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Business communications and the importance of connectivity

How Covid turned the world upside down

In March 2020 the Covid pandemic struck and life changed overnight. Businesses shut premises and adopted a new and, for many, entirely unfamiliar remote working model. Zoom and Teams calls replaced face-to-face meetings.

And 12 months on, not much has changed. We are gradually emerging from the latest lockdown, and with the vaccination rollout continuing, experts are optimistic that it might be the last. But for the moment at least, many organisations are working fully or mostly from home.

A new normal

Is that about to change? Will we soon be going back to ‘normal’? It’s not that simple. The pandemic experience has changed everything. The new attitude to work was summed up by Alan Jope, chief executive of consumer goods multinational Unilever. Jope said in January that his office workers would never return to their desks five days a week.

He is far from alone in predicting wholesale change to the way businesses operate. Firms as diverse as Twitter and Lloyds have also said they’ll stick with flexible working in some form even after the pandemic ends. Morgan Stanley has predicted 30% of US workers will work from home after the pandemic, double the pre-Covid figure.

So what is spurring the long-term adoption of remote and hybrid work? Well, for a start, employees seem to like it, at least some of the time. During the pandemic, they found they didn’t miss those long daily commutes, and appreciated having more say over when and where they worked.

The future is hybrid

At the same time, the distractions of home working and the social elements of office life mean few want to work from home all the time. But hybrid work – where employees split the week between office and home – has emerged as the most popular alternative.

In fact, Gensler’s most recent UK Workplace Survey found that 67% of UK workers favour a hybrid model, which means businesses that fail to offer it are likely to face a long-term recruitment and retention problem. Talented staff who want to spend more time working from home will simply jump ship for a company that offers a hybrid model.

And there are even more reasons for organisations in all sectors to embrace hybrid work. Capgemini Research Institute’s The future of work: From remote to hybrid report found that, for many companies, remote work boosted productivity and cost savings by up to 24% in the third quarter of 2020. On that basis, Capgemini predicts that the “shift to a hybrid workforce model is inevitable.”

A compelling case

There’s a compelling business case for hybrid. It could allow businesses to cut the size of their office estates, saving huge amounts in rent and associated costs. Home working employees also pay for their own heating, light, broadband and coffee. If personal devices can be properly secured, BYOD policies promise to further reduce corporate costs.

And perhaps most importantly, hybrid working models are likely to stick when the pandemic ends because they tap into trends that were happening anyway, and which Covid simply accelerated.

As our own blog made clear, trends towards mobility and flexibility were already in play long before 2020. Increasingly, teams need to be able to communicate and collaborate from anywhere, whether they’re in different offices, at home, or in an airport lounge halfway across the world. That was true before Covid and it will be even more true when lockdown ends.

On top of that, employees were already working and collaborating on a range of different devices. Workers are no longer tied to an office-based desktop computer and phone. Rather, they might be working on a laptop at home, a tablet in the local coffee shop, or a smartphone on the train journey to a client meeting. Again, Covid has simply accelerated something that was happening anyway.

Permanent solutions required

What does all this mean for you? Most importantly, it means that the challenges your business faced during Covid aren’t going away, because Covid simply emphasised trends that were already changing the way businesses operate.

And it means that sticking plaster solutions put in place during the pandemic are no longer enough. Workers want mobility and flexibility, and organisations must start putting the tools in place to equip them properly for the permanent adoption of a ‘work anywhere, on anything’ mentality.

We’ll talk more about what the challenges of remote working are, and what you can do about them, in the next section.


The challenges of remote work

How do we solve a problem like Covid-19? That was the question many businesses were faced with in March 2020.

What they meant was, how do we continue to operate when our premises are shut and our staff and customers are working from home? In a word, how do we survive?

It hardly needs saying that the pandemic threw up a hatful of new challenges for business. As we saw in the last section, change was happening anyway, especially in relation to more flexible working and the use of mobile devices. But nothing prepared any of us for Covid. Businesses went into emergency mode, with the emphasis on survival rather than strategy.

Many of those challenges were around remote work. Businesses that might have been used to equipping a few sales staff for work on the road now had to ensure an entire workforce could operate effectively away from the office. What’s more, they had to do it almost overnight.

Emergency measures

It’s fair to say that a certain amount of panic ensued. Businesses quickly brought legacy laptops out of storage, or implemented on-the-hoof BYOD policies. Many employees found themselves connecting to company networks from personal laptops or smartphones. Communicating with colleagues and customers was a similarly haphazard process.

British businesses are resourceful and resilient, and processes evolved over time. Tools like Zoom were quickly bolted on to allow some form of collaboration. In an emergency, everyone did the best they could, and it all just about worked.

But many of these measures were only ever meant to be temporary. They papered over the cracks, rather than filling them in. For example, employees found that, while they could phone customers, they didn’t have all the relevant details at hand to make interactions as positive as possible. When they tried to work with colleagues, they could talk and (sometimes) video call, but they couldn’t share files, fire off quick instant messages or truly collaborate in real time.

Insufficient data

At the same time, managers and team leaders were frustrated by insufficient data. For many businesses, it was impossible to measure the productivity of remote teams, or know who was doing what, and when.

In fact, managing dispersed staff was difficult in all sorts of ways. When only phone calls were available, managers found it hard to engage with remote teams, motivate them, and check in with employees who may have been suffering from the stress of home working and the ongoing pandemic. Onboarding new or temporary staff to ad hoc systems was a difficult and time consuming process.

We could go on, but suffice to say that many companies equipped their remote teams in a piecemeal way, often by bolting new applications onto legacy infrastructure. That was OK when remote work was a temporary fix. But with home working evolving into a more permanent hybrid model for many organisations, it’s a strategy that threatens your company’s productivity, security and customer goodwill.

Five tips to enable better remote working

So how do businesses prepare for permanent remote or hybrid work. Here are four steps to take now:

Put the right tools in place

Your remote teams need to be able to collaborate and communicate as easily at home as they can in the office. They need the right meeting tools and an all-in-one work space. Cloud-based unified communications are the answer, because they offer a consistent experience from anywhere, on any device, while maximising security.

Encourage a remote work culture

Let your employees know that management is fully behind the switch to remote or hybrid work. Emphasise the benefits, but also continue to provide office desk space to employees who might find working from home difficult.

Provide the right training and support

Make sure you provide employees that need it with relevant training on any new tools and applications they’ll be using at home. But go further. Employees transitioning to permanent hybrid work might need advice and support on everything from creating a comfortable working space to ensuring healthy work/life balance.

Stay in touch

Even with a hybrid model, you won’t be having physical team meetings and individual one-to-ones as often as you used to, so check in with remote employees regularly. This doesn’t have to be an organised meeting – a quick IM chat conversation to find out how an employee is coping with their workload will often be enough.


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