Last week’s rail strikes will have been disruptive for many people, but it made me wonder whether industrial action of this scale would have been more devastating before the pandemic? I have written many blogs on disruptions that have highlighted the need for more flexible working practices - my personal favourite was Turn to video conferencing as new ash cloud threatens business travel plans - but I do not think these are quite so relevant in 2022 with so many people used to remote working.
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Millions of people were affected by the first day of striking on June 21 when 40,000 members of the RMT union walked out affecting half of all train lines with much of the country having no rail service at all. London Underground workers were also striking to push for a pay rise as the UK inflation rate reaches 9%. As a result, some people took to the roads for their commute to work, but many more will have chosen to work from home.
When Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to work from home if they were able to during the pandemic, it meant businesses had to quickly adjust from everyday office life to their employees being spread out across multiple locations. Some businesses sat out the first few weeks of total lockdown and then sought out remote working solutions to cope with the ensuing two years, while others were already set up.
This led to a real shift in the way people ‘go to work’. It saw the property market boom in coastal and rural areas as commuters realised they did not have to work in cities anymore and therefore did not have to live within their reach. The pandemic created a sea-change shift in attitude for both businesses and employees.
While there are many businesses and organisations that cannot accommodate remote working – hospitals, retail, hospitality, manufacturing, etc. – there are plenty of others where remote and hybrid working is possible. These businesses have been able to reduce office costs and have been drawing on a wider pool of talent for vacant positions, while employees have reduced their travel costs and benefited from a better work-home balance.
When we were told England was now “living with COVID”, there was not a mad rush to go back to the office. We have got used to remote working and many people blend it with a few days in the office to adopt a hybrid working model. As a further benefit, this means we are well set up when rail strikes, ash clouds, snow, etc. occur as we can continue to work as normal.
Here are some of the IT and communications tools business are using to support a hybrid working model.
Cloud-hosted phone systems
These can be used anywhere that a staff member has access to the internet. They can utilise handsets at home or apps via their PCs or mobile devices while on the move or working remotely. Staff are fully connected to the phone system, so will display the business number when calling out, can transfer calls to colleagues, and can access the corporate directory along with the rest of the features and functions that accompany a more traditional phone system.
Staff can send instant messages to individual colleagues or groups, hold video meetings, use audio conferencing, share their screens or files, and display their presence status via unified communications apps for enhanced collaborative working. They can ask and reply to questions from their colleagues for quick decision-making and to boost productivity. These apps can be used on PCs and mobile devices that are integrated with phone systems and calendars so that presence indicators display whether staff members are in a meeting, on a call, on annual leave, or away from their desks.
Cloud office apps
Most office functions can be accessed via a cloud app. Microsoft 365, for example, allows you to use Word, Excel, Outlook, etc. from wherever you have access to the internet. You can also use 1TB of data storage for files that you want to access with ease.
Remote desktop access
While cloud apps are easily accessible, many of us want to be able to work in the same way we would if we were in the office. This can be achieved through remote desktop access and virtual private network technology. Be warned: Multiple staff members trying to access their desktops at the same time will put a strain on your office bandwidth, so this needs to be considered, but it can be overcome.
Data centre hosting
With offices not as busy as they used to be, it may not make sense to house your servers there anymore to avoid security and compliance breaches. Some businesses may choose a public cloud option, such as Azure, while others prefer to know exactly where their servers are and want to maintain them themselves. A private data centre will enable these businesses to lift and shift servers to a co-location facility where all environmental conditions have been taken care of and bandwidth is appropriate for a VPN.
With devices being used at home, security can feel a little stretched and holes may appear. This is not an unfounded fear as remote workers can be an easy target. Hackers will find any way they can to infiltrate business networks as the rewards can be plentiful when it comes to ransomware. Cloud security, cyber security training and backup are critical in keeping remote workers safe from web and email borne threats.
If you want to improve your remote working set-up, we can help. Please get in touch with me and I will put you in touch with one of my colleagues.
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