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UK remote workers held back by poor tech, limited digital skills

Despite rapid adoption of hybrid working since Covid, research from Virgin Media O2 Business reveals organisations facing technical and personnel-related limitations in making third workspace pay off

Three years since knowledge workers had to make an almost overnight pivot to remote working and their firms support the concept of hybrid work by implementing the essential technology to make it possible, research from Virgin Media O2 Business (VMO2B) has revealed that while UK companies have tolerated hybrid working, in many cases the tech has not allowed them to drive efficiency within their organisations.

Commissioned by the business arm of the UK comms operator, the research set out to understand how organisations across the public and private sectors are equipped to meet the challenges of 2023, and how the role of tech introduced in that intervening period is creating efficiencies to help (or hinder) productivity. It was conducted by Censuswide among a sample of 1,213 managers aged over 18 working in UK businesses. The data was collected between 14 February and 13 March 2023.

One of the key findings was that three years after lockdowns began, organisations are still limited by old tech and poor digital skills, with almost a fifth (18%) feeling held back by limited digital skills or resistance to new tech, and an inclination that technology is limiting the ability of businesses to operate efficiently, with 72% labelling it as their biggest challenge.

Although many businesses seem to have embraced hybrid working, nearly a quarter (24%) of professional services leaders said they still had limited remote work capabilities. Given 19% cited employee attraction and retention as their biggest internal challenge this year, VMO2B said empowering employees with the skills and flexibility needed for their roles would be key.

While the businesses surveyed were keen to make the most of their existing tools, 72% of respondents believed their outdated tech was affecting their ability to operate efficiently. With growth being the number one priority for 36%, decision-makers said they were being forced to balance the challenges of 2023 with their ambitions. Almost a third (32%) of decision-makers observed that the biggest hindrance to their efficiency was old software or hardware (18%), or incompatibility between systems or applications (14%). This, said VMO2B, indicated that digital transformation would remain high on their agendas in 2023.

A lack of digital skills was found to be a key hindrance to embracing hybrid working. VMO2B suggested the 18% of respondents feeling employee resistance to tech or limited digital skills was holding back operational efficiency and could be a possible catalyst for 50% of leaders believing less than half of their employees are using unified communications and collaboration tools, such as Teams and Zoom, to their full extent.

“Almost three-quarters of business leaders say old technology is impacting their business’s ability to operate efficiently and holding back growth”
Jo Bertram, Virgin Media O2

The survey also showed the value of investing in tech. With increased pressure on budgets, two-thirds (65%) of decision-makers noticed a need to demonstrate results faster when making a case for new investment in tech and connectivity in the past six months.

VMO2B noted that the stress to realise a return on investment (ROI) quickly was the highest among respondents who said old tech was significantly hindering their ability to operate efficiently (79%). Despite being the most in need of new tech, these leaders appeared to be under more pressure to prove its value quickly. Leaders across sectors also recognised the opportunity to improve efficiency through tech, with 65% of decision-makers feeling the need to demonstrate ROI for tech and connectivity investments faster than ever before.

“The last three years have seen the biggest change in the way we work since the Industrial Revolution, but many companies are being left behind. It would be easy to assume that most organisations have embraced new technology and digital transformation to support their workforce, however that’s clearly not the case,” remarked Jo Bertram, managing director of business and wholesale at Virgin Media O2.

“[The] research reveals almost three-quarters of business leaders say old technology is impacting their business’s ability to operate efficiently and holding back growth. With companies facing complex operational challenges and a tough macro-economic environment, the lessons learned from the pandemic should not be forgotten – it’s key that businesses make smart tech investments, challenge partners to get the most out of their existing technology and give employees the tools they need to succeed.”

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