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Remote work and the rise of shadow IT

6/8/21 1:27 PM

65% of those working remotely before the pandemic use tools that aren't company approved.

As successful as the great remote work experiment has been over the last year, there’s one issue that’s giving businesses, and their IT departments, a difficult time: The rise of shadow IT.

Many employees, now working on their own and often on personal computers, are side-stepping company-sanctioned software in favor of their own workplace tools, technologies and devices.

According to our research report, 2021 Digital Workplace workplace trends &  insights, 40% of employees are using communication or collaboration tools that are aren’t explicitly approved by their company. That’s a problem: it opens companies up to more risk of a cyberattack, as a program’s security may not be on par with the business needs.

Shadow IT can also create data silos, with information that’s not visible to key colleagues. It might also disadvantage staffers who may be using less-efficient technologies, making it hard to streamline work-related processes and more.

It’s hard to blame employees for essentially implementing their own IT strategy at home. There are so many accessible cloud-based apps and tools out there – some of which people may be using for personal use, to communicate and collaborate with friends or family, for instance – that it’s often easier to incorporate something familiar into one’s at-home workflow than use potentially less-efficient workplace tools.

Why employees turn to the shadows

Employees tend to use their own technologies when they’re not happy with what their employers provide. Indeed, our survey found that 61% of employees aren’t completely satisfied with their company’s technologies. Workplace tools, they said, are often buggy or unreliable, inconsistent across the company and they don’t integrate well with other tools and technologies.

At the same time, it’s not easy for IT to help those at home. According to our report, 39% of IT managers say it’s extremely challenging to help employees solve IT issues while working remotely, while 24% of non-IT employees say that solving IT issues has been extremely challenging for them.

It doesn’t help that shadow IT has been a problem for a long time. Years ago, employees had to use company-approved phones for work purposes – often BlackBerrys. But with more staff wanting to use iPhones, which they were buying for personal use, businesses had to start adopting Bring Your Own Device policies or risk losing staff to companies that had more flexible approaches to tech.

The problem? The people who were using their own phones at work – and later laptops, watches and other devices – were downloading apps that they could then use to communicate and collaborate with their iPhone or Android-using coworkers. That’s why many of today’s employees don’t see shadow IT as a problem. Despite 85% of employees saying that they think their company monitors their tech-related activities, people are still turning to unsanctioned tools. 

Interestingly, of the 40% who use unsanctioned tools, 31% are newly remote staffers, while 65% have already been remote staffers. That suggests the more people work from home, the more comfortable they get with using unapproved technology.

As well, the likelihood of incorporating shadow IT differs with age. Just 15% of baby boomers say they use communication and collaboration tools at work that are not explicitly approved by their company, while 38% of Gen X, 54% of millennials and 33% of Gen Z say the same.

Give your employees the tools they need to do their jobs more effectively from home

With remote work continuing post-pandemic, it’s important for companies to get a handle on their shadow IT issues. While it can likely never be fully avoided, there are steps employers can take to defend against it.

  1. Give your employees the right tools. The top five technologies that people need, according to the survey, include communication tools, file-sharing tech, IT self-help options, company intranet, and productivity tools.
  2. Roadmap your digital workflows. And identify any company-related technologies or tools that are vulnerable, outdated or don’t work well with the rest of the system. Then, find out which unsanctioned tools your employees are using to see if there’s an opportunity to use them or to invest in similar technologies. If you’re using a platform like Microsoft 365, ensure any new tools are properly integrated within that system and can deliver maximum productivity.
  3. Educate your people. Employees often don’t know that using their own technologies can create compounding issues. They may not be aware of the potential security risks that come with downloading an app or that key information may be inaccessible from others who aren't using those same tools.  Given how easy it is to use cloud-based collaboration tools, many think that if there’s something out there that helps them do their work better, then their company won’t mind.

Help your employees better understand your security and privacy requirements and set up IT guidelines and policies everyone can follow.

Ultimately, you must, as our research highlights, update, connect and automate workplace tools and tasks to close IT gaps, and give employees the tools they need to feel connected, engaged, and included.

Your digital workplace should bring together the apps and tools your people are using, so there's no need to turn to shadow IT.

If you'd like to learn more about IT-specific challenges organizations are currently facing, have a look at Beezy's latest research report.

Download the report

 

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