Operate from Anywhere: Overcoming challenges and enabling employees to thrive in 2021
By Andrew Halliwell, Product Director, Virgin Media Business (Direct)
47% of all UK employees were working from home during the strictest Covid restrictions, according to the ONS.
But universal remote working (everyone at home, every day of the working week) probably isn’t the future.
With the government approving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19, mass immunisation may be just around the corner. Social distancing is set to continue, but we will likely see large numbers of employees return to the office once possible.
The future is actually about Operate From Anywhere. Employees working and collaborating from anywhere they like, whether it’s the traditional office, their desk at home, or a socially distanced café. Working is going to be more fluid and flexible than it ever has been before.
But this creates challenges. How can you support collaboration and communication over the long term? How do you ensure everyone benefits from equal speeds and experiences wherever they’re working?
In this article I’m going to explore some key trends that could help you answer these questions and achieve an ‘operate from anywhere’ model for your organisation.
Being cloud-first is critical
When the first national lockdown was introduced in March 2020, organisations had to switch to remote working almost overnight. Many did this by shifting resources and applications to the cloud.
82% of IT leaders ramped up their use of the cloud in direct response to the pandemic, according to a study by Snow Software.
And cloud solutions will be with us long term.
Our own study found that 60% of large enterprise customers regard the adoption of cloud technology as a top strategic priority. This is important for the ability of organisations to navigate through future volatility – research from IDC revealed that those further along in their cloud adoption journey were much better placed to react to the pandemic.
Overall the progress has been outstanding. One senior IT leader at a large retailer told us that after the initial six weeks of lockdown they were “A million miles away from the organisation (we) thought (we) were a few months ago” in their remote working capabilities.
As we move from universal homeworking to a hybrid model in 2021, one thing is clear.
Organisations should continue investing in cloud technologies, making incremental upgrades that will boost flexibility, agility and capacity, so that no employee is left behind, wherever they might be working.
Adopting more sophisticated cloud solutions will also allow you to introduce advanced unified communication technologies. These will be critical to hybrid working over the long term.
Employees need the power to communicate
An Operate From Anywhere model can’t work without your employees being able to communicate instantly and painlessly.
But 54% of HR leaders say poor technology and infrastructure is the biggest barrier to effective remote working, according to Gartner.
And a recent study by Insight found only 29% of people are happy with the technology they use at work. Some are even prepared to leave their job over it.
With digital tools keeping organisations going during the current disruption, the C-suite can’t afford to sit back and brush these issues under the carpet.
This is why unified communication is so important.
Through cloud-based connections, it empowers employees to talk with their entire team, whether that’s through voice, video or instant messaging apps.
In fact, implementing the right unified-communications-as-a-service (UcaaS) technology can boost productivity by 20-25%, according to McKinsey Global Institute research.
There are other advantages of UcaaS too.
With many employees working remotely, it has been difficult for organisations to retain a sense of culture – one that keeps that all important human touch without the natural camaraderie produced by an office.
UcaaS recreates the verbal interactions we experience everyday in the office, sustaining and even strengthening culture during these testing times. This will continue to be important in 2021, as remote working persists within a hybrid working model.
Upgrade your networks
Reflecting on 2020, something else that’s become clear is that inadequate legacy networking infrastructure has acted as a barrier, often hindering organisational responses to Covid-19.
And with 2021’s hybrid working likely to involve even larger volumes of data being transferred between offices, remote employees and other sites, the C-suite must act now. It must invest in the networking solutions providing greater flexibility, security and resilience.
This also includes preparing for the ISDN and PBX switch offs in 2025. If you’re in the C-suite of a large organisation, you should already be thinking about how to replace these outdated fixed lines. By investing now, you can be confident you’ll have a working solution for when it does happen.
And while four years may seem like plenty of time, complex procurement and transition processes will mean the deadline creeps up faster than expected.
Some leaders have already recognised the importance of upgrading their infrastructure and advancing their connectivity.
Over 80% of large enterprises see networks as a top organisational priority, according to our research, while 63% of public sector bodies feel the same.
But awareness of specific technologies like SD-WAN can be low.
As a public sector IT leader told us during our research, “It’s something we should adopt and adapt to using, but we need more information on how it would benefit us.”
SD-WAN has a critical role to play. It provides you with much greater control over how you use their bandwidth. It lets you make changes however and whenever you want and easily scale your network up and down with demand.
It also grants you resilience by using multi-authentication and encryption technologies, giving you some much-needed reassurance as disruption and uncertainty continues into 2021 and beyond.
Road to rebound
With a vaccine rollout, the road to rebound for UK plc and public sector organisations looks much clearer.
We expect to see a shift from everyone working from home 24/7 towards a hybrid model involving the traditional office and other locations.
But 2020 has taught us there is still a pressing need to invest in digital infrastructure and connectivity services – technology capable of keeping every single one of your employees connected with each other and your customers.
In fact, the future success of the country may well depend on it.