The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a lack of business continuity planning across enterprises. Recent research shows 51 per cent of organisations globally did not have a business continuity plan in place to handle emergencies and disasters at the time when COVID-19 first affected operations.
In Australia, a federal government report found the three most commonly-reported impacts of COVID-19 from businesses were a lower demand for goods and services (67 per cent), cash flow issues (37 per cent), and having to change business practices (33 per cent).
Remote work is a key solution that has allowed some organisations to continue operating after lockdowns and distancing requirements came into effect. When COVID-19 first struck, 10-20 per cent of Australian workers had the option to do at least some of their work remotely, according to a report from The Australia Institute. However, it found “about 30 per cent of the Australian workforce could feasibly work from home: a total of about 4 million workers.” The Institute estimated the proportion of workers in eight broad occupational categories who could conceivably work from home, with clerical and administrative workers (55.2 per cent), professionals (53.6 per cent), and managers (52.6 per cent) best suited to working remotely.
Once the pandemic hit, some organisations moved very rapidly to a remote working environment. UTS Insearch was able to roll out a RingCentral solution in “the nick of time” to facilitate ongoing learning and collaboration as borders were shut and students were unable to attend campus.
The education sector in general was hit hard. Statista data suggests the sector suffered a 90 per cent output loss due to COVID-19– but such was the impact across all sectors that national broadband provider, NBN Co, reported a spike in bandwidth demand of up to 32 per cent above that recorded in pre-COVID-19 times.
RingCentral in its COVID-19 Restarting Australia Through Technology report found communication was a significant challenge for organisations and individuals when moving to remote working. Respondents to the question “what’s your biggest struggle with remotely working?” nominated “collaboration and communication” and “loneliness” (both 20 per cent) as the main issues they faced. “Being in a different timezone than teammates” accounted for 10 per cent of responses.
Preparing strategically for “the new normal”
So where do we go from here? While many enterprises are focused on addressing communication issues and helping a greater percentage of the workforce work remotely, it is also important they strategically future-proof themselves for the new future of work.
It is estimated that a large majority of the workforce will continue to work from home in some capacity post-pandemic, and company leaders will encourage them to do so via formal remote work policies. Why? Because, as an OECD report notes, remote working improves satisfaction and productivity –but this is only the case if the communications environment is robust.
Organisations that can deploy an effective set of remote work policies, while maintaining effective and comprehensive lines of communication, will be well prepared for how the workplace will operate in the future. This “new normal” will be unrelated to a disaster response. It will simply be standard.
A robust communications environment offers businesses additional strategic benefits. They include:
- A richer customer experience: Parks Australia, which manages Uluru, provided virtual tourists with the ability to virtually explore the iconic landmark. Dance companies, such as The Australian Ballet, began offering “learn to dance online” classes. The Australian government worked with healthcare providers to rapidly scale telehealth as an option for doctors and patients. There has been an explosion in companies using video, voice and other communications tools to broaden and deepen the customer experience during the pandemic.
- Access to a broader talent pool: It is possible to form teams with individual members that are geographically distant from one another (either overseas or regionally in Australia), helping organisations access skills that may be in short supply in the local environment.
- The ability to enable flexible work environments: Remote work unburdens an organisation from the set 9am-5pm, eight-hour working day, allowing staff to shift to output-driven performance, and be accessible to clients and their teams across a broader range of hours. This can result in a true 24/7 business operation.
Overcoming the challenges of remote work
Shifting operations to a remote work environment involves more than providing employees with a laptop and phone and connecting them. Cloud-based communications solutions are essential for enabling a seamless environment across voice and video collaboration, as well as the use of other tools to facilitate real-time engagement.
For example, RingCentral’s Office solution addresses the full suite “working from home toolkit” by leveraging the power of the Cloud. A seamless mobile and desktop app environment, allowing video meetings, team collaboration, presence and a heads-up display, call monitoring, recording and forwarding and admin control, provides the organisation with the full gamut of in-office experiences and interactions during remote work.
To handle the impact on the network of large numbers of video conferencing sessions running simultaneously, organisations need to focus on network traffic management tools (SD-WAN) in line with existing Cloud apps, with the understanding that the home Internet services employees are using will significantly vary in terms of speed and bandwidth. While the new global mobile wireless standard, 5G, will help enable remote and flexible working, it is also going to come at a cost and organisations will need to consider how they support employees with connectivity moving forward.
Grappling with these and other technical challenges will be a key priority for IT leaders now and in the foreseeable future, and will underpin transformation activities. By delivering successful outcomes, organisations will be able to move more employees to a remote work (or hybrid remote work) environment and the workplace will become more efficient, productive, dynamic and happier.
For further research around the impact that COVID-19 has had on organisations, the responses they have taken, and how Cloud communications has a key role to play in ongoing business continuity strategy, click here for the RingCentral report.