The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have seen organisations around the world rush to implement and utilise solutions that let their people work remotely, with unified communications (UC) a core technology in these efforts.
But, as discussed during a recent ARN Virtual Exchange event held in association with LogMeIn, NBN Co and RingCentral, the shift to this new working reality was already well underway before the novel coronavirus struck and will continue to be driven forward once things get back to a new normal — a state of play that will work well for partners playing in the UC space.
According to Tech Research Asia (TRA) executive consultant and industry analyst Mark Iles, who delivered a keynote address during the virtual event, we were already at the point where 60 per cent of employees were using more than one work space on any given day when the pandemic hit.
Moreover, research conducted in Australia by TRA before COVID-19 reared its head found that 69 per cent of Australian organisations already had a modern workplace policy in place, while 80 per cent of those organisations had already made a significant change to their policy in the last 24 months.
Nearly half of these companies, according to Iles, said that they needed to make more changes just to be successful.
“As a nation, Australia was actually relatively advanced, in terms of the development of workplace policies,” Iles told attendees during the event.
The shift to flexible or remote working arrangements prior to COVID-19, according to Iles, was also compounded by linked trends, with nearly 60 per cent of Australia corporates set to reduce their space and use more co-working space prior to the pandemic.
“There are two trends we’re seeing...the concept of these smaller satellite offices that allow for regional hubs,” Iles said, “rather than this very binary switch between either working from home or commuting into the office, we were starting to see the beginning of what we were calling this satellite outfits.
“And we think that, with COVID-19, what’s happened there is going to push that even further,” he added.
Once COVID-19 hit, the work that was already being done to get employees into more flexible working environments, or at least provide them with access to more flexible work options, switched into overdrive, with organisations of all sizes working to create a workplace that did not require people to physically be in a central office.
And then, according to Iles, everything paused.
“When COVID-19 landed...first off, we went to crisis mode, and when we look at some of the speeds at which we were able to operate...it’s been a very interesting time to figure out just now quickly you can move when you’re forced to,” Iles said.
“And then what we saw was a huge pause button, hit by most customers. Then we saw a little bit of service reduction and efficiency drives, started to see some discount requests, started to see requests for free trial licences to burst up on things like...unified comms, and on network capacity — a lot of things you’d expect to be fairly obvious, with a massive move to working from home,” he added.
So, what comes next? From Iles’ perspective, this is where a new priorities phase comes into play. This phase, according to Iles, is where the market evolution was up to as of late June.
This new phase represents a complete reassessment that most customers are going through about what transformations make sense, as they find themselves thinking about where they are going to spend their IT dollars. But this won’t mean ruin for IT budgets and the money that will flow into the partner ecosystem.
Indeed, the IT industry will be healthier than most sectors in the coming months, especially for partners specialising in unified comms and cloud, among other areas.
“We are anticipating a decline in total IT spend in 2020, just by the nature of how that’s happening, it’s more a question of where that’s going,” Iles said. “I do think...IT will be one of the areas that’s less troubled than most.
“Do you think technology is more relevant with a disparate workforce than less relevant? We would all hopefully know the answer to that, especially given the world that we’re working in.
“We see technology as highly relevant. However, the brutal reality of most customers having declining revenues means everything is going to be trimmed to a certain extent, but the prioritisation of actually where they are going to put that money is where we think it is going to get interesting. And we think that’s going to be very beneficial, obviously, in the UC space,” Iles added.
Although there is expected to be some tightening of corporate wallets in the near future, it is anticipated that there will continue to be substantially more appetite for unified comms solutions into the future, even when things return to normal.
Indeed, Iles suggested that when things settle down into a more normal environment, the number of true remote workers is expected to be double that of pre-pandemic conditions.
Breaking out the figures, Iles noted that pre-COVID, at a global level, roughly 20 per cent of the global workforce had been engaging in some degree of remote work. During COVID-19, that figure has flipped and indeed quadrupled to around 80 per cent. In a post COVID-19 world, however, it is expected that the figure will be 40 per cent, twice that of pre-pandemic times.
“We’ve gone from this 20 per cent world globally, to 80 per cent during COVID, to now 40 per cent post-COVID. So, if you think about that to a pre-COVID to post-COVID, when we settle down into a more normal environment, we’re anticipating the number of true remote workers to double,” Iles said.
And of course, unified communications will play a central role in how those 40 per cent of workers can continue to do their jobs remotely in an ongoing capacity, especially when the need for remote collaboration comes into the picture.
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