Matt Weston, founder and managing director of Vantage 365 comments on technology use in businesses during the pandemic and why it shouldn’t be abandoned in the future.
Since its inception, the coronavirus pandemic has led many businesses to become far more reliant on technology than ever before, with lockdown and other restrictions having brought widespread disruption to day-to-day operations. While thousands of employees worked from home, many companies became dependent on technology to keep staff connected, both to each other and clients, as well as to reduce any impact on productivity and growth.
Once much of the adult population was vaccinated, many firms made at least a partial return to the office in an attempt to resume some level of normality in working life. However, businesses would be short-sighted to dismiss new uses for technology that have helped get them through the pandemic so far without carefully considering why keeping them in place on a more long-term basis could help bring huge benefits in the future.
While restrictions on social contact meant many employees were unable to work alongside colleagues face-to-face throughout much of 2020 and 2021, the plethora of communication platforms available online, e.g., Microsoft Teams and Slack, delivered a strong, temporary compromise for firms. Not only did these tools enable employees to stay in regular contact with their co-workers, but they also aided in promoting collaboration and creativity, despite teams not being able to gather in the same, physical spaces.
An article by Bita Milanian, Senior Vice President at U.S.-based comms firm Ribbon, offers an insight into the effect online communications tools have had on business collaboration. In the piece, Milanian references research conducted by Ribbon, which found that the number of small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] that either intend to use or are already using Microsoft Teams within the next two years had grown by 103% in the pandemic’s wake.
This huge rise indicates how effective using such tools has proven for many firms during an unprecedentedly challenging period for comms. Furthermore, the level of investment in technology implies that it will take on a central role in many firms’ day-to-day operations looking ahead. Therefore, retaining these tools should be seen as a chance to gain an edge on competitors who are not planning to implement them and are therefore at threat of trailing in terms of both productivity and growth.
Before the pandemic, the vast majority of organisations were reluctant to embrace a remote working model due to the perceived implications such a move would have for team collaboration and productivity. Despite this, most firms for which remote working was at least possible were left with no alternative but to adopt this approach during lockdown and, although widespread concerns persisted among business leaders, the experiment appeared to defy all expectations.
In fact, a number of studies published in recent months reveal that productivity while working remotely from home was actually better than working in an office setting in many cases, with a survey by Apollo Technical concluding that those working from home spend 10 minutes less per day being unproductive, work one more day a week on average, and are 47% more productive. However, to ensure the same level of collaboration present in the office was achieved in a remote setting, businesses had to provide the necessary tools that would make the abrupt change a seamless one for workers.
Platforms like Microsoft 365 proved highly effective in this regarding, giving teams a central, online location in which to share files, co-author and edit documents, and stay on top of workflows, similarly to how they might in their usual place of work. With flexible working expected to become the norm in the long term, businesses should think about how implementing online file hosting and sharing tools as a key part of their model could help give a boost to collaboration among teams that are dividing their time between the office and home.
Some business leaders are understandably concerned about how they can keep those workers who are not in the office engaged with what is happening within it. Many companies consider company culture to be a crucial element of their success, and will naturally want employees to feel happy with and involved in their work.
Teleconferencing tools such as Zoom have unquestionably been vital in keeping employees engaged with work and their team more generally throughout lockdown, and were used not only for meetings – both internally and with clients – but also for team socials and virtual coffee breaks. To maintain company culture and morale throughout the transition to a hybrid working model, companies should consider how continued use of teleconferencing tools could ensure that home workers are not placed at a disadvantage in missing out on crucial team building and cohesion that takes place in the office.
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It is crucial for businesses to take heed of the lessons they have learned throughout – including how harnessing technology can help them to stay connected and focused on their goals – to avoid experiencing significant problems caused by any future disruption. While we hope that the worst has now passed, what is clear is that the business world has been forever changed by the events of the past two years, and companies who do not recognise this will likely find themselves falling behind in the long run. Businesses should therefore think long and hard about which technologies they can and should carry into the future to avoid such disruption from having a significant impact on operations ever again.