In the first week of March, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon began encouraging employees to work from home for their own health and safety—nearly three weeks before California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide shelter-in-place. The Silicon Valley giants saw the looming threat of COVID-19, evaluated their preparedness, and decided that they were ready to enable a mass work-from-home event way before most other organizations were.
It’s no wonder that big tech is weathering the storm significantly better than most. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google all show positive signs of resilience despite most of their workforces out of the office. As far as big tech is concerned, business operations haven’t really changed much. In fact, companies like Apple and Microsoft continue to hire throughout the pandemic.
Most organizations in the country, however, don’t share the same luck. A Gartner survey found that only 12% of organizations were ready to manage disruptions caused by COVID-19. Many simply didn’t have the infrastructure, training, or experience to support prolonged remote work, resorting to panic buying and implementing technologies left and right with unprecedented urgency. Businesses simply weren’t prepared for a crisis like this, and they’re paying the price.
As the initial shock wears off and businesses stabilize, leaders have started to re-evaluate their remote work and business continuity plans to avoid future periods of disruption. A survey by PwC found that finance leaders are planning to pivot toward measures that improve business resilience and agility, with 68% of respondents putting work flexibility as their number one priority.
Remote work drives business operations through tough times
Remote work growth increased 159% between 2005 and 2017, with a 78% increase in job listings posted on LinkedIn within two years that offered flexible work perks. The reality on the ground was much different, however. Only 7% of workers had the luxury of regularly working from home, and 94% wanted more flexible work options.
When COVID-19 struck, however, remote work transformed from an employee privilege to business necessity overnight. Employees everywhere suddenly had their traditional in-office work schedules turned upside down. A Gallup poll shows that 63% of Americans shifted from office environments to working from home, all in under two months.
To many experts’ surprise, the shift to remote work has actually exceeded expectations. Organizations have been able to continue business operations despite being distributed. According to a Deloitte survey, 75% of CFOs say their companies are operating at 80% capacity or higher. While it’s no stretch that businesses are struggling during the crisis, findings show that the mass remote work situation isn’t as bad as leaders anticipated. In fact, leaders are now the true value of remote work, going so far as to announce permanent work from anywhere flexibility.
From the employee perspective, working from home isn’t so bad either. A CNBC survey found that 38% of employees are happier with their jobs now than they were in previous months. Employees with flexible work schedules show less stress and burnout while being happier, more engaged, and more productive. Organizations with highly-engaged employees have 59% less turnover and achieve 21% greater profitability than their competitors.
The intersection between remote work and business continuity
As shelter-at-home restrictions ease across the world, the return to work won’t be sudden. Organizations will have to enact safety measures to prioritize employee health or have employees continue working from home. In many cases, the latter might be a better option. Cubicles and open offices cram as many employees into small spaces as possible, and it’s simply not feasible with the virus still floating around.
Business leaders have realized that, in order to continue operations, remote work is essential to their business continuity plans. A Gartner survey on 317 CFOs revealed that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19, with nearly a quarter planning to move 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.
The shelter-at-home orders gave managers and executives a first-hand look at the advantages of remote work. Seeing operations continue and employees productive, leaders became much more receptive to work flexibility. In fact, forward-thinking organizations such as Facebook and Twitter announced that employees can work from home until the end of 2020—a monumental step toward the future of work.
Unified communications are vital to the future of employee collaboration
As companies geared up for remote work, demand for cloud communications tools reached a critical mass. Business app downloads increased by 90% in March compared to the previous year, with video conferencing and team messaging tools taking the spotlight. Organizations realized that these tools are essential for employees to effectively collaborate with their teams from home.
The issue, however, is that most organizations were forced to cobble together temporary technology solutions that aren’t optimized to work synergistically or match with long-term IT goals. These disparate solutions might have been solid short-term Band-Aids to survive the pandemic, but don’t make sound solutions down the road.
One of the biggest concerns is the overabundance of technology. Having an app for each mode of communication—team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone—means employees need to manage several different apps at the same time. Studies show that 68% of employees toggle between 10 apps in a single hour, with some even juggling up to 15. Workplace technologies are ripping employees’ attention spans apart, leading to lower productivity, fatigue, and stress.
At the same time, disparate apps can cause major long-term headaches for IT teams. Organizational needs are constantly changing, and scaling several solutions to match one another can be a technical nightmare. IT teams would also have to work with several service providers whose products might not cooperate.
That’s where unified communications come in. Unified communications solutions allow employees to effortlessly switch between team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone with a single click—never having to leave the app. With everything under one roof, IT teams can easily manage compatibility, scalability, and support issues with a single provider.
Businesses with unified communications thrive in the future of work
As organizations look toward recovery and continuity plans, a major priority for leaders is to ensure the continued productivity of their remote workforce. COVID-19 proved that employees can deliver results and drive positive business outcomes even amidst a national health crisis and enforced office shutdowns. Returning to normal will require workers to stay remote and productive, and organizations must do what they can to support them.
Originally published May 26, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023