the use of virtual apps and virtual desktops. This gives employees fast, secure and reliable access to the company resources that they need – not just from the home office, but from anywhere and from any device.

Post-pandemic security: No panic

One of our clients in Ireland who is using our services to deliver a more evolved approach to business continuity and remote access is law firm William Fry. Pre-Covid, the company was proactively responding to the fact that many of its employees were increasingly mobile and required secure access to clients‘ sensitive data while on the move.

At the core of William Fry’s approach are two fundamental requirements: the need to deliver a consistent, high-performance desktop experience for employees to get work done remotely, and secondly, the need to apply security policies based on a user’s behaviour and environment to ensure that applications remain secure and that client information is safeguarded at all times.

Citrix is supporting these requirements by providing William Fry with a virtual desktop which runs from our client’s data centre and creates a secure environment that covers all activity. It means that when employees access documents or receive emails, there’s no data going down to the laptop – it all happens within a virtual desktop. So, if an employee is in a coffee shop and their laptop gets stolen, there’s nothing actually on it.

Additionally, our technology ensures that William Fry can securely and efficiently manage a full array of ‘endpoints’ – such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, thin-clients, and IoT devices. This allows William Fry’s IT department to deliver operating systems and roll out updates, all without having to see or touch a single screen. It also allows the company’s employees to use email securely and access internal sites on their iPhones and iPads.

People have the power

While this approach demonstrates how technology is supporting business continuity, employees remain the most valuable and vulnerable part of any organisation, and during a disruption, this is especially true. The need to keep employees safe and productive places the onus on businesses to implement a flexible work strategy and future-proof their networks.

For the most part during Covid, the focus has been on as many employees as possible working from the safety of their own home, thus enabling them to be productive from a remote location. In other scenarios, the safest step for employees might be to leave their homes and retreat to a distant location, or to remain on the move and work flexibly on the go. In all of these scenarios, a secure flexible work strategy is key.

Pre-Covid, many companies were reluctant to adopt remote or flexible work strategies. However, as the current crisis demonstrates, businesses must move from presence-based to results-based models. In the end what counts isn’t who is at the office the longest, but who is most productive and achieves agreed results.

Apart from facilitating remote working, companies need to communicate in a transparent manner during a crisis situation. Employees need to be informed quickly and regularly about what is going to happen next, and how it affects them. They also need to be able to collaborate effectively, even if their teams are suddenly distributed across numerous home offices or other remote sites. For this purpose, in addition to secure, high-performing desktops and applications, employees also need flexible, on-demand communications tools such as business chat and video conferencing.

State-of-the-art technology can help employees to stay in touch with customers and partners. In the context of remote working, businesses are establishing on-demand digital alternatives for as many of their regular customer interactions as possible. For example, webcasts are replacing face-to-face meetings, and online training classes have become the norm instead of on-site workshops. There has also been a sharp rise in online events with augmented/virtual reality presentations to inform customers and partners about new offerings or product innovations.

Technology also plays a key role in maintaining a sense of connectedness among the workforce, and to help overcome personal or social challenges that employees may face. In the current pandemic, stress and the feeling of being overworked are common issues facing employees, while challenges associated with balancing work with childcare or looking after elderly relatives are also pronounced. Additionally, employees who are new to the concept of permanently working from home could also feel isolated, left out of the loop, or even depressed.

To address these challenges, an anonymous hotline that gives employees someone to turn to in a psychological or personal crisis and online workout events to promote physical health could be a good option, for example.  Also, team leads should have employees’ well-being and a good team spirit as a top priority at times of crisis, offering colleagues after-hour “fireside chats” and informal online team meetings. These supports help to create and foster the feeling of belonging and team engagement. In the long run, these activities can improve workforce retention. When a difficult time is over, employees will appreciate and remember that the company took care of them when it really counted.

The coronavirus pandemic shows that businesses need to put employees at the heart of their business continuity strategy. To achieve a resilient and productive workforce, they need to focus on distributed processes, online collaboration and creating a sense of togetherness that keeps employees involved, engaged and motivated, even in stressful situations. If done correctly, the same technologies that enable remote work can also be leveraged to create a team spirit that extends across home offices – and that will continue to live on, long after the current crisis passes.

PJ Hough is executive vice president and chief product officer for Citrix and is responsible for driving the company’s current and future technology direction, including driving product alignment, innovation and growth across the portfolio. Hough brings more than 25 years of industry experience to Citrix, most recently serving as the CVP of Developer division at Microsoft. Prior to that, he spent over 17 years in the Microsoft Office Division, driving vision and execution for the program management of the entire Office suite culminating with introduction of Office365. Hough earned a bachelor’s degree in computer applications with honours from the National Institute for Higher Education in Dublin, and a master’s degree in computer applications with 1st Class honors from Dublin City University. He holds 11 patents.

Published: 17 July, 2020