Pushing the Big Red Button: How Organisations Dispersed Their Workforce During the COVID-19 Lockdown Period

We asked Dr Lucy Green, UK technology industry expert with Larato, to share their expertise and research into how organisations responded to COVID-19 and the lessons that they have learnt during this extraordinary period.

In June 2020, Larato surveyed UK mid-market Enterprises, to establish how these businesses handled the challenge of equipping and managing an instantly dispersed workforce. The survey captured the views of more than 100 mid-market leaders – CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, Head of IT – across all sectors in companies employing up to 5,000 people.

As expected, we found that COVID-19 stretched even the most robust business continuity plans when it forced organisations to adopt remote working at such an astonishing scale and pace. What might have taken years of planning and implementation had to be condensed into just a few weeks.

How businesses responded to the immediate dispersal of their workforce, will very likely impact their future competitive capability.

The research showed a 50-50 split of enterprises who were readily able to scale their homeworking capabilities and those who struggled. Of those who scaled more easily, almost one quarter reported that they had learned lessons in improving operational efficiencies, which they are using to develop their future strategies. Learning from their challenges and evolving.

47% of companies struggled to establish homeworking with 6% unable to access even the most basic technologies needed: the early days of lockdown saw a furious rush to procure laptops for staff, creating a global shortage. Others struggled with sub-optimal business continuity plans that failed to meet expectations – this was an issue for CEOs and the leadership teams of organisations.

Layer on to the issue around access basic technology provision that connectivity was a serious problem for most organisations and we begin to see the snowball effect that a lack of preparation begins to exhibit. Unstable domestic broadband connections, consumer-grade network equipment together with the exceptional demands of multi-user households, created record demands on Service Providers. 65% of enterprises sought to invest in business broadband for their remote workers, but the sourcing of this connectivity was problematic with 50% reporting that they couldn’t invest because the connections just weren’t available. Connectivity remains the key concern for sustained remote working.

Outside of hardware and connectivity, being able to communicate as an organisation also presents new challenges to UK organisations. Our survey showed that Microsoft Teams was the collaborative application of choice when it came to remote working:

  • 63% of companies were using Microsoft Teams during the lockdown
  • 46% were using it for the first time
  • 65% intended to keep using Microsoft Teams post-lockdown

Data from our survey strongly indicates that remote working is here to stay:

  • 53% of enterprises expect to keep 10-25% of their workforce at home for the next 12 months.
  • 30% expect to keep between 25%-50% of their workers at home for the rest of 2020.

When asked how important technology is to the future success of their business, almost half cited that it is important, with the other half saying it is critical.

With that in mind also most 42 % of the companies that took part in this survey say they plan to increase their IT budgets for 2021 and 20% saying that the increase will be more than 5% year on year. This increase in budget to accommodate secure, flexible remote working is not just throwing money at a problem as most businesses are now seeing the advantages of working in the cloud, it won’t be long before many of them extend their entire unified communications structure there too.

If there is one single business benefit to be derived from this global pandemic, it is that enterprises that are still trading will now know their businesses inside out. COVID-19 has forced organisations to scrutinise and audit every facet of every department to identify where operational efficiency improved, and where business practises can be honed to ensure survival in a very uncertain commercial environment.

Smart CEOs know that this virus is not done yet, and with second and subsequent global waves of COVID-19 possible over the next year or more, they have to plan for the potential business disruption created by possible future lockdowns and staff furloughs.

These new tools and communications platforms, like Microsoft Teams,  have powerful measurement capabilities that can accurately measure cost-effectiveness and productivity, even with a dispersed workforce. 90% said that they fully intend to measure both and to use this information to shape how their businesses operate in the future.

It may not have been planned, but by implementing an IT infrastructure to enable homeworking, many of these organisations now find themselves well-armed with a new set of business IT tools that offer more than just the ability to keep them trading. Maximising these tools and revisiting the part they play in your business continuity models is now more vital than ever before.