Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Lockdown Lessons We Must Remember When Rebuilding the Workplace

The Lockdown Lessons We Must Remember When Rebuilding the Workplace




Author
by Mike Brown

In this guest post by one of Firebrand’s leading instructors and all-round cloud expert, Mike Brown identifies the latest rules of working from home, the benefits and future of hybrid-working, and how the pandemic has accelerated the necessity for the cloud.

It’s July 2020 and it seems that in the UK we can finally see the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel. Businesses are slowly starting to reopen and the economy continues to fight back against recession. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the restrictive climate we’re in has been catastrophic to the business world in the UK.

With the economy contracting by 2.2% in the first quarter of 2020, New ONS figures have shown that the UK has just experienced the worst quarterly fall since Q3 of 1979. Worse still, the economy plummeted by 20.4% in April: the largest drop in a single month since records began.

With businesses struggling to stay afloat, the number of employees on payroll has also decreased. 600,000 people were made redundant between March and May 2020, and countless more have been furloughed. 

But despite the news still reporting weekly job losses and businesses going into administration, there has been a growth in stories of firms re-opening and planning staggered return to work strategies in the coming months.

For those organisations, it is critical to not think of lockdown as a blip ‘that we’ll never speak of again’. Instead, the focus should be on how businesses have pivoted to survive and adapt - all the very positive moves made during this crisis that must not be forgotten when returning to the office.

Organisations have rapidly implemented new technologies and infrastructures that allow staff to work productively and collaboratively wherever they are. They have done so whilst continuing to place an emphasis on employees’ mental and physical health - in fact, the matter of health and well-being is no longer a HR-issue, but has become a critical concern for the C-Suite.

The latest rules on returning to work


As of late, the UK government determined that if you can work from home, then you should continue to do so. But today, many firms are rapidly planning how they will welcome staff back into the office as soon as they are able.

With no standardised guide available from the government, organisations are having to make their own plans on how to return to the office safely. 

Recent data determined that 49% of employers are planning on staggering their return-to-work strategies based on employees’ health risks, while 46% are basing it on how critical it is to the business that certain people are in the office.

Many big companies are publicly stating their back-to-work plan. Google, for example, recently said they will be giving staff the option to return to the office in September at the earliest, while Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey announced the company will remain in remote-working-mode indefinitely.

The general consensus, however, is that most businesses will offer a hybrid-working model moving forward - where working from home is more accepted than it was pre-COVID, but working from the office a few days a week will still be encouraged.

Strategic hybrid-working is better for our health


Research conducted during lockdown has concluded that working from home can be significantly beneficial to our mental and physical health. 

As many as 85%  have said the much desired work-life balance is far more feasible when WFH; 80% also felt healthier, less tired, more ‘human’, and more connected to their families since the transition.

But of course, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows:
  • 55% of people have said not being able to communicate face-to-face with their colleagues has been a real challenge for them
  • Zoom fatigue is a real thing
  • Two-fifths have found it difficult to separate work from home, suggesting that even though there’s a better work-life balance, there’s difficulty in properly switching-off
  • Those with children out of school have struggled to be productive
  • The demand on home networks has meant a third of UK internet users have reported worse service since lockdown

Though despite the hiccups, the fact that tech enables us to work so efficiently has been acknowledged by many as the sole reason that many of the UK’s businesses have been able to keep ticking along during this period.

If IT teams hadn’t been as flexible, and if there hadn’t been so much great software available to enable remote working, we certainly would have been in a far worse situation than we are in now.

To summarise, while many people will want to WFH much more frequently moving forward, the importance of an office environment for a company’s culture, to help teams bond and for those without a suitable place to work at home, is paramount.

This means businesses and IT teams must flex once more to create policies and an infrastructure that enables employees to work effectively and securely, whether they’re at home or in the office.

How IT and the cloud have empowered this evolution


A study from Flexera released in late April 2020 revealed that 57% of firms had increased cloud usage because of the pandemic.

The journey to cloud adoption was and continues to be very slow, as organisations felt their existing solutions worked ‘well enough’ or were ‘more secure’ than cloud options - the pandemic turned that on its head!

This has meant that IT teams may not have been on the ground in hospitals, but they have no doubt been frontline, essential workers during this crisis. It cannot be denied that without our tech teams, flexing entire infrastructures to keep workforces productive, the country and its businesses would not be running as much as they are able to today.

Not only have they quickly enabled shifts to the cloud, or fortified existing cloud strategies, but they have also had to rapidly equip users with the right tools to do their jobs properly, while ensuring that security is at a high standard to avoid breaches of company systems.

IT now has a big responsibility to ensure things don’t just go back to the way they were; they must continue enabling a flexible, cloud-first workforce post-COVID to empower the strategic hybrid way of working. 

Where do we go from here?


Training is a really important part of this. Even though a lot of the transformations during this crisis have been experimental, there needs to be greater emphasis on organisations investing in training for their tech teams. This will help ensure they are able to implement strategic, long-term plans that support this new way of working.

Training other departments is also key. Important topics like WFH security and how to use remote working technology to be as productive as possible are becoming essential. Other more high-level themes include how to structure your day at home and how to have an effective routine.

COVID-19 has no doubt been catastrophic, but we must take on-board the key business lessons learned during this period. Hybrid working is the way forward and the only way to enable this is to have a cloud-first IT infrastructure and an IT team as flexible as employees want to be.

There’s lots of work to be done, by businesses and IT teams, to build the ‘new normal’ way of working. But in time and as the world recovers, we will no doubt find that it generates happier, more productive people and more successful businesses for those who nail their strategies.

A natural progression that we hope for is the growth and development of workplace apps to suit the new way of working. Zoom is King but many agree it could be better. 

I foresee technology developments will soon replicate the in-person communication people have been craving during this crisis. Only time will tell, but no doubt the workplace will never be the same again, and in many ways, this will be for the better.



Mike Brown is a lead instructor at Firebrand Training. He has more than 20 years’ experience in Microsoft and Cisco-focused certifications. Mike loves working with new cloud technologies and virtualisation. When he’s not teaching, he spends time making videos on Microsoft technologies and writing books on virtualisation.