So the government has confirmed that work from home guidance will be in place a little longer after delaying the easing of lockdown restrictions until July. It might be a disappointment for some businesses hoping to get back to normality, but employers should see this added time as an opportunity. The office and staff have to be prepared for new, post-pandemic ways of working – and that doesn’t just mean agreeing what more flexible hours might look like.
Businesses must also consider how their use of data and different technologies has changed over the past 12 months and ensure that their digital infrastructure and working protocols reflect this.
Don’t let bandwidth let you down
Before the pandemic, few companies used Microsoft Teams and video conferencing software like Zoom regularly. Now they are a staple part of working life. Since March 2020, business use of these platforms has exploded. Data from Ofcom shows that the number of Microsoft Teams users in the UK hit 13.7 million in March 2021, up by 5.3 million year on year. Companies’ use of cloud platforms to allow staff to access online apps, or store and share data has leapt up too.
These platforms have major implications for workplace connectivity. Uploading and downloading information via Teams or Zoom puts added pressure on internet bandwidth – huge amounts of data must be transferred, for example, to send someone’s image and voice over an online connection.
The digital infrastructure in a workplace might not be set up to cope, particularly if multiple people try to join video calls or access the cloud at the same time. That’s all before businesses start thinking about whether there’s sufficient meeting space in the office to accommodate more conference calls.
Auditing what bandwidth provision is in place and upgrading it where necessary is vital. Otherwise, returning colleagues will be trying to do 2021 work on 2020 networks, hampering their workplace experience or, worse, preventing them from doing their jobs effectively.
Make sure staff know the risks
The final piece of the puzzle is getting colleagues ready for new work set ups, particularly if companies make the blend of home and office working permanent. Ensuring they remain vigilant about cybersecurity is critical. Criminals took the opportunity last year to ramp up cyber attacks while people were working from home, taking advantage of their feeling more relaxed in familiar settings and without the IT team close at hand.
Companies might have put added security protocols in place, but now is a good time to revisit existing processes and make them a formal part of staff training and new joiner inductions – whether that’s briefings on spotting phishing emails, the importance of changing passwords regularly or being wary of downloading spyware (software designed by fraudsters to steal information from a device).
Employees may have adopted bad habits while working from home like using a mix of personal and work-provided devices. It’s important to understand where this is the case and to ensure the right virus protection and firewalls are in place. Travelling with laptops and tablets to and from the office also puts company data at risk. Staff should be reminded to be meticulous about protecting their devices, not leaving them on trains or inadvertently allowing people to read over their shoulder.
It is a brave new world and we are all taking time to readjust. It’s imperative that businesses assess and, crucially, address the risks posed by modern ways of working – both to safeguard business continuity and productivity and to manage digital security effectively.
John Archer is solutions director at Backbone Connect