One of the changes that has come out of the Coronavirus pandemic is that people are learning to work from home. This is more than IT providing remote and cloud-based access to business applications. It is more than providing unified communications for everyone. As Computer Weekly has previously observed, IT has been one of the unsung heroes of the crisis, keeping businesses operational. And now that the outlook is improving, IT will be called upon to help businesses maintain social distancing measures and help to get the UK economy working again.
Clearly, mass gatherings will not be on the agenda. An IT sector that has a well-oiled conference machine, getting thousands upon thousands of people to conference centres around the globe, is now relying 100% on virtual conferences.
Even as the lockdown relaxes, it is unlikely people will want to travel en masse to a dark, air conditioned, packed conference centre, sitting centimetres away from delegates who have travelled from all over the world to attend.
Experts are talking about a new norm, and among those new norms is the need for the IT industry to reimagine how to run large scale educational gatherings that ultimately help to build a community spirit around products and services.
There is no single answer, and IT firms are likely to expend a lot of time and effort in reinventing their hectic events operations. And where IT firms lead, others will follow. All businesses will have to get used to remotely streamed customer events and virtual customer service.
Beyond remote work and office productivity
CIOs will also need to consider how they support office staff. Again, why would someone choose to travel on a long commute in traffic or on a crowded train, especially if social distancing measures mean that few staff will actually be in the office and the kitchen, communal areas and water cooler conversations will be off limits.
In 1980 IBM invented the PC. In 1981 VisiCalc was ported to the PC and the spreadsheet became the PC’s first killer app. WordStar, WordPerfect and Microsoft Office forged paths to cement the PC as a platform on which IT could provide office productivity tools for employees.
Forty years since its launch, the PC is being reinvented, with the lockdown forcing businesses to consider how to keep staff motivated, healthy, and connected to the values of the company. Working from home requires different IT priorities compared to supporting office productivity tools in a workforce where a small proportion require remote access.
For the CIO and heads of business, it is no longer about providing access to a set of PC applications employees require to do their jobs. How do you keep staff feeling they belong to the company, and can continue to collaborate effectively with colleagues. And how do you support those front-line staff who cannot work from home, especially when many of their colleagues are not on-site?