Renee Chang is a software developer for a large audiovisual technology company based in Southern California. When COVID-19 struck and tech companies led the work-from-home charge in early March, Chang’s company opted to stay the course. As surrounding organizations continued to send employees home, Chang’s colleagues wondered why their company had no similar plan. It wasn’t until the end of March, when California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a statewide shelter-in-place order, that the company finally shut its campus and allowed employees to work from home.
While the decision to wait until the eleventh hour might seem like a strategic business move, the reality is that, like many organizations, Chang’s company simply wasn’t ready for the sudden, forced exodus. The company’s infrastructure wasn’t designed to handle the unprecedented surge in remote work traffic. Data security also wasn’t ready, and most employees had never even worked from home before. As a result, the company rushed to design and implement a work-from-home strategy in less than a few months—a process that normally takes years to achieve.
Blindsided by the pandemic
The onslaught of COVID-19 caught many organizations off guard, and IT teams around the world scrambled with unprecedented haste to adopt solutions that allow employees to work from home. For example, many organizations finally doled out laptops to every employee or installed collaboration apps for team messaging and video conferencing that enabled working from home.
Unpreparedness, however, was the Achilles’ heel for many of these organizations. IT leaders panic-bought solutions left and right without truly evaluating if they met business needs, knowing they only had a few months to get everything running. This meant implementing short-term solutions that would simply last through the storm until things returned to normal.
Normal, however, likely won’t come anytime soon. In fact, the post-COVID-19 workplace might look drastically different from the pre-COVID-19 workplace. Organizations will have to adapt, and cloud technologies play a pivotal role.
The workplace after COVID-19
As organizations eventually get the green light to reopen, juggling employee safety with business objectives is going to be priority number one. Some businesses are already considering redesigning office spaces to maximize distance—open offices might be a thing of the past. At the same time, many organizations are considering expanding policies for permanent remote work. A recent Gartner survey of 317 CFOs revealed that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. Nearly a quarter of those plan to move 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.
Organizations have several reasons to make remote work permanent:
- Employee safety: As many countries reopen without a vaccine, employees won’t feel safe returning to their offices. A study on manufacturing plants found that unsafe work environments cause friction, which significantly hinders productivity. Instead of working in the office, employees will be much more productive working from home.
- Employee experience: A study by Gallup found that, in the midst of the work-from-home event, 62% of respondents reported working from home. Out of those surveyed, 60% want to continue working remotely after lockdown restrictions are lifted.
- Productivity boost: The stereotype that remote workers are unproductive has long been debunked. The average remote employee works 1.4 more days a month than office employees and is 50% less likely to quit. Studies also show that remote employees are happier, healthier, and more productive.
- Corporate responsibility: By eliminating commutes, employees not only save precious time and gas (which can be enormous expenditures in densely populated areas), organizations leave a lower carbon footprint.
- Role models: Major companies have announced remote work extensions until the end of 2020, including Google, Microsoft, and American Express. Some have even announced permanent work-from-anywhere arrangements for its employees, such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Employee retention: With other companies offering remote and flexible work arrangements, competition for talent is fierce. Organizations that want to retain employees will have to offer remote work options and show that they value employee wellness through better work-life balance.
Similarly, organizations that can’t make the shift to fully remote work will need to redesign offices for the post-COVID-19 workplace. For example, cramped conference rooms might remain empty until the virus is eradicated—which could be months or years away. Similarly, organizations will need to separate desks further or rotate employee schedules to reduce the number of workers in the office at any time.
Where scalability fits in the picture
Many organizations were slow to adapt to remote work because workloads were often localized and on-premises, meaning employees had to work from the office. Whether leaders were culturally reluctant to adopt cloud technologies or didn’t trust their data security, the lack of cloud solutions hamstrung employers from making swift transitions to remote work, while cloud-first organizations had already made the switch.
As organizations evaluate their post-COVID-19 business recovery strategies, transitioning workloads to the cloud might be mission-critical. The demand for remote work is reaching a tipping point, with many workers now familiar with the advantages of working from home. Meanwhile, those returning to offices need new ways to communicate and collaborate that don’t involve sitting in a room together circulating the same air.
Essentially, the demand for distance-based collaboration following COVID-19 lockdowns will grow, but existing complex architectures, resources, and security vulnerabilities make scaling very challenging. At the same time, as businesses gradually recover from the economic downturn and hire more employees, the demand for technology will fluctuate and prompt organizations to support more users.
Organizations will either have to scale existing legacy infrastructure (an expensive and time-consuming option) or partner with cloud service providers to handle the bulk of the work. Legacy infrastructure faces multiple hurdles, such as outdated technology, dwindling security skills, rising maintenance costs, and the inability to meet modern business needs. Cloud, however, puts these burdens on service providers, allowing organizations to focus less on technology and more on driving business performance.
Modernize your systems for the future of work
There’s never been a better time to modernize legacy systems. Organizations are reconsidering their workplace technologies to better accommodate a healthier and more remote workforce. The solutions leaders choose today will impact every part of the organization, from business continuity to talent attraction and business success. If organizations can meet the needs of the post-COVID-19 workplace, they’ll be well-positioned to recover and prosper.
Tools like team messaging and video conferencing have been favorites during the pandemic, and that will likely continue. Office workers will opt for meetings that use video—as well as cloud phones—rather than jam-packed conference rooms and town halls. With desks spaced further apart, employees will default to messaging instead of yelling.
Make sure your organization is prepared to provide the right communication and collaboration technologies following COVID-19. Unified communications solutions like the RingCentral app combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform where employees can collaborate from anywhere using any device. With the essentials all under one roof, organizations can easily meet the provisioning requirements of any organization, allowing technology to grow and adapt to your unique business needs.
Originally published Jun 03, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023