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Avoid remote working missteps now, to protect post-pandemic business success

(Image credit: Image Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock )

As nations across the world grapple to contain the impact of coronavirus, governments, organisations and individuals have been responding to calls from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for social distancing. With the pandemic already bearing an unprecedented economic impact, there has been an incredible need for organisations – especially in essential sectors such as government, healthcare, education and banking and finance – to maintain business continuity. Remote working has therefore becoming more important than ever and the only way that numerous businesses have seen an opportunity to continue their work in an “as near to normal” way as possible.

Be wise about which free tools you utilise

Technology is the fundamental enabler of this paradigm shift in workforce distribution but while the rapid uptake of free consumer tools may provide a quick solution to organisations looking to expediently roll-out remote working initiatives, they could impede an organisation’s long-term success. For example, given employees’ familiarity with consumer-grade video collaboration solutions, it may be easy to now get them to use these when communicating and collaborating with their colleagues and customers. However, these solutions often lack the security, scalability and features that are essential to true enterprise collaboration. Once procedures have been set and behaviours adopted, changing these could be a major challenge. We’ve learned this lesson before with the rise of shadow IT and even today IT teams battle to ensure employees use official file sharing applications rather than unregulated alternatives such as personal email, USB drives or cloud-storage applications.

While these are undoubtedly challenging times for businesses, budgetary pressures shouldn’t skew good decision making. While attractive, just being ‘free’ shouldn’t be a sufficient reason to favour a certain solution. Just as before, organisations will need to properly evaluate every option – free or otherwise – and ultimately pick the solution that best fits their established IT strategy while meeting both near and long-term business objectives.

Why? Because when trial periods end or when business returns to normal, there’s the very real risk of organisations being ‘locked-in’ to their rushed decisions. After all, once time and effort has already been invested into successfully implementing and integrating even a free solution, it could be challenging – both from a resource as well as a technical perspective – to rip-out and replace it when it eventually falls short of business requirements.

Beware the security challenges

Consumer solutions often lack the security essential for true enterprise collaboration – they can also lack scalability and valuable features, aspects that are key to businesses looking to bring these tools in in the first place.

As a starting point, you must ensure your chosen tools use encryption, both to transmit and store data, using the latest industry standards. Using Avaya Spaces as an example, data is transmitted between client browsers and the platforms use state of the art TLS 1.2. Of course, data security extends beyond just the technical and into the process and governance by which the company operates. Choosing a partner which has received Binding Corporate Rules (BCR) approval from the European Union data protection authorities is a good indicator of a partner with compliance at the forefront of its offering, one which has a demonstrable commitment to its data protection responsibilities.

Looking ahead to when business returns to normal, will companies find themselves regretting their rushed decisions to go with the free consumer collaboration tool recommended by their employees who use it to share photos and chat to friends? Even during these unprecedented times, a low price point and familiar user experiences should not be sufficient enough reasons to select a remote working tool, especially since the longer it is used by your workforce, the more entrenched it becomes in your business culture – and the harder it will be to replace. Before long, your IT team will be firefighting with a security nightmare.

Post-pandemic: A collaborative future awaits

Although it might appear that the Covid-19 pandemic was the catalyst to the increase in remote and collaborative working, the shift in the ways in which employees communicate has been on the horizon for a long time, driven by a new generation of workers with evolving preferences and expectations. These employees have long been looking for convenience, flexibility, autonomy in decision-making and personalisation. They want to feel connected to their organisation and as part of a wider experience with their colleagues. Regardless of the size of an organisation, location or industry, collaboration is proven to drive workplace productivity, with a Stanford study finding that even the perception of working collaboratively can supercharge team performance.

The benefits of strong collaboration tools, which are useful and efficient time-savers when workers are based in the office, become nothing short of vital with a remote workforce. According to Strategy Analytics, the global mobile workforce is set to increase to 1.87 billion people by 2022, accounting for 42.5 per cent of the world’s working population and Gartner has predicted that by 2023, only one-third of workers will choose the office as their preferred working location. Looking at these numbers, it is obvious that being able to support remote and mobile working is going to be an important competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

Covid-19 has pushed organisations to recognise that it’s a new world of work and collaboration is at its heart, because this way of working is intrinsically tied to employee satisfaction and loyalty. Businesses will be moving through this time carefully considering which parts of “the new normal” they wish to retain, with many highlighting that it’s important to distinguish the world we want to return to, when the pandemic eventually subsides.

Preparing for the “worker of tomorrow”

While it might almost seem impossible to find a silver lining to the current crisis, there is in fact opportunity for IT teams to channel the immense pressure they are under now, into a water-tight business case for building a remote working strategy that is designed for long term success, with the right collaborative technology and virtual tools in place.

So, while at present, there’s dire need for organisations to implement work-from-home initiatives, there’s also an opportunity for them to take a more strategic approach, thereby making themselves more appealing and suitable to the digital worker of tomorrow. The technology investments organisations make today will serve to not only ensure business continuity and employee productivity in times of crisis, but also enhance their experiences as the very nature of how employees work itself evolves.

Steve Joyner, Managing Director, Avaya UK & Ireland