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As unprecedented times become the new normal in 2021, what IT tools are companies using to stay productive? By most accounts, technology will be called on to address many of the same pain points that came to light during the coronavirus pandemic. Analysts expect IT purchases to be driven by addressing the needs of a workforce that is either full-time or part-time remote. This means offering employees tools and equipment for being productive wherever they may be, and backend infrastructure that keeps company data appropriately accessible and secure.      

New laptops powering productivity 

According to the 2021 State of IT Survey by Spiceworks, laptop computers will be the number one hardware purchase for companies of all sizes – from enterprise on down to SMBs.  Creative jobs are among those most like for remote work, and it’s important that employees have computers with enough power to run creative applications light enough to travel.  

For business users that want a sensible-looking machine powerful enough for creative heavy lifting, the latest thin-bezel laptops for professionals offer lots of practical utility. Each ships with Windows 10 Professional licensing, and has the hardware requirements creatives need for work – a discrete graphics card, and a quad-core or greater CPU for handling professional-grade production work.    

As an add-on, a USB-C dock is a useful tool for anyone who uses a laptop as their primary work computer. Use it to interface with any number of peripherals you may need to use without having to carry around a briefcase full of adapters and dongles. These also allow you to quickly connect your laptop to desktop monitors for dual display productivity wherever you are, charging capabilities for your phones and laptops, and fast data transfers between computers and external hard drives.    


Office applications for a dispersed workforce  

Last year saw the end of support for Windows 7 which meant many companies allocated resources for Windows 10 licensing and data migration.  This year, Spiceworks anticipates that productivity applications will lead the way for company software spending.   

The expiration of Microsoft Office 2010 looms in 2021, and companies currently accommodating remote work will surely take a look at the benefits that a Microsoft 365 subscription offers a dispersed workforce.  Note that Microsoft Standard licensing, which carries a one-time perpetual license instead of a subscription, does have functionality that accommodates a remote workforce. It might be a better fit for certain companies’ business requirements.  

Before you choose, it’s important to make a plan for managing any update or migration of your Office assets. The first step usually involves an audit and documentation about how Office is used on a user-by-user basis. From there, companies gain clarity about what they already own and what they need to license. Working with a Microsoft licensing specialist can help you identify your licensing needs and make sure you’re compliant without overpaying for licensing redundancies.  

Remote work in for the long haul 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wax and wane, many companies have adopted a permanent WFH policy for employees. Technical staff has been asked to meet challenges related to supporting a remote workforce, and will continue to do so into the new year.    

For many companies, mitigating VPN performance issues pose an ongoing challenge especially for those looking to scale up heading into 2021. Previously, a VPN support strategy may have entailed adding capacity and internet link bandwidth. Today, with the VPN increasingly in a mission-critical role, management requirements are more complex. IT will look to meet these requirements with a number of tools. Everything starts with a documented plan that prioritizes essential services in event of outages, as well as and implementing usage parameters and access controls where necessary. 

Another challenge many companies face during the COVID-19 response involves overcoming Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) limitations. Increasing the load on the datacenter can have real repercussions in performance and productivity. Users might experience lagging performance if server and storage infrastructure is not up to the task. Demanding creative applications like CAD/CAM, Adobe Creative Suite, and scientific modeling may benefit from GPU optimized server upgrades.         

Adoption of Internet of Bodies (IoB) technology  

For companies bringing employees back into the workplace, office sanitation practices remain high priority for operations teams.  In addition, businesses are leveraging RFID technology to create insights to how employees move around and interact with the intention ensuring appropriate social distancing measures.  

Hospitals and other care facilities have used RFID badges, wristbands, and readers for personnel location tracking and access. Now these devices are poised to expand to other industries to prevent the spread of the virus.  For example, RFID-enabled lanyards assist contact tracing and quarantine. They and can be even set up to monitor whether employees are washing their hands and taking other precautions during the workday. 

Mobile devices with 5G 

Before the virus hit, widespread adoption of 5G was a dominant narrative in the tech space. The next generation of wireless technology is anticipated to make inroads to widespread use in the coming year. 5G offers tenfold improvements over 4G LTE in wireless data transfers where 5G network infrastructure is available.   

Analysts are looking at 5G networks to guide self-driving automobiles, and connect a high-density web of sensors, IoT devices, and end-user devices like smartphone and computers.  The massive machine-to-machine (M2M) advancements still appear to be a few years on the horizon  

For now, 5G — where it is available — will offer users enhanced mobile broadband access. Laptop manufacturers have announced several laptops with 5G support (see: Dell Latitude 9510, HP Elite Dragonfly). 5G connectivity is also being built into newer generation smartphones as well, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20, Huawei Mate 20 X, and LG V50 ThinQ 5G

Final thoughts 

Many companies continue to face many of the same challenges brought about by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Staying productive while staying safe will drive IT spending and remain top of mind heading into next year.  

Let us know in the comments: what IT tools are your department using to meet business goals and requirements next year?   

Adam Lovinus

Author Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

More posts by Adam Lovinus

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