Without a crystal ball, it would be pretty difficult to say for certain what the next couple of years will entail for businesses, as they look to recover from the sudden effects of COVID-19 and the National Lockdown.
Thankfully, the UK has come together, kept calm and carried on; sharing their thoughts and insights, enabling us all to understand how end-user businesses are adapting to the situation, and what products and services are now at the top of their shopping lists.
What have businesses learned during lockdown?
Primarily, businesses have learnt to work remotely. While some may have already had flexible/remote working strategies in place, the majority of small and medium enterprises did not, and were forced to rapidly adapt to the constraints of the National Lockdown.
With this dramatic change in workplace culture, managers and team leaders have had new challenges to face, including how to remain efficient while safeguarding visibility and accountability, given teams are now so spread-out. New management tools for analytics, reporting, key-logging and time management, like ActivTrak and TimeDoctor have all been integral to keeping managers aware of their teams’ performance and on the right track.
Businesses have also been pushed to operate leaner, with less staff, even under increased workloads. This has put even more pressure on connectivity, as workers have required responsive internet access to ensure their productivity isn’t limited and they can still hit deadlines with larger obligations.
Internal communications and IT systems have been pressure tested to the fullest, but thankfully, the infrastructure that supports our national network of internet connections performed as expected, with BT reporting an approximate 35-60% rise in usage, with plenty of headroom still to spare.
However, operations are still seeing resilience issues like dropped calls and downtime, as well as an influx of cyber attacks and security breaches. While increased usage and opportunistic cinemas can explain away these challenges, updating connectivity, hardware and security services like firewalls and network monitoring can resolve these issues completely and ensure a robust service as businesses look to maximise their potential bounce-back, as businesses start to reopen.
Systems and Infrastructure Matters
Traditional phone systems (landlines) have been found to be incredibly limiting for operations, especially at the start of the lockdown with telecoms operators inundated with requests to divert office calls to mobiles. However, diverting calls does not always provide the best experience for callers, with a lack of hunt groups, on hold messaging or even dial tones to inform callers they are still on the line!
There is a solution though. Hosted voice and UC solutions, that use the internet connectivity to route your telephone calls are ideal for businesses looking to modernise their communication. Especially considering the ADSL Switch Off in 2025, which will make landlines obsolete, many businesses have already started to accelerate their transition to hosted platforms.
Key benefits of Unified Communications platforms:
- Accurate monitoring for managing teams
- Granular analytics and reporting
And it’s not only phone systems – low-bandwidth connections have also been found wanting. Typical copper broadband connections, suitable for home use, have been massively stretched while whole families share connections, with far higher levels of video calling. This has been incredibly apparent in education, where group calls may have 25-30 separate video streams concurrently, increasing the burden on connections that were never meant to be taxed so heavily.
Thankfully, many solutions to these issues are already available or being adapted to better suit the current climate. High-bandwidth connections specifically for homeworkers, like FTTP and 5G, Virtual Private Networking software and remote access tools, as well as cybersecurity services and firewalls are all expected to see an increase in demand as businesses look to establish robust remote working policies for the foreseeable future.
Remote Working Just Works
For many years, remote working had its promoters, but wide-spread adoption was always seen as a near-future possibility. Only after COVID-19 forced this change in the industry did businesses understand the benefits to a more flexible operation strategy on a large scale. Recent research from the ONS shows that that number of remote workers grew ten-fold compared to 2019, with 49.2% of the UK workforce now using their home offices and the percentage expected to breach 50% by the end of the year.
Many people expected productivity to drop as workers were limited to their home connections, surrounded by distractions and separated from team members. However, 53% of businesses are finding that their staff are actually more productive than before the Lockdown. This increase can be associated with several factors including no commute time, the ability to pick up and put down tasks as-and-when it is convenient and increased internal communication.
Other benefits (for both staff and businesses) include cost-savings from fuel, travel and other expenses and the financial advantages, as well as the increase in productivity, will persuade many to adopt these strategies at least partly, if not permanently, for entire workforces.
However, there is a downside. The lack of social interaction is not to be ignored and the percentage of people either married or in a civil partnership that experienced high levels of anxiety through the Lockdown jumped from 19% to 39%. While many factors are at play, employers should consider the implications on their teams’ mental health and find new ways to help counter these drops in morale. After all, happy staff are productive staff.
The fact of the matter is – remote working will quickly become the new BAU for UK industries.
While all the lessons haven’t been learnt yet, the improvements in productivity that so many businesses have found is significant, and Boardrooms up and down the country will soon be discussing how to maximise the operational efficiencies they have found since the Lockdown started.
Unified Communication platforms, cybersecurity services, connections for remote workers and greater visibility into individual’s performance will all see considerable growth in the near future and NSL are ready to enable businesses to take advantage of these new services and strategies.
If you’d like to discuss the technology and services that will most suit your operation, don’t hesitate to get in touch and speak to one of our team. With over 20 years of experience and a finger on the pulse of the industry, we can advise-on and manage the implementation of your remote working strategy to ensure your team isn’t limited by sub-standard connectivity, and that your business is protected and future-proofed for years to come.