It is hard to remember anything in modern times that rocked us quite as dramatically as Covid-19. It impacted everything; our health, our communities, our lifestyles, our economies, our supply chains and of course our work and home lives. The after effects are still being felt – and will be for some time – but, six months on, we’re finally in a position to take stock of the post pandemic world and the changes it has forced upon the CTO.
From the early days, it was apparent that flexibility was going to be key in response to the virus, and that was especially true in business. The rapid shift to distributed working definitely repositioned technology from being a supporter of business and something that's required, to being a critical enabler. Technology has moved to the forefront, with the pandemic accelerating many businesses’ digital transformation plans. As organizations strive for greater flexibility, we've seen them both rapidly embrace Cloud in its various forms and look for innovative solutions to support their remote workforce. They’re not just looking at the more obvious communication tools that we are now all used to, but increasingly extending this thought process to understand how we collaborate more effectively whilst working in our various locations.
I truly believe that technology is fundamental to the agile business. Like all big steps in life, once you've made a shift, you realize it wasn't actually quite so hard after all, while having the knock-on effect of enabling the business to continue, even amid a challenging backdrop. Flushed with the success of this change, many companies are now asking: “How can we maximize this new found competitiveness and agility?” - a question built around such positivity and optimism would have been unimaginable six months ago, and it is probably one of the few positive changes forced by the pandemic. I’m confident many more will follow.
As Covid-19 hit, it forced all businesses to react and implement change quickly, but not at the expense of listening to the concerns of employees, whether their concerns were centered around the viability of the business, or practical measures like whether they could access essential business applications securely from home, or what a safe return to work would look like.
Given that technology has been the answer to many of these concerns, I think there's now a greater appetite for change, and that change management will be less of a burden than perhaps it had been in the past. My hunch is that we’ll see a greater appreciation of technology. We’ll be able to talk to people in the business and ask them: "What are your problems?” and then work collaboratively to use technology in the best way to resolve them. If you combine their skills, and their appetite for technological solutions, then we’ll see that post Covid-19, many organizations will be better prepared for ‘Business-21’.
But technology is only part of the story. The most important asset for any business remains its people. In the majority of businesses, especially more traditional businesses like manufacturing, it really is people that are driving the business, even in the new world of the IoT or the IIoT. All industries need to become more people-centric. I think Covid-19 was a wake-up call to businesses, reminding them loud and clear about the importance of people in the ‘machine’. If they’re not at the factory, or in operations, the wheels simply won't turn. Looking ahead, I am confident that there’s a perfect marriage between businesses being really people-centric, while also being technologically proficient.
In light of this new, more compassionate era where people are at the heart of the business, I think we may see the emphasis that businesses place on maximizing shareholder value shift to maximizing stakeholder value. Businesses may now more closely scrutinize the way they engage with their customers, the way they engage with the community, and the way they engage with partners and the people in the business; of course, profit is essential, but it will no longer be acceptable to overlook any of those stakeholder priorities in the quest for it.
Of course, the biggest shift in working practices triggered by Covid-19, is the near en masse move to working from home. Although it is not a new concept, it has been adopted – and encouraged - in far greater numbers by organizations keen to maintain business continuity while reducing their employees’ exposure to the virus.
You can see how popular remote working is when you look at the near-deserted motorways, the empty underground and the non-existent weekday rush hour; what was an emergency measure, looks like becoming a permanent one.
But whether this shift in work location is here for the next year or forever, it does mean that employers will need to constantly evolve their workflow, tools and practices to suit the needs of their remote workers. Furthermore, this has to be done without compromising policies or best practices that are adhered to when staff are working from the office. Security, for instance, must be front on mind at all times. Other day to day business operations mustn’t be overlooked, either. Take printing, for instance. How do you manage remote printing effectively and efficiently? That’s a question arising regularly now.
Today, most companies have intelligent print management solutions in place. By design, these help drive more thoughtful print behavior and when employees are physically together in the office, there's a collective thoughtfulness around what is being printed, how and why. This more considered approach to print helps reduce costs and volumes, whilst providing valuable insights to the broader business.
But this mindset needs to be carried over seamlessly to the remote working location, where organizations can feel confident that their teams are making the right decisions on what and when to print, while ensuring when they print it remains as secure as it is when they’re in the office.
There are sound reasons for closely monitoring printing from home and encouraging different print behavior. The first driver is - unsurprisingly - cost. At a time when some businesses have experienced a decline in growth during the last quarter, the cost of home printing is sobering; within the industry, it is estimated that printing to a desktop device can cost up to five times more compared to an office-based A3 multifunction device, increasing the risk of print costs escalating exponentially. Monitoring remote printing and encouraging more thoughtful print behavior, will ensure that organizations enjoy a better way to reduce their print costs and waste, keep data secure and find more flexible ways to operate in a post-pandemic world.
Steve Holmes, EMEA Regional Director, PaperCut