What will the next phase of working look like due to Covid-19?

Andy Jane, CTO at Olive Communications, looks back at the past couple of weeks as the UK has been on lockdown to see how businesses have coped during the initial stage of the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis

The first week of the Covid-19 crisis saw the UK business community rush to adapt their operations for their workforce to work from home (WFH), in line with the government’s directive.

Now, in what is being widely dubbed “the world’s biggest WFH experiment”, it is estimated that almost half of UK business workers are working from home, forcing a shift in demand for key services and utilities from commercial to domestic settings.

A surge in the purchase of laptops resulting in short supply, national bandwidth overload, out of date equipment, and the migration of suddenly moving on-premise systems into the cloud have presented multiple challenges and threats to maintaining business productivity while supporting workers in the home.

Remote worker strategies

Most companies have a remote-worker strategy in place, and many will have sought in the first instance to ensure that key decision-makers and senior management were successfully transitioned during the initial phase of the crisis.

In the first few days alone, immediate problems were reported, including a national bandwidth surge, with Vodafone reporting an increase of 30%. Vodafone has since taken significant steps to ensure the UK remains connected, including extra capacity to its broadband and mobile networks.

The pandemic, despite some warning, has taken many businesses by surprise, particularly those without a business continuity plan (BCP). Having no BCP presents a major challenge and will have been a big wakeup call.

For those organisations that do have a plan in place, use this time to change them in accordance with current experiences. For those that don’t, this is the time to create one.

Once the workforce is back in the office, be sure to test the BCP at least every six months rather than wait until it’s absolutely necessary, by which time it could be too late. Continuity plans require a lot of attention and investment from senior leaders to ensure they’re fit for purpose, with tangible measures such as operational efficiency put to the test.

As we move into phase two of Covid-19, many companies are still yet to have their whole workforces fully operational from home, grappling to complete the transition, and looking for new forms of communicating. Limited infrastructure, on-premise IT systems, contended broadband and lack of unified communications (UC) being just a few of the various challenges.

The rise of rapid deployment solutions and remote worker tools

To meet these challenges and keep seamless communications flowing, the next phase of working has seen service providers across the nation tirelessly provide cloud-based tools and technology to get UK home workers up and running at speed – in Olive Communication’s case, from as little as 48 hours.

These have included rapid deployment solutions and remote collaboration tools such as Vodafone GigaCube, a plug-and-play portable wireless router that transforms 5G and 4G networks into instant Wi-Fi.

This allows teams to operate quickly and efficiently without worrying about the strain on home broadband during the lockdown period, and that productivity is maintained for the many weeks ahead. 

We’re seeing rapid uptake in collaborative tools such as Mitel MiTeam Meetings, a secure enterprise grade cloud-based software platform enabling effective communications from disparate locations, on any supported device.

Teams are using apps such as MiTeam Meetings to stay connected and engaged virtually through multiple services including video, messaging, group chat, file sharing, and conferencing. Many companies, including Olive, have set up virtual staffrooms, to meet, chat and maintain positive communications while working in isolation.

Video calling is also becoming the new normal as we immerse into phase two with more people working from home than ever, using it to break down barriers and maintain that human touch – vital during this current business climate and as we look to continue remote working for the foreseeable future.

Cloud migration has become widespread

The Covid-19 crisis has posed a particular problem for organisations with on-premise IT systems, and many have chosen to migrate swiftly to the cloud to mitigate risk.

Cloud storage, while not new, has proven to be a vital aspect of a successful remote-working strategy, enabling workers to continue to be productive within a secure environment and the business to have backed-up systems in the cloud.

As the workforce is transitioning to home working, it is advisable to check your cloud storage policy to ensure data is secure, compliant, and easily accessible.

Flexible, multi-cloud solutions such as Olive’s Cloud Managed Service Platform provide one single place to consume best-of-breed technology and hyper-personalisation through integrated application programming interfaces (APIs), taking customer experience to a new level regardless of location or device.

Post-pandemic, there will very possibly be other scenarios that could lead to temporary business closure, such as bad weather. Cloud migration will ensure that, should the business continuity plan be invoked once more, every member of staff will able to work successfully and productively from home.

Businesses have pivoted

Phase two has also seen a rising number of businesses pivoting due to Covid-19. Rapidly changing situations, often on a daily basis, have required businesses to shift gears and change mindsets in accordance with their business need.

The whole dynamic has changed, there is no rigidity – it is about adaptation. Whether it be capacity planning, sales and marketing, customer service or finance, having a cloud-enabled technology infrastructure is key so the business can continue to communicate throughout, stay in touch virtually, be agile and make unilateral decisions collaboratively in real time.

By pivoting, organisations have been able to sustain operations, and keep going, in very uncertain times.

Connectivity

The widespread availability of 4G has been critical to maintaining business continuity in the home during Covid-19. Many networks have upped allowances to allow for increased demands to the service.

The nationwide 5G roll-out looks set to be on hold for now, which is understandable in the current situation, but the services provided by widely available fast deployment of plug-and-play devices have ensured that communications can remain seamless.

What lies ahead

After Covid-19, there is a very real possibility that the nature of work as we know it will change, potentially forever. The situation has affected us on such a huge scale, on many personal and professional levels.

Understandably, company heads will be questioning costs such as the need for so much office space, and whether employees will need that same level of physical interaction and presence as before. The more we are connected online, the more we have adapted to the new way.

Employees, empowered by the use of collaborative, virtual technology, and spending less time on the daily commute, will be key to driving change and demanding more WFH time, with its proven benefits and multiple efficiencies.

Physical contact is and will remain key to humanity and, in this currently isolated world, we appreciate it more than ever. But there is no doubt that our lives at work and at home will take on a new meaning, as we come out the other side of coronavirus and look back on the lessons learnt.

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