Covid-19 crisis could introduce companies to other remote working benefits

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Right now, it’s hard to find light at the end of the tunnel of the Covid-19 pandemic but at least remote working is possible for many businesses, enabling the wheels of the economy to stay turning. A decade ago, the ability of employees to work remotely was the sole preserve of early adopters of Unified Communication (UC) solutions; today it’s ubiquitous with newspaper headlines in the UK proclaiming that millions of people are now working from home.

UC is comprised of a suite of applications that make remote working possible: messaging for real-time exchanges, presence for seeing who is available and the best way they can be contacted, and voice and video conferencing for anytime, anyplace meetings.  BT has been successfully providing these services for a decade, but it took the so-called “consumerisation of IT” to move it from niche to mainstream.

Learning lessons from social media

People using Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook in their everyday lives improved the understanding of what the new communication tools can deliver. And as millennials grew up with social media got jobs, employers found themselves under pressure to provide them with similar services in the workplace. As a result UC adoption accelerated.

The use of collaboration solutions like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Cisco Webex solutions is now commonplace, highlighting how enterprise applications have built on the simplicity and convenience of social media, while adding more sophisticated features and functionality that integrate with other business processes.

There are two great enablers for all of this, one is having fast and resilient network connectivity to support converged communications channels, and the other is cloud, which has simplified an otherwise complicated service delivery process. BT cloud services are device agnostic, which means UC solutions will work across fixed and mobile devices, desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets.

Hosting communication services on cloud platforms has proved compelling for businesses who otherwise faced the prospect of complex and expensive capital investments, swapping out traditional on-site PBX systems. Cloud-based subscription services, by contrast, allow employees to collaborate and communicate with colleagues, partners or even customers, through a hosted solution that liberates employees from having to be in the office.

Cloud contact centres are also proving to be a game changer for organisations that have shifted to a virtualised model for customer support services. Rather than rely on agents anchored to desks in traditional call centres, they can have agents in multiple locations (including their homes) and ramp up the numbers as needed to meet demand.  Crucially, the distributed service is immune to any location-based disaster or a crisis like Covid-19.

Revisit remote working benefits

There is a chance for all the other UC benefits to roll in behind what’s happening with coronavirus, where social distancing has inadvertently made the best case yet for working from home. Organisations will discover that there are in fact many ways to see a return on the investment, from productivity gains to real cost savings.

Replacing face-to-face with virtual meetings not only saves money on travel and possible accommodation costs, it also cuts down on carbon emissions. The sustainability benefits that have been starting to gain traction because of the climate change are likely to become even more apparent after a period of enforced home working.

More flexible working options might also become more widely recognised as a way to address skills shortages. Companies that have been reluctant to recruit people who don’t want to trek into an office might change their minds when they have evidence that productivity doesn’t dip.

Even better, the crisis could trigger a rethink of attitudes that will result in positive societal change. There is an opportunity to focus more on employee wellbeing, for example, with better work-life balance. The ability to work seamlessly from home has huge implications for women in particular. Working mums who often carry the brunt of childcare duties, will be empowered by UC tools that make it possible to be at home and do their jobs, something that could have a real impact on gender balance in businesses.

There are downsides and risks. One problem with the current crisis is that business teams might adopt a DIY approach, and companies find themselves with a disparate collection of incompatible solutions. A short-term fix might become a long-term problem. A sprawl of comms solutions can lead to ‘shadow IT’, where the IT department is powerless  to control costs and performance of a technology they haven’t sanctioned.

In the next blog, I’ll dig deeper into the benefits of investing in a one-stop cloud solution that lets global virtual teams work securely over a Wide Area Network. Meanwhile, find out more about BT’s Unified Communications portfolio.

Ailbhe McDarby

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