Three Months into a Pandemic – What’s next?

by Alan Percy, CMO @TelcoBridges

Now that three months have passed since my Ten Pandemic Predictions blog, it is time to revisit the topic, looking at how communications technology is being used by those impacted by the pandemic.  I somehow did not foresee the murder hornets and urban rioting…what is next?

Working from home is “the new normal”, and I am regularly impressed by conversations with friends and neighbors that now know the ins and outs of Zoom, Teams, Webex or other collaboration platforms.   The early days were pretty rough – as parodied by Saturday Night Live in their first-ever virtual SNL.  I too have my own stories, helping family and friends get connected for birthdays and weekly gatherings.   “Try gallery view Uncle Bob…it’s in the upper right corner of your screen”

We have all gotten used to the barking dogs, the kids in the background of a video call, not worrying about messy hair or seeing each other in casual athletic wear from this morning’s jog.   All the distractions and interruptions on video calls are now expected and normal.  Life goes on.

That aside, being part of the cloud communications industry and seeing wide adoption during the pandemic is wonderful.  The effort and ingenuity that went into making live video conferencing possible is simply incredible.

The question is, what will be the lasting impact?

Some early hints are evident as businesses are starting to re-open their doors and ask their employees to return to work.   Many of my friends have shared that they are giving serious thought as to their personal plans for returning to an office environment.  Many plan to work from home (WFH) for part of the week even after the pandemic is over.  My wife’s company is struggling with their “return to work” policies with employees calling in sick rather than return to the office.   Here in Erie County, NY, many of the county employees are pushing back against returning to county hall.  Anecdotal evidence that something has changed.

The argument is: The risk of catching COVID-19 is real and the collaboration tools have allowed employees to be as productive (or in some cases, more productive) than returning to the office.  Why incur any additional risk, when WFH is working?

Work from home forever (#WFHF) may be the new normal for some.

This may have long-term consequences that were not anticipated or addressed in my earlier blog:

  • Improvements in application security – from file sharing platforms to conference calling, commercial-grade security is a necessity. Zoom found out first hand that security is a big deal.
  • Significant dependence on consumer-grade broadband internet – as voice and video traffic move to the internet, the reliability and quality demands increase too. I’ve felt this first hand during an outage in late April, using the 4G hotspot function on my phone to fill the gap.
  • Commercial Real estate requirements – as millions of square feet of commercial office space sits unused, how will both the tenants and the landlords respond? Will space get less expensive?  What is the impact on commercial space and development?  My son hasn’t been to his office in the Empire State Building since early March.
  • Office space utilization – as more employees become WFHF, their needs for space in offices changes. They may only need a desk for the day, or a few hours. The nomadic employee has different needs.
  • Need for office furniture for the home – for the first few weeks of the pandemic, the kitchen table became the office. But after a few weeks of poor ergonomics and tired eyes from the small laptop screen, the need for a dedicated and well-designed workplace became evident.  I personally have loaned out every un-used video monitor to neighbors that were struggling with their ad-hoc office situations.
  • Home design – long term, I would expect home offices will become a focal point of home design. Houses for young couples may include more than one home office space.

All the evidence is there to suggest that cloud communications has provided a foundation for a change in the workplace for knowledge workers.   The wide-reaching impact is an opportunity – what we do with the opportunity will have a lasting impact.

Do share your thoughts – catch me on Twitter @AlanDPercy or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/alandpercy/