What to Expect from Post-COVID UC

There’s no questioning the impact the coronavirus outbreak has had on businesses across the world in the short term. The majority of employees have had to work from home by necessity, which has seen a quick and sometimes desperate scramble to get the right technology in place.

Looking forward, the change won’t just be temporary. That said, the long-term picture won’t be quite the same as the fast and furious environment we’ve seen in 2020. This was the point of discussion in an online debate hosted by Ribbon Communications. Specifically, what is next for businesses in the post-pandemic world? And what role will unified communications play?

Our very own Chief Strategy Officer, Jonathan Harris, was joined by three other industry experts, each bringing their own unique perspective to the debate:

  • Paul Cannon – Senior Marketing Manager at Microsoft
  • Jeff Kubick – Head of Global Voice Service Provider Marketing at Poly
  • Andrew Wlodek – Senior Account Manager at Ribbon Communications

In this post, we’ll look at six of the key talking points from the discussion.

Moving to video

The debate was opened by Microsoft’s Paul Cannon, who explained how the use of calling on Microsoft Teams rose exponentially during the initial weeks of lockdown. By 12th March, Teams calls totalled around 500 million minutes per day. That rose to 900 million by March 16th, and by the end of the month, there was a whopping 2.7 billion minutes of calls being racked up.

That’s completely understandable as users needed to stay in touch while they were working from home. One trend that’s even more interesting is the up-rise of video calling. Overall, working and learning from home has seen the use of video double compared to pre-outbreak levels.

Video use now accounts for 38% of meetings in the US, 57% in Australia and over 60% in European countries like the Netherlands and Norway. As more businesses look to make their remote model more permanent, those numbers are likely to rise in the coming months and years.

This was something echoed by Jeff Kubick, who suggested that video was “the new default” when it comes to online communication.

Accelerating more steadily

Next on the list was digital transformation, with Jeff Kubick discussing how companies were on a slow but steady march before the pandemic. There was a general direction, moving from on-premises to cloud, voice to video, in-person to remote and single- to multi-vendor providers.

Clearly, during the lockdown, a lot of that has been accelerated. Businesses have deployed almost an emergency package of remote, cloud solutions along with the spike in video use mentioned above. Quoting Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Jeff explains “we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” In other words, companies had to act quickly to adapt – and in many cases to survive.

But what happens after that? Following on from the temporary ‘new normal’ we’ve all been adapting to, it’s now time for what Jeff calls the “next normal”. While things might not be as fast as the response to the initial lockdown, digital transformation is still likely to move faster than pre-lockdown levels.

Having seen its importance in 2020, 65% of companies are expected to accelerate cloud adoption. This is just one way in which they’re reassessing for the long term. In contrast to the “knee-jerk reaction,” described by Andrew Wlodek, businesses are taking a more strategic approach to deployment.

In other words, what has worked during lockdown? What hasn’t worked? What do we need to change going forward?

What is the new office?

It goes without saying that remote work has been the biggest shift of lockdown for the businesses that continued operating.

The UK saw around 60% of its workforce working from home at the peak of lockdown, compared to just over 5% pre-pandemic.

Looking forward, the experts were clear that this will be more than a temporary trend. Jeff Kubick outlined findings that only 8% of companies will not be continuing with some form of working from home. That’s paired with almost three quarters of CFOs saying at least 5% of their staff will be permanently working remotely.

But more specifically, they questioned what the office will look like in the future. Interestingly, this isn’t a question that can be answered for every business – even by the four proven experts on the panel. Instead, it’s about companies actually asking this question of themselves on a case-by-case basis.

Jeff explained how, despite the various benefits of remote working, some staff will naturally prefer to use the office. Jonathan added his thoughts, introducing the idea of a new office environment which merges remote and in-house without any barriers or restrictions. There needs to be ways for remote workers to still feel part of that in-office environment, wherever they’re based.

Investing in remote equipment

Going beyond simply allowing employees to work remotely, the experts discussed how businesses will look to better facilitate that work. Namely, with a more user-focussed remote workspace. Jeff explained how employees need the solutions that provide the quality and user experience of the office, minus the office, including the same levels of safety, security, and support.

Interestingly, Paul described how there was actually a spike in bad calls when people “rushed home” at the start of lockdown. This wasn’t down to Microsoft or its partners, but instead due to people using non-certified devices.

While businesses could continue to operate remotely to some degree, they weren’t prepared for the new model in terms of equipment. As a long-term response, companies will look to provide those devices to employees who can work from anywhere on a permanent basis, whether that’s a fast connection or a proper sound fence for voice calling.

Most importantly, as Andrew highlighted, it’s not the customers themselves that need to worry – or even know about – these devices and services. Moving forward, it will be up to tech partners to make sure users have the latest firmware and security updates, with everything configured properly for the right region, including laws and regulations.

Value of partners

The role of partners in post-COVID transformation is something Andrew continued to discuss. While tech providers like Ribbon Communications offer the software and equipment needed, it’s up to their partners to help businesses deploy it across the world.

Jonathan added to this, emphasising the human element that partners provide. It’s one thing having the technology that works, but customers still have their own requirements. With so much change afoot, partners will be more crucial than ever before in working with companies to give them the functionality they need, where and when they need it, while balancing it with existing infrastructure and investments.

Working from anywhere

Working from home has become almost synonymous with lockdown. But as we return to normality, the kind of tools being implemented will actually give workers even more freedom. Rather than being limited to home, they will be able to work from anywhere.

Jonathan explained how, as well as working from home, employees will be equipped to work from a café, a customer’s office or a partner’s location.

Technology will work wherever they go, removing all the barriers. It will provide the ultimate freedom for employees, but also for employers.

With the right people and best-of-breed technology, employers can trust that they will get the same productivity levels – or even higher. Not only that, they will have access to an extended talent pool, across the country and across the globe. This was something that all four experts certainly agreed on.

Enabling flexibility post-COVID

The way people work across the globe is set to change in the coming years. But rather than preparing for something specific, as with COVID-19, this change is about enabling flexibility more broadly.

Nobody knows exactly what will happen in the coming years and beyond. But by equipping your workforce with the tools to work productively from anywhere, you can prepare for anything the future can throw at your business.

If you’d like to talk more about equipping your team to work from anywhere, Aura’s unified communications experts are always on hand. Arrange a consultation today to discuss your requirements and how we can provide a bespoke solution.

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