The current outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is having a huge impact on business around the world including the UK. Infected individuals are getting sick, some are dying and those that aren’t directly affected are becoming stressed about its consequences. 

From a business viewpoint, supply chains are becoming stretched with individuals bulk-buying supplies and businesses are now concerned about their supply chain resilience and their ability to keep operating should significant numbers of their staff become unavailable whether it be through sickness or isolation. 

I wonder though if this outbreak could be a real watershed in empowering employees, encouraging organisations to embrace flexible working, consequently improving the relationship between employee and employer.  

Historically, there was a much greater level of trust between the employee and employer, even the monarchy and government had to trust their representatives overseas to behave appropriately and maintain their standards.  It was quite hard to micromanage when each communication required a sea voyage!  

Even in more recent history before email and the internet, remote sales teams used to operate with autonomy, requiring only an order pad and a monthly catch-up meeting.   

Now, corporate culture seems to dictate that unless you are present in the office you aren’t productive. Due to the rapid spread of  coronavirus, this perception is changing, and it’s now perceived to be unhelpful for groups of people to congregate in one place and travel using public transport is being avoided.  The good news is that technology is here to help us, the interesting news is that it’s been there for years but corporate culture has been holding it back.  

As individuals we need some social contact, simply working in front of a computer at home doesn’t allow us the interactivity we crave and it also makes our (traditional) supervisors suspicious because they can’t see what we’re doing.    

If there is a silver lining to this grey virus cloud then its simply that it has come at a time when we can take advantage of it.  Technology HAS arrived at the point where it is possible to work remotely AND maintain and grow working relationships.    

  • Microsoft Teams allows individuals to work together across geographies using multiple technologies (laptops, mobiles etc). It has embedded video calling, supervisors can (if appropriate) see that their employees are active or engaged in scheduled work, creative teams can share ideas concurrently and the screen share and whiteboard functions are even easier to use than a real whiteboard. 
  • Microsoft Office offers full collaboration capabilities, two people can work on the same document concurrently (and during a Teams call), improving the output and reducing the time to complete a document. It also helps with version control too, no more emails bouncing around and the frustrations of trying to merge various people’s comments and amendments, all in one place.  
  • SharePoint and OneDrive can provide a resilient document repository and back-up. This reduces the need for a VPN, in turn reducing the need for “corporate” laptops. Data leakage still needs to be managed but your staff can at least work from different devices. 
  • From a business viewpoint, Microsoft Dynamics keeps your management team informed wherever they are (only an internet connection is needed).  
    • If you need to know which of your staff are available, who can cover for others then the HR module is your friend.
    • If you need to understand your factories’ or supply chains’ performance then Dynamics 365 delivers you that information in the same way whether you’re at home, in your office or on the road.   
  • If you can’t get the right skills to a site but still need to service your customer then Microsoft’s Hololens is now available to improve your remote presence. E.g. If one of your key engineers is isolated, HoloLens allows them to communicate with a junior engineer across the internet. The senior engineer can see exactly what is going on and can advise remotely. 

Of course, technology can’t replace everything, face to face contact to build relationships is still crucial and video calling only goes so far. But, technology is now in a place where relationships can be maintained from afar and customers can be serviced.  

Wouldn’t it be great if we could use these tools now to cope with this evolving situation?   

If traditional employers who are sceptical on home working could see that not only do flexible and remote working work but also deliver productivity gains, then maybe, just maybe, flexible working can be embraced indefinitely.  

What an irony it would be if a virus pandemic actually resulted in improving our wellbeing.  

Please reach out to us if we can help you grow during this time of disruption. Our modern workplace team is available to help. Together we can change the way we work for the better. 

Mike Stanbridge
Enterprise Architect