What a difference a month makes. Who would have thought at the beginning of March that by now everyone would be at home figuring their way around remote-working practices?
The necessity to do so is crucial, and it is likely we’ll be in this situation for the long haul. Still, at least we have essential communication tools available to us.
The internet has revolutionised how we keep in touch and communicate with each other. Businesses who have specialised in unified communication services such as Office 365, Zoom, Slack and more for years have seen a spike in demand.
The biggest of these so far is Zoom, with its valuation now at €34.5 billion compared to €13.4 billion a year ago when it entered the stock market. Microsoft Teams has also been boosted by the crisis, having seen its daily active users increase to 44 million.
The focus for these companies is to continue meeting demand and maintaining quality of service. But for regular businesses and organisations – specifically those who can allow remote working in the first place – the current situation will expose how seriously they took the subject matter in the first place.
Switching from business as usual to mass remote working was always going to be a shock to the system but those with remote-working policies in place would have a smoother transition.
There are signs of encouragement that remote working has been in people’s minds for a while. A recent government report entitled Remote Work in Ireland: Future Jobs 2019 found that 51 per cent of all respondents already worked remotely on a weekly basis.
It’s likely that those businesses which had been engaging in remote working have a basic structure in place, and they now have an opportunity to really evaluate the services they’re using.
“It’s looking at the likes of Office365 and asking yourself if you’re using it to your full advantage,” said Michele Neylon, the founder and chief executive of Blacknight.
“You could be using Office365 just for email as it has a large mailbox, but it also has nice integration with other services, letting you hook things in together. You have a much smoother flow. Another thing that works really well is collaborating on documents within Office 365 online, where you can pull a document down to your desktop, open it up, and sync it back up into the cloud.”
Some organisations have not only had to adapt to unified communication services, but have likely realised that free versions aren’t going to cut it in the long run. The result is that businesses such as Videnda Distribution, which specialises in providing video conferencing equipment and accessories, have seen a rise in demand.
At the time of writing, Videnda was using couriers to deliver video conferencing equipment to businesses while following government and HSE guidelines, with staff working on a rotational basis looking after logistics. Serving sectors including education and health, it will continue to deliver as long as regulations allow it.
“It is a change and we’ve been busy, but as long as couriers stay coming, we can ship things out,” said Sean Holohan, managing director for Videnda Distribution.
“We have businesses, schools and hospitals using virtual meeting rooms that allow up to 50 parties to join calls which is ideal for groups, classes and general communication. We’ve seen an increase around users certainly, but the people who are using it already are also getting more use of what they have. Some are telling us that they want more virtual meeting rooms as they roll things out.”
Yet an issue that those in remote regions are facing is that while working from home has its obvious advantages and disadvantages, what work you can do is dependent upon the quality of internet connection you have.
While Neylon acknowledged that broadband across the country has improved in recent years, whether you can be productive from home is entirely dependent upon the infrastructure in your area.
“The thing about cloud-first stuff is that it really relies on you having a decent connection,” he said. “Ireland’s connectivity has improved over time but it‘s not amazing in parts of the country. The contention issue – the number of people connecting into a single exchange – when you put that in the context of what’s happening now, it’s becoming more of a problem.”
Another potential issue is the congestion that will occur with more people working remotely and regular schedules being upended. The various telecom providers did state last month that they were equipped to handle any increase in traffic and have measures in place to deal with congestion so time will tell if this is the case.
The other potential problem is security and privacy around these services. While bring-your-own-device policies are nothing new – and some companies have even let people bring office machines home with them – current working conditions means that most people are using personal laptops to work.
The convenience is great, but it increases the risk of security breaches as not many people would consider implementing stringent security measures on their own devices.
Holohan said that one of its ways of dealing with the issue is by using Pexip, which provides interoperability – where two systems are guaranteed to work together – for both Google and Microsoft Teams. Even a popular service such as Zoom faces its own challenges: ‘zoombombing’ is where uninvited trolls exploit its privacy settings to broadcast shocking imagery.
Security is something that businesses should continue to lead, and Holohan said that as long as such services meet both a company’s security and interoperability requirements, there shouldn’t be any problems.
“Some organisations would insist on that type of security integration that all of these tools may not have so if you get into a corporate setting, you need to think more about security and operation,” he said.