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Unified Communications Apr 13, 2020

The right remote working tools can drive productivity whilst complementing a company's culture

By Ailbhe McDarby Head of Unified Communications & Contact Centre propositions, BT Ireland

Companies have discovered that necessity really is the mother of invention when it comes to keeping a business up and running.

Many are scrambling to assemble home working solutions for those employees who can work remotely, unsure what to expect in terms of productivity or the impact it will have on the company culture. The good news is that, although we find ourselves in unprecedented times the solutions, services and tools required to support every kind of remote working requirement are readily available.

Unfortunately for many sectors, like hospitality and high street retail, remote working is not a viable option and so many companies have been forced into hibernation. Worse still, some have been forced to close. For companies that are fortunate enough to have the ability to function remotely, there are still challenges in suddenly switching to a distributed workforce. These challenges are both cultural and technological.

A culture of seamless communication

One of the long-standing barriers to the wider adoption of home working has been a fear that it will water down a company’s culture, that the team spirit that makes a workplace special will get lost if everyone operates independently. Others are worried about losing control, a fear that employees may not meet their usual standards without management there to oversee. Now the change has been forced upon them, businesses are looking for solutions that address their different concerns.

The technological decisions around remote working are directly related to both culture and productivity. If your priority is protecting the culture and camaraderie of a company, you should invest in Unified Communication (UC) tools that provide seamless communications, where a messaging exchange is a click away from a video call that other team members can be instantly invited to. You know they are available because of ‘presence’, the green light that tells you they are already online.

I always look at technology as an empowerment tool and people as its puppet master. Technology can effectively assist businesses in achieving their goals, but to do this they must fully understand what they are looking to achieve and articulate it in a digestible and achievable manner. Just bring yourself back to your last interview prep session. Goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. If management take the same approach and identify useful outcomes from specific jobs and assign tasks accordingly, does it really matter where their employees are once these tasks are achieved? This is where good management takes the lead and technology is the enabler.

“9 out of 10 business executives say mobile and collaboration technology has improved productivity”

If you are still sceptical about productivity, take comfort from our BT research (People, productivity and the digital workplace). The fact that 9 out of 10 business executives say mobile and collaboration technology has improved productivity bodes well for home working that relies on the same solutions.

The challenge is to provide training to make sure new UC tools are adopted. Our research went on to show that, despite the potential for boosted productivity, that 1 in 2 employees had collaboration solutions but didn’t know how to use them properly.

The right technology tips the scales of productivity

The concept of digital transformation has dominated enterprise discussions over the last five years and the chances are that most organisations will have invested in some elements of a digital workplace at this stage. Those investments will suddenly seem invaluable because they make it much easier to accommodate home working at scale.  Whether it’s a hosted UC solution or a cloud-based suite or productivity apps, they are enablers for work that is no longer tied to a physical location.

Taking time to match tools to roles is the next priority, where the aim to enable people to be as productive as they would be in the office. Some employees will need to use the document-sharing features in UC solutions; others might depend on remote file sharing, or workflows that benefit from being digitally enabled rather than paper based.

One of the biggest obstacles to the deployment of such solutions, according to the same BT research, is the pressure it puts on IT departments. They have to stand over the security and protect data, tasks that become much more challenging when information is accessed from outside the company’s offices. One consequence of the current crisis is that organisations will be reassessing the risk over the benefits and giving more IT departments the green light on remote access.

“By 2024 only 25% of meetings will take place in person”

Coronavirus has become an unexpected (and unwanted) factor in making a business case for UC solutions. Last September, Gartner predicted that by 2024 remote working and changing workforce demographics will impact enterprises to a point where only 25 percent of meetings will take place in person, down from 60 percent in 2019. Those numbers are going to fall much more dramatically because of COVID-19.