The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on how and where people work. Nemertes Research's recent study of more than 450 global organizations found that 91% of participating companies now support work from home, up from 63% prior to the outbreak. More startling is that approximately 72% of employees currently work from home, up from just 34% before the virus began its worldwide spread.
The rapid shift to work from home has tested the telework programs of those firms that already had them -- and forced a scramble by those that didn't -- to ensure employees remain productive, have access to the applications that they need and are able to engage with co-workers, partners and customers. The enterprise collaboration market, meanwhile, is under similar stress.
Unified communications (UC) vendors with virtual meeting and video conferencing applications are racking up record numbers of new customers as the volume of meeting minutes continues to soar. At this point, just about every UC vendor has introduced free or expanded services to meet growing demand and to get a foothold in the door of those companies that need the ability to offer virtual meetings.
But what happens in the future? Once the spread of the virus slows or new treatments and vaccines are developed, will people return to business as usual, or is the work-from-home trend here to stay? Nemertes' data indicates that work from home isn't likely going to end any time soon: 71% of research participants said they expect to support working from home even after the pandemic abates. Workers like the flexibility to stay home, in the process avoiding long and costly commutes and eliminating other daily expenditures.
Retooling existing collaboration strategies
A new reality where work from home is the rule, rather than the exception, means a fundamental shift in the UC and collaboration market. It also means IT must rethink its collaboration strategy to ensure that workers are as productive -- or more productive -- at home than they are in the office.
Key enterprise collaboration market factors to consider include the following:
- A likely reduction in the need for room-based video conferencing systems as the physical meeting room becomes less important than the virtual meeting space.
- A need for IT to assume management of home worker networks, ensuring adequate Wi-Fi coverage, internet connectivity and the ability to manage performance of voice and video apps in the home. This is especially critical for sales and contact center agents who must be able to engage in high-quality conversations with prospects and customers.
- Investments in analytics that enable IT and business leaders to monitor both use of and engagement within virtual meeting and team collaboration apps. Managers must be able to quickly identify and address those who are having difficulty communicating and collaborating in virtual work environments.
- A need to make use of team collaboration and video apps to build social engagement and a sense of community among virtual workers. This could include informal chat channels or evening social video chats that enable virtual workers to get to know one another on a more personal level.
- Investments in capabilities to improve virtual meeting experiences, including proper lighting, high-quality cameras, headsets and backdrops. This may also include using AI to enable virtual backgrounds, transcriptions, and enhanced meeting and sound quality levels.
In addition to IT-centric requirements, work-from-home success requires that remote employees have a comfortable working environment, privacy, proper lighting and the ability to step away from the office space to remain physically active.
The reality is that, even if COVID-19 disappears in the near future, expanded work from home is here to stay. As a result, IT leaders have two key responsibilities: first, to equip workers with the applications and working environments they need to be productive and, second, to give management the tools it needs to help remote employees fully engage with each other.