The rapid rise in distributed teams with remote and virtual workforces as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has placed ever increasing demands on the telecoms industry.
Now more than ever before, telecoms has a critical role to play in helping businesses across practically all sectors stay connected, keep workforces engaged, and ensure customers are happy.
Indeed, a recent forecast from Analysys Mason estimates a return to growth of nearly 1% in 2021 for telecoms, with the sector predicted to show some of the strongest investment post COVID-19. The demand for connectivity has even led to a multi-collaboration between the International Telecommunication Union, a specialised agency of the United Nations, the GSMA, the World Economic Forum and the World Bank.
Collectively, the organisations have launched an action plan identifying immediate priority areas for public and private sector collaboration so that businesses, governments and members of the general public can better leverage digital technologies and infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of this may well be particularly timely given recent announcements from the likes of Twitter, with the company stating that its employees could work from home “forever” should they want to even after lockdown and social distancing measures are revoked.
This follows on from similar announcements from Facebook, Google, and more recently Salesforce, all of which have confirmed that their respective workforces can remain working from home until the end of 2020.
To some, announcements such as these have forced a rethink in expectations of what the ‘new norm’ will look like post the COVID-19 pandemic. While lots of businesses will have been hoping that the enforced shift to remote working and virtual workforces was a temporary measure, it could actually be that the landscape for many businesses will have been permanently altered by COVID-19.
In fact, some commentators have even referred to Twitter’s announcement in particular as an “era-defining moment”. Is this really the case? How feasible is it for businesses to transition to a point whereby their workforces are working from home permanently? And for any companies considering taking this step, how can they ensure communications remain uninterrupted and secure among remote teams?
One thing is for certain – and that’s that businesses with no prior (or little) experience in operating with a remote and virtual workforce have been forced to pivot and adapt quickly. This has seen a big demand placed on mass systems of communication and connectivity, with platforms including Microsoft Teams and Zoom benefiting from rapid increases in adoption as hundreds and thousands of businesses around the world have been trying to get their workforces online and fully operational.
What’s more, there have been numerous studies conducted into the impact of employees working from home in terms of their productivity and overall morale. Much of the evidence collected from such research has shown that staff who work from home are at least equally and in many cases more productive than their office-based counterparts.
This is certainly helped by the implementation of task tools, with solutions such as the aforementioned Microsoft Teams as well as the likes of Asana and Base Camp making it straightforward and convenient to track live activity and actions so all employees are aware of what’s expected from who and when.
Ultimately, whether working from home practices do end up being a stop gap and temporary measure due to COVID-19 or become a regular fixture of continuity planning for businesses, productivity should not be viewed or thought of as a barrier to overcome. While working remotely undoubtedly presents new and different challenges, companies should be cognisant of not underestimating the resilience and adaptability of their staff.
The other big positive is that there are an abundance of solutions available to support the ever-expanding working from home landscape. Such tools enable activities including voice, video, screensharing and messaging to help ensure workforces remain connected and engaged.
Furthermore, among the range of real-time communications technologies available today, including unified communications (UC) and Communications Platform-as-a-Service (CPaaS), the option exists to connect the multitude of tools used for communications and organise them within a centralised platform.
This capability means companies can embed voice, video, chat and other real-time contextual communications capabilities directly into their applications and websites. Not only does this result in a more seamless experience for employees when interacting either internally or externally, but the technology also ensures that communication and information sharing is able to occur across numerous channels irrespective of geographies, so as long as the individual is online and connected.
However, the other vital consideration with UC and CPaaS solutions is to ensure they are being implemented in collaboration with a provider that runs them on secure networks, unlike with consumer services for example. This will ensure that when accessed, be that via the internet, Wi-Fi, enterprise or mobile networks, that staff are able to do so securely and work digitally in virtual private domains.
Although it is fair to acknowledge that many of the aforementioned technologies are not new, the level of adoption and advancement in their capabilities continues to increase apace in the current climate.
This in turn is driving an uptake in the digital transformation strategies of many businesses, with the resulting impact on investment in telecoms solutions likely to have an impact for many years to come. As long as businesses have the appropriate technologies and tools at their disposal, they can be sure that this impact will be a positive one.