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COVID-19 and the impact on the digital workplace

As the ongoing global COVID-19 crisis continues, many businesses have had to embrace remote working as business as usual. 

The pandemic accelerated this move to a digital working environment and business leaders need to use the lessons of the present to future-ready their organisations, says Verizon Business. 

A new report from Verizon Business, Recreating Work as a Blend of Virtual and Physical Experiences, examines the impact of the recent rise in remote working and discusses key areas business leaders should focus on as they help their organisation adapt to new ways of working moving forward. 

The report shows how companies have had to quickly spin up new digital workplaces where remote employees both have the right tools to communicate and collaborate, but also feel supported in order to maintain productivity.

"Seeing how their network, security and employee collaboration systems have operated during the pandemic should provide the blueprint for the road ahead," says Sampath Sowmyanarayan, president of Global Enterprise, Verizon Business. 

"By acting now, they can capture the needs of employees and customers and create alignment across the organization as they pivot toward the new normal."

Successful experiences for future working
The report found 86% of the companies surveyed see the digital workplace co-existing with the physical workspace in the future, with 78% expecting to increase the amount of remote work conducted. 

"This increase doesn't mean everyone will work from home in the future. Rather, organisations will be able to pick and choose which types of work and which people will require a physical presence, and where the company can gain efficiencies and productivity with virtual work," the report says.

This new insight has resulted from successful experiences obtained during the initial period of the pandemic. Sixty-one percent of business leaders reported that the quality of remote work was on par as that conducted in the physical workplace. The benefits of remote working also shone through, with 52% experiencing improved collaboration; 57% seeing a boost in business agility and nearly half witnessing an increase in productivity (44%).

 The report found many businesses benefited from the use of collaboration technologies to maintain productivity with videoconferencing topping the list (98%) with other tools such as file sharing (97%), instant messaging/chat (95%), other collaboration methods (e.g., Slack or Teams 88%) and cloud-based collaboration (85%) all also being referenced. In addition, the use of online interactive training to keep employees engaged in their own personal development was key (85%).

Using technology to enable a difference
The report also highlights that businesses that have a digital workplace strategy are consistently more likely to see greater returns from their investments than those that don't. 

For instance, 52% saw increased productivity versus only 40% of those without such a strategy. 

In order to achieve these results, businesses need to go beyond a mere work-at-home policy to define the purpose and goals of the program, the approach the organisation will take, and how they will measure success. The use of technology is a key differentiator in this strategy.

 The potential of 5G technology was seen as going beyond basic operational improvements to provide more transformative changes, with one fifth (20%) of respondents saying that it will enable them to do work they have never been able to do before. 

Twenty-eight percent believe it will enable new business models to be explored, adding more value to their business proposition. 

Forty-one percent of those surveyed expected 5G to become a reality for their own organisation within two years, opening the door to applications that employ higher-quality/lower-latency video and augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR).

 Not surprisingly, security was flagged as a potential barrier which may slow digital work momentum (35%). However, 86% of respondents stated the importance of addressing data security to get the most value from their digital investments in the future.

Three key focus areas for successful digital work
The report focuses on three key focus areas for maximising digital work strategies in the future:

Working smarter
COVID-19 has forced widespread use of video and web conferencing. Smart organisations are increasing efficiency by integrating these with collaboration tools such as document sharing, white boarding, and annotation to let employees collaborate remotely in real-time, spend less time in meetings, and turn discussions into assignments.

Prioritising simplicity and integration
To ensure a cohesive, productive digital work environment, tools should be easy to use and integrate seamlessly with other workplace productivity and collaboration tools. This provides employees with a single, app-like experience across the tools they use every day.

Keep security top of mind
Potential security gaps exist on employee PCs, devices, home networks, and apps, representing a growing threat with the shift to remote work. Enterprise-grade security enables businesses to identify and protect against fraud, and ensure that private calls and meetings remain private. Companies should also consider implementing end-user security awareness training, acceptable use policies that mitigate user exposure to threats, and new security policies for remote working such as two-factor authentication.