By Colette Kitterhing, Senior Director UK&I at Riverbed Technology
The timing of the COVID-19 outbreak could not have been predicted, leaving businesses with minimal time to prepare for the complete overhaul required to shift their operations to a work from home model. The same, however, cannot be said for the return to normality once the lockdown lifts. Afterall, we are already seeing an ease of lockdown measures across Europe indicating a partial move back to the office environment in the coming weeks and months. Effective immediately, businesses need to be actively taking note of the challenges and successes they are experiencing working remotely. These insights should be used to plan for how their working practices will evolve — both technologically and culturally — once the lockdown period comes to an end. This is particularly important for sectors which have traditionally struggled to adapt to remote working through a lack of digital transformation prior to the pandemic.
COVID-19 highlighted a digital technology gap between industry sectors
Effective remote working depends on technology — from access to physical devices to strong network and application performance. As such, technological preparedness defined which businesses thrived and which struggled when lockdown forced a widespread shift to work from home. Inevitably, this has led to a divide down sector lines. Industries with technology at the heart of their operations, such as consultancies and accounting companies, have been able to maintain business continuity. Thanks to the fact that the majority of these companies had remote working capabilities in place prior to the pandemic.
However, it’s a vastly different story for traditionally unconnected businesses, for instance, manufacturing companies. While it is currently impossible to remotely man an assembly line, there is no reason that the sectors’ knowledge workers, such as electrical engineers, should not be able to work from home now and in the future. A technological overhaul will be required to make this possible. This means investing in hardware, such as laptops, as well as performance management and acceleration software to ensure employees can be as productive from home as they would be from the office. This will be key to making remote working a viable option long-term.
The next normal calls for new ways of operating
Any business planning to shift back to their pre-COVID-19 way of operating once lockdown ends will find it challenging to remain successful. The pandemic will continue to cause unpredictability in the business environment over the coming months and even years. No one can predict what the next normal will look like and where the deficiencies in traditional working models will appear. In this climate, it is essential for companies to recognise that the business world has irreversibly changed, and that agility is more important than ever. Flexible working is a prime example of how agility can be achieved. This makes it essential for businesses to become comfortable with a larger percentage of their employee base working from home on a long-term basis. Companies such as Twitter are leading the way in this mindset change; having recently announced that their employees will be allowed to work from home permanently should they choose to. However, this shift needs to be embraced across all sectors – through investment in technology to bolster productivity – to set the UK on the path to economic recovery.
Conduct a digital review
To make working from home successful on a rolling basis, businesses need to also take stock of which of their digital investments served them well during lockdown. They should evaluate where technological gaps lie, and how their digital strategy could be improved. For instance, many businesses will have increased their cloud usage over the past few months as the infrastructure lends itself to remote working. Many organisations, however, will have found that this has left them with reduced visibility over network and application performance potentially causing employee productivity to decrease. Proactively identifying this challenge will empower them to explore resolutions, including network and application performance and optimisation solutions, ensuring remote workers have the same productive end-user experience as they would have in the office. The Chief Digital Officer has a key role to play in this process; working closely with their teams to identify challenges and feed resolutions back to senior business executives for their necessary buy-in.
Culture is the key to thriving rather than surviving
Technology is table stakes; businesses need it to survive. But this, in itself, will not guarantee employee performance. At this stage in our remote working journey, cultural investment is needed to maintain staff productivity, drive a performance culture, and secure success within the new, digitally enabled, business model. The change management strategy around this must be led from the top-down, with business leaders setting the example by using the technology available to them to do their jobs more effectively.
Plan for life after lockdown now
What next? No one can be certain. But this does not mean that we cannot prepare for it. Businesses must harness agility to brace themselves for continued unpredictability as the economy begins to reopen following lockdown. This means anticipating that remote working will remain key in the coming months and even years and adopting long-term technological and cultural solutions to facilitate it. It is essential that every sector embraces this in order for the economy to recover and grow following COVID-19.