Great disruption has always accelerated change. Check history or look at what the recent pandemic has done. Businesses that were once nervous about enabling remote workforces have been forced to a completely decentralized way of working. That’s the big change.
EU data showed that only 15% of employees worked (regularly) from home in 2018. Now, those numbers have turned on its head. It’s been one of the most rapid changes to working practices in history. But as businesses start to look further ahead, they will be faced with a new horizon.
Firstly, whatever happens after lockdowns are lifted, the switch back to ‘normal’ will not be a complete reset. Stay fully remote, all back to the office, or something in between: they need to have to formalize the changes. One certitude: the new equilibrium will not be in the same place as it was before. While employees may have found new benefits of remote working, there will be those still longing for the office. But what are the items to enable this strategic change to happen successfully?
A shift in culture: remote
In many ways, COVID-19 has forced the business towards digital transformation decisions. Contactless and mobile payments, remote working, rapid development of sector specific apps, … The pandemic has mandated that businesses of all sizes are reliant on digital in today’s world.
This is one of the primary reasons why there will be a new ‘normal’ after coronavirus. Because why would consumers rush to go back to paying with cash? Why would workers accept the previous restrictions on home working? Not all industries have the luxury of working from home. But the fact that a lot of businesses have continued to operate successfully with remote workforces means one thing. The old reasons and excuses for not permitting home working are going to have much less credence than before.
Of course, that doesn’t mean every company had the chance to prepare, plan and execute cleanly. Indeed, in the first weeks of the lockdown ‘it just needed to work’. Now, as we enter a period where restrictions are lifted on a staggered basis, those businesses have the opportunity to think more strategically about their transition to a post lockdown world.
This is an opportunity to recalibrate how organisations work. Decisions that would have taken months, even years of debate before, have been made and executed in days, weeks. This is not to suggest that vital, strategic roadmaps should be set aside for ‘shoot from the hip’ decision making, but it does shine a light on some of the more timid approaches to new technologies and cultural change that might have hindered progress in the past.
Double down on digital transformation
In a sense, the response to the crisis has resulted in one of the largest mass proof of concept exercises for digital transformation ever undertaken. Different tools, applications, technologies and modes of working have been deployed at breath-taking speed to facilitate the decentralisation of businesses.
However, post-lockdown life requires a level of mid-term decision. Many of those pragmatic short term actions may well have resulted in good outcomes but they haven’t necessarily created solid foundations for the mid to longer term. This might mean investing in secure communications channels and a quick move away from freemium offerings. It might mean putting in place a more formal strategy to continue the work started with the quick deployment of public clouds for resource agility. And the transition to software-defined networks to improve security and flexibility.
Many companies that initially used public clouds are now engaging with them to unlock rapid scalability and flexibility. Cloud offers organisations a major opportunity. And they will find a variety of service providers to choose from, all with the scale and in-built security needed. These providers have also demonstrated how to cope with the surge in demand.
However, it is vital that organisations implement a proper strategy that takes into account all their requirements, and then deploys secure environments accordingly. That means that while many may have jumped to public cloud, they now may realize that it’s not suitable for long term use. This is where hybrid cloud would be an ideal solution to consider. It offers consistent operations and management, ability to move workloads between public, private and on-premises environments, and intrinsic security.
In networking, companies that need to rapidly expand their network capacity have turned to software-defined networking. Due to its accelerated speed of deployment, built-in automation and security, and because of the many restrictions and inflexibilities that make physical implementations hard to live with. As they look to the future, continuing that SDN migration is a logical step for companies that want to increase capacity.
‘Remote’ needs a security check
From a security perspective, the paradigm shift in how businesses are working has put security front and centre, with an acknowledgement that breaches continue, and bad actors thrive in times of such uncertainty. Business resiliency has become even more essential than before.
Remote workforces, using a vast array of corporate and own devices, are pushing IT to rapidly secure endpoints and applications. IT is asked to build-in security from the ground up, so that everything can remain secure, wherever it is located. Companies need to be implementing measures to continue the move to a more agile, innovative organisation, even if a majority of the workforce move back to working in offices, at least a part time basis.
With the move to digital workspaces, you will need to focus on consolidating the changes that have already been made. It’s an opportunity to continue to create agility that supports productive workers, while ensuring that they feel safe and supported in a chaotic, uncertain time.
Getting ready for life after COVID-19
No one can predict what will happen as lockdowns are lifted. While we all hope for a degree of normality, there is every likelihood that further waves of infection will force new lockdowns over the next year or so. That means that organisations need to be building resilience into their operations now, whilst at the same time, continuing to keep an eye on the mid-term so that investments made now still remain valid for whatever may be around the corner. For many organizations, this might even be a great competitive opportunity.
Ultimately, we can all only speculate as to what might be ahead and to prepare accordingly. Firstly, all organizations have to learn from the actions they took during the early stages of the pandemic. Next, they need retaining, formalizing and building on those that worked, and failing fast and abandoning those that didn’t. Ultimately, as is always the case, those that can do this successfully will be several steps forward along the path of transformation into a truly digital, agile and flexible organisation.