The new normal. It’s a phrase that’s been uttered over and over again about the rapid changes imposed on society by the coronavirus pandemic. But few facets of life have transformed so completely as work.

Prior to COVID-19, just 3.4% of the workforce worked remotely. At the height of lockdowns, the rate of people working from home reached 10 times that, with 34% of workers who had previously commuted to work now working remotely. This sudden, forced exodus from the office has challenged previously held beliefs about working from home, and forced businesses and employees alike to find ways to work better and more collaboratively even when physically apart.

Remote work is here to stay

There’s a lot that seems uncertain right now. One thing we do know? Remote work is here to stay, even after the risk of coronavirus (hopefully) disappears. 

Prior to the pandemic, skepticism about working from home made many managers hesitant to permit employees to do so. During the earliest days of lockdown, 63% of business leaders were concerned about the impact of remote work on employee productivity. For most, this concern has proven false, with only 26% citing concerns about diminished output after a few months of seeing WFH in action. 

While maintaining employee health and safety will continue to make at least remote work a prudent option so long as the coronavirus threat persists, there are other key reasons working from home likely represents a permanent shift in how we do business—and not just a passing trend:

  • Work from home reduces operating costs, such as office maintenance and real estate.
  • Employees are up to 22% more productive working from home.
  • Flexible and remote work is attractive—and thus an excellent talent attraction tool. 
  • Remote employees feel more engaged at work than their office-bound counterparts.
  • Working from home is more environmentally sustainable, and companies that do so may be seen more positively by both customers and prospective employees.
  • Businesses that are better at working remotely—with the right tools and processes in place—are better positioned to withstand future disruptions that could derail their lesser-prepared competition.

Supporting a “new normal” of remote work

Norms aren’t set overnight, and they typically require a period of “figuring it out” before groups can function effectively. In the case of working from home, just 12% of businesses say they were completely prepared for remote work when the immediate need to do so hit in March. 

For everyone else, the need to quickly reimagine all aspects of work and collaboration forced quick and sometimes makeshift solutions. Whether sharing a brainstorm session or a file, workers had to immediately find ways to perform tasks previously done in person, and this often came with trade-offs: security risks, the need for multiple apps and tech solutions to perform tasks that were previously seamless in person, and other challenges that can erode business results. 

For many, these hastily adopted fixes did the trick in the short term. But if businesses are to continue to thrive in this new remote work era, they’ll need to find new solutions that meet the unique business needs of a remote workforce, including security, reliability, and seamlessness of use. As remote work indeed becomes “the new normal,” good enough won’t cut it. But having already achieved basic performance working from home, it’s now time for organizations to consider what’s working and what isn’t and to optimize for the future of work. 

Chief among these needs is unified communications tools, the glue upon which all work hinges. An effective unified communications platform is essentially the new workplace, where employees are able to virtually connect and share information with customers and each other, and perform many of the most important aspects of their jobs.

What makes UCaaS critical?

Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) is a cloud-based system that delivers enterprise-grade communications services, such as team messaging, video conferencing, and phone calls to employees’ devices. Once upon a time, in an office world, phones were hard-wired to workers’ cubicles and offices. UCaaS delivers these crucial services virtually to employees’ devices, such as laptops and mobile phones. 

UCaaS is arguably the backbone of any remote workforce. For starters, deploying UCaaS ensures that each and every worker can be easily reached wherever and whenever they’re working. 

UCaaS also meets the evolving needs of businesses that are having to quickly adapt in the face of a global pandemic. Because UCaaS can be easily deployed to employees’ devices, it allows businesses to quickly and flexibly scale up or down as headcounts change, without the need for technical support and installations or the risk of over- or under-provisioning. Businesses with UCaaS can simply increase or decrease their service level to match their headcounts. 

UCaaS also connects with other tools employees are already using. This reduces the complexity and lost time that can occur when workers need to use multiple apps to meet all the demands of performing their jobs from home (up to an hour each work day).

What to look for in a UCaaS solution

As arguably the most important tool for a remote workforce, it’s crucial to make the right choice when it comes to selecting a UCaaS solution. Here’s what to look for:

Reliability: When teams work apart, any disruption to their ability to communicate with each other is a potential showstopper, in the worst sense of the word. If communications go down, the thread is lost, the meeting is over, and work can’t resume until your solution is back up and running. To reduce this risk, look for a provider that has all the backups in place to be able to guarantee 99.999% uptime SLA, ensuring that service is always up and running.

Security: Whether intentional or accidental, exposing company or customer data can be devastating to a business. And outside of the controlled office environment, the potential risk of a breach can be even higher. As such, best-in-class security is one of the most important things to look for in a UCaaS solution. Look for a provider that offers transparency and specificity about all of its cloud security practices, conducts third-party audits of its procedures, and can answer any questions you may have about its protocols. If your industry is subject to specific regulations, such as HIPAA or HITRUST, it’s important to confirm the provider understands and stays on top of the rules and is fully compliant.

Integrations: Communicating is just one of many tasks employees perform throughout the day. Whether it’s customer relationship management software, project management solutions, or something else, workers are likely using many other tools to get their jobs done. A UCaaS solution that integrates with other business solutions can reduce the friction, complexity, and wasted time that often results when employees are required to use multiple apps.

How the Combination of Message, Video, and Phone Will Reshape the Future of Work

The future of remote work

If 2020 has taught us one thing, it’s that remote work is not only possible, it’s inevitable too. Now that businesses have mastered the basics, it’s time to prepare for a future of remote work by examining what’s worked so far—and what hasn’t—in order to identify tools and best practices that will propel results moving forward. As the connector between all employees and work functions, unified communications must be a top priority. 

Unified communications solutions like RingCentral combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform. Unlike having several different apps each function, unified communications is the centerpiece for your entire organization’s collaboration, allowing any employee to reach colleagues from anywhere, using any device, and at any time.

By consolidating messaging, video, and phone, your organization has everything it needs to ensure effective communication and collaboration no matter where teams are. As remote work continues to accelerate, this will be more important than ever.