As we gradually transition out of Covid restrictions, information workers are finding themselves in terra incognita. Do they go back to offices rapidly, and if so how? What do we need to equip our teams – not just in terms of productivity but also wellbeing and good mental health? With Gartner predicting 74 per cent of organisations seeing more remote working, what will a hybrid approach to work look like?
Those of us who have had long careers in the technology sector have tended to have more freedoms relating to how and where we work than others. When I worked in marketing and brand management in India, there was an expectation that we would work traditionally in offices, at our own desks, at prescribed hours.
Later, in consulting, everyone had an assigned desk, but the fact that we were working on a global scale meant few of us were actually at them. At a software giant, my work was totally remote, and at an internet giant, I was primarily back to desk work. Where and how work happens depends on people, culture, workloads and the task at hand. However, pre-Covid, leadership teams across Fortune 500s and enterprises didn’t spend hours figuring out how and where to work as they are doing today. The convoluted question of how best to get work accomplished is now a CEO and management team issue across every sector.
There are more questions than answers, and we can’t know with conviction what even the near-term future of work will look like. We must be humble in our planning, be able to absorb lessons and course-correct accordingly. It makes sense to reflect on what we have learned from this tumultuous year-and-a-half, both for what’s best for the enterprise as well as from the perspective of our careers.
The bandwidth wars
2020 and 2021 encompassed domestic battles for bandwidth that forced us to prioritise who could get access to precious Wi-Fi links and when. This formula was in constant recalibration: children’s online lessons ranked first, then parents’ Zoom/Teams/Meet calls. We all became network managers, capacity planning, investing in better bundles and deeming unlimited data cellular packages worth the price.
The next step might be that we all become network engineers too. It seems likely that more of us will work from home and that means moving beyond consumer-grade bandwidth packages, where speeds are measured in single megabits and security depends on how recently you patched and updated your router.
Connectivity matters more than ever and it’s incumbent on companies such as Colt to come forward with partnerships and offers and suggest new best practices, because if your home is now a productivity zone then enterprise-grade networks can’t just be located in shiny urban towers. Equipping users with excellent home networking, training, support and security will become a line item on many corporate spreadsheets. And as AR and VR grow and video and voice quality continues to evolve, we’ll be more dependent than ever on a communications infrastructure that is resilient and won’t buckle under new network traffic and usage patterns, just like the metropolitan-centric ones that have long prevailed.
Tech is our friend
VPNs and network tariffs that can be easily dialled up and down have a clear relevance here, and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is our friend, delivering protections and policy-based access to services regardless of where we are physically. Remote communications and teamwork have been turbo-charged by video, so we have to adjust our capacity planning accordingly. More than half of HR managers feel that weak technology infrastructure is the biggest impediment to successful remote working.
We also need to consider the human factor. Our eyes are tired from the glare of ring lights, our vision blurred with the constant close-ups of video calls and our spines stressed as we put in 10-hour days hunched over our home office spaces. At Colt, we have introduced “clear your plate” days where we advised everyone who could to shun video call tools and be anywhere other than their home desks. And when we did, we saw productivity go up.
Technology also stepped up to bring to life our need for contact, community and symbolism. Starved of human contact, tools such as WhatsApp Groups and Facebook Workspaces became emergency zones for culture, empathy, sympathy and banter. The extent to which we are tribal became very apparent to us. It is this dual aspect of technology – bane and boon – that drives home the point that connectivity matters, but people and the human spirit matter more.
We need to be mindful: I was onboarded entirely via a screen and had to understand company culture that way. But now I am having to unlearn the screen when I meet my colleagues in person. We must consider that our assumptions may be wrong and that we hold hidden biases. I enjoyed working from home but when I went into the office it was refreshing to have specific times and the rigour of an office working environment frame my day. I might expect young people to enjoy that freedom, but if they share a flat with others in cramped environments and they are trying to learn about the world of work and the excitement of being in cities then they may not.
We also need to be attuned to semiotics – reading the subtle interpersonal signs and non-verbal communications that we learned by cultural osmosis in the days where we saw our colleagues on a predictable and regular basis. We know that being socially distant led to suffering for many, so we need to be aware of potential anxiety and the impact of change on mental health.
The newfound freedom to work in more flexible ways will be a boon to many but we have to understand that there are catches. We must be aware of the temptation to see the colleague who is more often in the office with us as the go-to person to get things done. That may require some training and learning of new habits.
The optimist in me says that in this brave new world of dynamic working we will be more fulfilled and rounded people, able to give our best selves to employers. But we will need to be attentive to the nuances of what the next months and years will bring. The trinity of people, processes and technology is more important to hold in balance than ever.
Do you know what your traffic will look like when people return to the office? Try our bandwidth calculator: colt.net/calculator