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WFH: From survival to strategy
The imposed shift to homeworking has divided many businesses. Some (including Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Microsoft, Indeed, AMEX, Mastercard) say they will never require office work again, whereas others are eager to bring back the personal element and re-introduce the “office dynamic”. The concept of ‘Zoom Fatigue’ has left some people pining for the office, and many companies find themselves on standby, aiming to reopen the offices to all staff during 2021.
A survey by Ipsos MORI found that the majority of people expect normality to return somewhere between six months to two years. One thing is apparent – the ability and timing to even consider a full return to work is uncertain.
Figure 1: Ipsos MORI survey of homeworkers in the UK
Source: Ipsos MORI
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When the lockdowns started, uncertainty caused paralysis to strategic initiatives as budgets diverted towards creating a Work From Home (WFH) culture. Survival became the priority for businesses, delaying planned spend on corporate connectivity and networking. That same survival instinct saw telcos and suppliers react and reposition products and services toward remote work.
As WFH continued throughout the pandemic various advantages came to the fore, such as reduction in pollution from travel and the ability to hire great talent which may not be located near a corporate office. Businesses started or accelerated a journey of massive (and sometimes painful) transformation but, from that, have either accelerated or embarked on a digital transformation journey. The gains in efficiency and business opportunity have the potential to be significant. WFH is no longer an approach to survival but instead, part of a broader strategy to optimise operations across a
increasingly complex physical and digital worlds. This growing need across all enterprises and consumers is one of the key elements within STL’s vision of the Coordination Age.
A hybrid approach is here to stay
Homeworking must continue for some time to come as we wait for the pandemic to subside. As we have adopted a homeworking culture, albeit forced upon us, the investments in people, technologies and processes have already been committed. Although there is much conflicting opinion about the long-term outcomes, there is no looking back. The workplace has transformed, and the connectivity and business enablement products to support it have become commonplace.
There are three considerations which will continue to drive the support and growth of WFH.
- Covid-19 does not have a defined end. The uncertainty and unfortunate lengthy road to fully managing the virus means that businesses will need to continue efforts towards supporting a large amount of remote work.
- Remaining relevant. Many businesses will embrace a no-office, online-only culture (including typical storefronts) in response to changing customer and employee preferences. To do business in such an environment will require the adoption of the latest online tools and practices.
- Investment in digital transformation. Before Covid-19 and independent to any prior appetite for home working, digital transformation has already led many businesses to adopt cloud services, online collaboration tools and uCaaS solutions for voice and video. It is now generally accepted that Covid-19 has accelerated and rapidly matured the integration of these solutions into many businesses. According to BT, the “technology/digital transformation journey” in the UK has been sped up by almost 5.5 years.
The support of WFH, fully or hybrid, is therefore strategic and something likely to feature in business plans for the foreseeable future. Even when offices do eventually begin to fill up again, work from home will transition and merge into the “work from anywhere” culture.
Telcos are in a unique position to provide all the connectivity and services required to assist in these projects, but to do that they need to offer appropriately positioned solutions. As consumer and business connectivity become intertwined, it creates a large area of uncertainty for businesses. As both consumer and business connectivity are core competencies for telcos, bringing the two together is the next natural step.
The adaptation of businesses towards increased homeworking is, of course, complex and touches nearly every part of the business, from people to processes and technology. Almost every business function will have invested considerable time and effort towards establishing new ways of working. In many cases, this would result in a change to the supporting technologies.
Underpinning all of this is a large assumption that each employee will be able to reliably connect to the new virtual business environment from wherever they want, and the technology will just work. To all but the most technically advanced businesses, the homeworker’s personal connectivity is just that – personal – and not an area that many businesses can currently manage.
The telco is in a unique position when it comes to WFH as it can touch every part of the service delivery chain. With many businesses unable to address the broad spectrum of WFH needs, the opportunity for telcos is to offer the enabling services. Telco solutions must now support businesses by providing the right mix of physical connectivity and enablement services.
Figure 2: The telco touchpoints in WFH service delivery
Source: STL Partners
Telcos have had an obligation to provide continued service to businesses and homes, throughout the pandemic. Universal service obligations needed to be maintained while national charters to keep the country connected were agreed. When the pandemic started, the demand for connectivity within the business segment shifted to the consumer segment and telcos had to respond.
Businesses initially froze all internal connectivity projects and focused on the remote workforce — this impacted Q2 revenues in telcos’ business segments. At the same time telcos did everything they could to make the transition as easy as possible, removing data limits and speed caps and providing free trials of collaboration and communications tools. More detail is provided in STL Partners review of the initial telco responses.
Figure 3: Liberty Global Q3 2020 results illustrate the impact to the business segment
Source: Liberty Global
Eventually IT infrastructure projects re-started. Businesses with significant office-based operations (as opposed to, e.g. manufacturing) applied new focus on creating more flexible and agile networks which can support mass WFH. The dependency on digital collaboration and ensuring that homeworkers can work without disruption has now become a high priority. A Q3 improvement in business spending is partly down to collaboration enabling technologies creating new opportunities for telcos – to address the shifts from legacy business spend on connecting large sites towards a more distributed concept where households connectivity is both personal and business focused.
Consumer connectivity products must now simply articulate the support for all household needs, including WFH. Business products must enable the agility a business needs to adapt to any future changes, while easily embracing their employees’ consumer connectivity.
Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- A six point plan for embracing WFH opportunities
- How telcos responded to ‘work going home’ in 2020
- Two essential areas in need of development
- What next: Considerations for different types of telco
- WFH: From survival to strategy
- A hybrid approach is here to stay
- The telco role: An opportunity or obligation?
- Embracing the consumer architecture
- The WFH journey: From initial responses to strategic opportunities
- Uncoordinated connectivity: The initial stakeholder responses
- Intelligent networking for WFH
- Long term WFH: The telco opportunity
- Telco WFH propositions today
- How telcos are positioning WFH services
- Consumer broadband: Overlay services for the household
- Dedicated WFH: Made-to-measure
- WFH as part of wider transformation efforts
- Conclusion and recommendations
- The innovation opportunity