The workplace for the future – How can the cloud support the changing needs of the digital workforce beyond Covid-19?
In the spring of 2020, many of us were thrust unceremoniously into the world of remote working. The transition to Cloud platforms such as the ubiquitous Zoom, Skype and Teams which many firms had not used before, in the event, despite (or perhaps because of) the enforced adoption, proved almost seamless. A number of firms successfully developed a virtual presence with staff content to work from home. Cloud technology has played a vital role in the successful transition from office to remote working.
A similar reaction to COVID-19 was to question whether an office was needed at all – a trend that continued until the end of 2020. As time went on, however, the pendulum started to swing back towards the office environment for some businesses and workers.
Now, it is clear that the recent changes in how people work are here to stay. However, businesses are still finding their way and the situation is fluid. Many firms are in consultation with staff about their preferences for a return to the office: how many days a week and what hours to work as concerns about close proximity in offices and getting on crowded public transport are very real.
We are on the cusp of a new era where the interaction between office based work, and cloud technology provides an opportunity for an evolution in working practice which can be to everyone’s benefit.
As the owner of a business in the Central London Office Market I have a vested interest in people returning to the office. Yet, I would make the case for cloud computing being an essential part of that return: there is a symbiotic relationship between the old school office and cloud technology with clear advantages for both.
Old school offices
Businesses are a collective endeavour and we are seeing from clients that working in an office can have some key advantages:
Mental wellbeing and isolation – many individuals, but particularly the younger end of the workforce found WFH to be very stressful and isolating because of the lack of personal interaction at work. This includes feeling involved, encouragement, reassurance and belonging. In general, this proved easier for older workers as they had more space, possibly their own office at home together with more experience and established business social networks. The effect of the lockdown and its impact on mental wellbeing on the younger generation will be felt by business and society for some time to come.
Economic imperative – many firms have survived to date on their social capital – existing customers, contacts, networks, work in progress. Some businesses are finding maintaining enthusiasm when making sales calls is much easier in a vibrant office than from one’s flat.
Collaboration – this is vital in all businesses as it is most often the backbone of problem solving, developing ideas and innovation. Whilst there can be virtual collaboration, common feedback from most of our clients is that doing so face to face is much more effective and produces a much faster result. This is across all businesses including tech firms.
Training, promotion, networking – new recruits and younger employees can benefit from on the job training, observing and learning how older colleagues operate successfully whilst generating their own circle of friends, customers and contacts both within and outside a business.
Risk management – particularly in firms where advice is given to clients, e.g. financial services and professional firms. Being able to hear what is being said in real time, in an office is vitally important. Having a recording as evidence may be required for regulatory purposes, but to overhear and correct errors in real time, is easier and more effective when in the same room. It also improves customer satisfaction and reduces the risk of legal action.
Cloud technology has been proven to augment how businesses work and use their real estate. Cloud technology can help support firms and individuals as working methods change and people work from many more locations. There is an economic imperative to ensure support wherever anybody is based.
Cloud technology will also be key in risk management in the backing up and ease of centralising, sharing and controlling data. This also includes CRM data and sales and marketing via cloud platforms which have proven to be essential in an increasingly mobile workforce. The use of cloud platforms should also provide the added benefit of increasing security against cyber-attack.
Not only will cloud technology help in emergencies, there will be significant benefits from cloud technology for reducing environmental damage. This factor alone should be a key reason to invest in cloud technology. Shared cloud facilities use less power, require less manufacturing of hardware, ensures less wastage of building materials in comms rooms and less cooling and refrigerant thereby reducing costs significantly for businesses on the fitting out of offices and comms rooms. This is in addition to the more obvious benefits of lower commuting levels from flexible working.
In real estate, a further benefit of cloud technology has been improved flexibility for occupiers and the way they use space, vary headcount and move to different offices. One of the main trends in the office market over the last 18 months has been for landlords to fit out vacant offices to make them more attractive and easier to lease to occupiers who would rather not take a project on in a Covid 19 environment. Cloud technology is increasingly enabling occupiers to move in and relocate their businesses more easily with the benefit of a significant reduction in CapEx and risk.
The flexibility that the technology provides also knocks on into shorter leases. Some landlords embrace this: they can charge higher rents as they are providing more facilities - a “win-win” situation.
Cloud technology has however enabled us to be able to have this debate and offered a real choice of how we can now work going forward. Flexi working for a digital work force is here to stay but its effective implementation continues to be hotly debated. It is highly nuanced concern differing from firm to firm and business sector to business sector.
Ultimately, the debate and implementation of new working practices will be about compromise.
Some of the principal issues with returning to the office concern commuting (time, cost and risk of Covid), working excessive hours, diversity of the workforce and childcare. These are societal issues which need to be debated but clearly, post Covid-19, cloud technology can certainly be a positive force in moving us towards a new way of living and working.
Partner, BBG Real Estate Advisers LLP
BBG Real Estate Advisers (www.bbgreal.com)is an established, specialist real estate advisory practice based in the City of London with its focus on London’s ever-changing commercial property and flexible office market.
Sue leads techUK's Technology and Innovation work.
This includes work programmes on cloud, data protection, data analytics, AI, digital ethics, Digital Identity and Internet of Things as well as emerging and transformative technologies and innovation policy. She has been recognised as one of the most influential people in UK tech by Computer Weekly's UKtech50 Longlist and in 2021 was inducted into the Computer Weekly Most Influential Women in UK Tech Hall of Fame. A key influencer in driving forward the data agenda in the UK Sue is co-chair of the UK government's National Data Strategy Forum. As well as being recognised in the UK's Big Data 100 and the Global Top 100 Data Visionaries for 2020 Sue has also been shortlisted for the Milton Keynes Women Leaders Awards and was a judge for the Loebner Prize in AI. In addition to being a regular industry speaker on issues including AI ethics, data protection and cyber security, Sue was recently a judge for the UK Tech 50 and is a regular judge of the annual UK Cloud Awards.
Prior to joining techUK in January 2015 Sue was responsible for Symantec's Government Relations in the UK and Ireland. She has spoken at events including the UK-China Internet Forum in Beijing, UN IGF and European RSA on issues ranging from data usage and privacy, cloud computing and online child safety. Before joining Symantec, Sue was senior policy advisor at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Sue has an BA degree on History and American Studies from Leeds University and a Masters Degree on International Relations and Diplomacy from the University of Birmingham. Sue is a keen sportswoman and in 2016 achieved a lifelong ambition to swim the English Channel.
Laura is techUK’s Head of Programme for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.