What will the history books say about the last six months? Will it have the same status as other historical global pandemics depicting new social behaviours, with newly created words and stories of heroism, change and challenge?
Covid-19 has brought about a fundamental shift in how we live, work, play, socialise, care for each other and more. It’s hard to rationalise sometimes that every person on the planet has likely been affected in some way.
For me, personally, the change hasn’t been as hard to accept. At Tata Communications, we’ve had flexible working policies for some time now, and I used to work from home 2-3 days a week. So there has been little change – apart from getting underfoot at home.
“My workdays are longer now and I do miss the office banter and camaraderie which isn’t the same over video or voice call but, that aside, my colleagues and I have had a relatively easy transition into home working.”
It was a great opportunity therefore when I was invited to take part in the recent NetEvents inter@ctive CIO round table discussion on ‘Business Continuity and Agility during and after times of crisis’. Essentially to find out how other businesses are managing, not only to stay in business but how they are continuing to grow in the crisis and to learn from each other’s first-hand experiences.
The big digital shift
The session was chaired by Tim Banting, Omdia’s Senior Principal Analyst, Workspace Services, who began by saying, “COVID has acted as a huge technology accelerator and those trends that we saw taking place over three years have really been compressed into a short period of time as people have struggled to adapt their businesses to suit this ongoing crisis.” Plenty of technologies have been competing for the distinction of being today’s top accelerator, but it looks like a tiny virus has seized the number one position!
Those 3-year trends Tim refers to are crystalised into 5 key shifts that Omdia research has identified:
Latest research by Omdia on some thousand companies worldwide shows that only 17% “were fully prepared for remote working as part of their business continuity plans”. The 40% majority were “moderately prepared”, 34% “had continuity plans in place but were not prepared for remote working” while 8% were “totally unprepared”.
“But what interested me the most was data showing that many companies had not simply reacted but positively learned from the crisis.”
38% said that, once the virus had subsided, they would encourage and support increased remote working, while 28% would do the same, but only for specific business functions.
Enabling customers in the time of crisis
When the virus began to spread and countries started implementing lockdown, we had to think how best to maintain constructive and valuable relationships with our customers, when much of our relationship management had been face-to-face. We immediately executed business continuity plans which enabled our customer support and sales to continue thriving even in the new environment – with over 150 enterprise customers supported and 650 COVID-related orders fulfilled in super quick time. These numbers have been continuously increasing since March. It’s indeed a learning experience, and the increase in internet traffic, plus our positive financial performance coupled with increased market confidence in Tata Communications indicates we have been working with the right strategy.
I also see a longer-term benefit. Organisations are discovering how knitting together a complex global network infrastructure – to take advantage of cheaper regional suppliers – can lead to more challenges than solutions. During this pandemic, reliance on technology has increased significantly, and working and negotiating with a single global supplier is far simpler and less onerous compared to working with a range of different providers or specialists, who may offer different service support packages, levels of flexibility and technical standards under times of stress.
Transformation of the work culture
The panelists at the event also discussed the change in the attitude to working hours as workers are no longer deskbound. There is a more flexible approach that really values results achieved, over time spent at work.
This new focus on results-oriented flexible working hours is surely something to welcome, but we should not forget concerns about the move to a ‘Gig economy’ where everyone becomes freelance and the old certainties about pay and benefits are lost.
“I think working practices will become more flexible, and this may drive more ‘freelance’ work. It will also help balance the need for organisations to reduce costs through real-estate reductions, for example, and the employee need for more flexibility, and with it a better, more customised, work-life balance.”
These are, however, just a few impressions from an hour-long session – so I recommend listening to the full discussion available here.