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Office Wi-Fi may not cope with hybrid work

Continued growth of online meetings is triggering disruption across the employee productivity technology market, research from CCS Insight has found

A study from CCS Insight, based on a survey of 611 respondents across France, Germany, Spain and the UK, has found that traditional calls have fallen by 20% in favour of meeting apps.

CCS Insight found that businesses’ reliance on online meetings continues to grow and that employees’ adoption of Microsoft Teams and Zoom jumped more than 50% in the past year. These products are now used by 47% and 41% of employees respectively.

The analyst firm noted that this growth has caused disruption in the traditional voice technology market, affecting the volumes of mobile and desk phone calls. Its research points to continued growth in meeting apps and a further decline of traditional telephone calls over the next 12 months. In fact, almost a quarter of employees expect their usage of desk phones to decrease further over the next 12 months, with voice-only and video calls on meeting apps both expected to grow strongly.

According to CCS Insight, this has a knock-on effect on broader technology strategies, with employees expressing concerns about whether their fixed office networks will keep up in the video-centric hybrid work era. The study found that slow fixed office networks are the biggest connectivity frustration for employees, at 37%.

CCS Insight warned that as workers continue participating in online meetings as they return to the office, this will put even more pressure on the corporate network. It will also undoubtedly fuel demand for more reliable office Wi-Fi – something already flagged as problematic by 29% of employees.

Looking at hybrid work, 62% of respondents favour a hybrid model, with three days per week working from home the preferred frequency. CCS Insight found that as pandemic restrictions begin to ease in some regions, employees remain determined that remote work should continue to play a vital role.

The survey found that of those able to work remotely, 90% want to retain the option to do so. Just over a quarter (27%) want to work remotely all the time, a significant drop from the 34% in 2020.

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But hybrid work means the way office networking has traditionally been configured needs to change. There is now much more focus on Wi-Fi.

Angela Ashenden, principal analyst at CCS Insight, said: “WiFi is one of the areas exposed when you move to a hybrid work pattern. Most companies use Wi-Fi as a backup. They prefer to use the corporate LAN [local area network], but if you are having people coming into the office again, where there are no fixed desks, then Wi-Fi becomes more important.”

Among the big challenges Ashenden sees is that there are not that many people going back to the office yet. “With more people coming into the office, it’s going to be a real shock,” she said.

A high level of Wi-Fi usage, combined with the shift from traditional voice calls to video conferencing, will put networks under greater strain.

Communications budget

Ashenden warned that the shift to video conferencing applications such as Teams and Zoom will also have a knock-on impact on the traditional IT communications budget. While a lot of the investment in Teams and Zoom are areas of IT spending, she said this expenditure is not being managed as part of an existing IT communications strategy.

While IT may prefer negotiated comms contracts that offer the cheapest way to deliver enterprise networking, Ashenden said that employees will choose their own tools, outside of the scope of the IT function, which may mean the true cost of networking is split between traditional contracts and a hidden cost based on employees choosing their preferred video conferencing apps.

CCS Insight’s research has also highlighted the problem many businesses face with staff retention as the economy opens up after the pandemic. It reported that while global employee turnover was about 11% prior to the pandemic, the CCS Insight survey found that 26% of employees are thinking about changing employer in the next 12 months.

This is higher in the UK (33%), in medium-sized businesses (35%) and in industries such as financial services (43%), technology (39%) and communications and media (36%). Looking at demographics, CCS Insight reported that 34% of people under the age of 40 are thinking of leaving their company, and half (50%) of people who have been in their current role for less than two years – since the start of the pandemic – are considering leaving.

According to CCS Insight, this underlines the struggle for businesses to create a sense of connection and engagement when employees are largely remote, and is a major factor in many firms’ efforts to encourage some return to office-based working.

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