Return to the office? How you set up should be the real question

James Albiges, Head of Business Portfolio, Zenprovides his insight on the state of remote work.

Covid-19 has changed the working world for good. Digital transformation projects were fast-tracked overnight in order to keep the lights on, and remote working became the norm. More than a year in, things are still running, and employees are much more familiar with how various collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom work. However, as the UK proceeds along its roadmap to recovery, businesses will soon have to make that decision.

While many employees will be keen to get back into the office and confer with colleagues, including a majority of the London workforce, for many remote working is set to remain in place for the long-term. In fact, a number of high-profile businesses are already embracing the idea, including Nationwide, which has already announced plans to allow its staff to “work anywhere”. Recent research from Zen Internet backs up this trend, with almost half (49%) of organisations planning to expand remote working options for their people brought about because of Covid-19.

This concept of “work anywhere” may seem ideal to employees wanting that choice of working in the office or at home. However, while hybrid working sounds straightforward on paper, having some employees in the office and others elsewhere presents its own set of challenges. For example, instead of all being in a boardroom or a video conference rectangle, businesses will need to find a solution whereby everyone can participate regardless of their location. So what options are there?

The hybrid worker

Firstly, before any new platforms or services are installed, businesses need to ensure employees are set up for the era of hybrid working.

Connectivity will play a huge part in this. While many homeworkers have made it through the lockdown periods working off traditional broadband connections, this has been a short-term stop-gap solution. Though it has been a good stop-gap under the circumstances, it has cost businesses in productivity. Nearly nine in 10 (89%) homeworkers are wasting an average of just over 30 minutes a day because of unreliable broadband. For those set to work from home for good, or more likely adopting that hybrid approach, they need connectivity that keeps up with the more reliable business connectivity that companies invest in for the office. As such, it may well be prudent for businesses to consider upgrading their employees’ broadband packages or even installing a separate business broadband line into their homes.

While upgrading connectivity is likely to improve user experience, businesses can proactively manage employee experience wherever they are, whichever devices they’re using and whichever applications they’re accessing. This is where Software-Defined Wide Area Networking (SD-WAN) can play a significant role. SD-WAN can help to extend the corporate network, providing a secure network of devices that can route directly into workers’ homes and other locations. It provides both remote and on-premise workers with optimal performance and ensures efficient traffic routing when using business-critical applications.

Once the connectivity puzzle is solved, businesses need to ensure they have the infrastructure in place to enable employees at home to seamlessly liaise with those in the office and externally. Despite the arsenal of options available, traditional telephony systems remain the backbone of business communications for the majority. However, this can’t continue long-term. As of 2025, the country’s traditional telephone network – the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) – will be fully switched off and withdrawn from service. Prior to that, in 2023, products which use the PSTN network – such as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) – will stop being sold and will no longer be used for line installations.

Fortunately, we’ve seen companies looking to diversify their day-to-day communications as a result of lockdown – increasingly bringing in video call and web chat – that will avoid any issues in the years to come. For those that still aren’t, it’s worth considering a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solution that can enable not just voice calls, but video calls too – increasingly common in this remote working world. Regardless of the solution, the hybrid era creates challenges when it comes to ensuring a seamless connection between those in the office and those at home. Installing solutions such as unified communications platforms can bring seamless integration between cloud, data, and voice, ensuring better collaboration, scalability, accessibility, and business-wide efficiencies.


A flexible future

So, as we all look to that post-covid future, the nine to five, Monday to Friday office worker is set to be a thing of the past. Employees want the flexibility to work from home as well as visiting the office, but it does mean businesses can cut down on office costs, such as space and other associated expenses too. In order for hybrid working to work though truly, businesses must ensure their infrastructure is capable of handling the future “work anywhere” culture that’s being created. Get it wrong, and remote workers could feel isolated and team dynamics disjointed. Get it right and productivity could skyrocket as the entire business sings happily on the same hymn sheet. Just not from the same building.

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Amber Donovan-Stevens

Amber is a Content Editor at Top Business Tech

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