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Managing the lockdown extension

The continued Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown means people will be working remotely for far longer. IT decision-makers and business leaders will need more than a quick fix

As the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has shown, many businesses have been able to pivot from being office-based to supporting staff working full time at home. But the home environment is not the same as an office environment, and as the lockdown is extended, business leaders need to think about how to maintain long-term productivity and staff wellbeing.

For many organisations, getting laptops to everyone who can work from home has been the first step.

Speaking about his experience of advising small businesses during the lockdown, Dale Vile, founder of Freeform Dynamics, said that the first conversations he had were to advise businesses what laptops to purchase. “It’s not that difficult to move to cloud suites like Office 365 or Google Cloud’s G-Suite. That’s the first step. At least you can get the basics going,” he said.

At the start, when organisations began ordering laptops, Vile said the conversations he had were around the specification of laptops to order, adding: “I have been encouraging people not to buy the lowest-spec machines.”

On the other hand, he said most people do not need the highest specified machine either. During March, this led to huge demand in mid-range PCs and some businesses experienced supply shortages.

According to Canalys’s PC market pulse 2020, the PC industry has picked up due to increased demand for home working. Rushabh Doshi, research director at Canalys, said: “PC vendors will report healthy profits over the next few weeks, with operating margin percentages reaching all-time highs.

“Many other home technologies have seen similar popularity, including headphones, webcams, printers and monitors. Home-working software also exceeded expectations, including office, collaboration, virtual desktop, remote access and security. AMD, in particular, is doing well, as it is increasingly being accepted as a competitive alternative to Intel by businesses and consumers.”

Some staff will already be set up to use their own home computers. As such, Vile recommends that IT managers consider how to ensure corporate data is backed up if people are using their own devices at home. “Make sure you have some policies and processes in place around basic security,” he said.

Digital collaboration

With more dispersed teams, businesses are finding it increasingly important to remain digitally connected. A blog post from the data science team at Box, which forms part of the company’s Work Unleashed series, reported increased use of its collaboration and file-sharing service.

During the push toward remote work, total collaboration grew 19% – measured by comparing collaboration invites sent in the last two weeks of February 2020 versus the last two weeks of March 2020.

In the post, Box wrote: “We’ve seen that not only is there more collaboration happening within companies, but also between different companies, and these trends apply to many industries.

“We saw the most pronounced upticks in industries that have been central to the response to Covid-19 and public health. The state and local governments industry has had the largest increase in collaboration, with a 142% increase in collaboration invites sent in the February 2020 cohort versus March 2020 cohort.

“Other industries with large increases are healthcare providers with a 30% uptick, and life sciences companies with a 27% increase over the same time period.”

Beyond health and government agencies, Box also reported usage across all industry sectors increased. In particular, it said that more people were using the Box integration with Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack. “We’ve seen an increase across the board in usage of Box integrations with these types of messaging,” Box said.

Comparing data from February and March, Box said: “We’ve observed a 84% increase in messaging tool integration usage and a 71% increase for video tools.”

Data from Slack illustrates how London-based workers are making greater use of the Slack service. Measuring usage between February 17-21 and then March 16-20, Slack said that the average number of messages sent per user on desktop and mobile devices in London increased by 27%. While, almost overnight, Zoom has become a household name for video conferencing. 

All of this shows that staff and organisations are figuring out how to use technologies that support remote working to get work done.

Long-term prospects

If the first phase was about getting people working, during the next phase of the lockdown, Vile said: “If you have people either with home equipment or an office laptop, just don’t leave it at that. It’s common sense really. Getting up and running is not necessarily a sustainable position, particularly from a health and safety and productivity perspective.

“We could be in this [lockdown situation] for months. As soon as you can, and assuming you have the money, make sure staff have a proper desk setup at home. I am trying to encourage businesses to think about how they take care of their employees and set-up social channels to communicate with them. It can be a bit disconcerting finding yourself on your own eight hours a day, managing your own time.”

If employers and staff can figure out how to manage remote working, then one of the long-term impacts of coronavirus may be a renewed sense of home-working empowerment, according to Tim Worstall, senior fellow at Adam Smith Institute.

In a recent Computer Weekly article, he wrote: “I would expect there to be, in the post-Covid-19 economy, much more home working, perhaps part time and part in the office, than we had at the beginning of this year. Not because our technology has suddenly leapt forward, but because we have now had a taste of how the new way might work – and, who knows? We might even like it.”

Read more about remote working

  • To support employees working from home, network teams should carefully monitor VPN traffic, review firewall rules and rely on remote access support software.
  • Hybrid cloud UC could be the answer to UC infrastructure problems that are making it difficult for remote workers to connect to their corporate networks.
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