The pandemic is redefining working expectations, but homeworking environments are only as productive as the mobile and broadband networks that support them, according to Stuart Waine of Spry fox Networks.
Covid-19 has thrown the future of the office into complete disarray. When workers were ushered out of their offices and into their dining rooms/living rooms/kitchens at the start of the pandemic, it didn’t take them long to realise that working from home was far more appealing than battling the rush hour traffic or sitting on an overcrowded train. Most of them have embraced the work from home trend so well that the once dreaded daily commute has morphed into proactive worktime. Even those companies that have historically been sceptical about the homeworking concept have discovered that their workforce is just as productive out of the office as it is in, even more so in the majority of cases.
Nine in ten of us who worked from home during lockdown would like to continue doing so in some form, according to a report conducted by Cardiff and Southampton universities. By the same token, when the Institute of Directors surveyed more than 1000 company directors in September, 75% claimed they would be continuing their home working policies for the foreseeable future. In fact, more than half stated that their respective organisations intended to reduce their long-term use of office workplaces and one in five reported their usage would be significantly lower going forwards. A good example of this is social media giant, Facebook; at the start of the year the company was planning to recruit 1000 employees to work in its new London HQ but by May, they had decided that half of these new recruits would be permanently remote.
With government making a U-turn on its “return to work” guidelines and the country in the midst of a second lockdown, the working from home phenomenon is with us for the next few months at least. Businesses onboarding new employees in these unprecedented times are increasingly concerned about their homeworking setup and are progressively more willing to fund the appropriate technology and furniture needed to facilitate this.
Although there is a greater readiness from companies to purchase powerful laptops and smartphones for their respective employees so they can partake in Zoom-style calling and seamlessly login to centralised servers, the downfall of many of home office networks is inadequate connectivity. Home broadband connections that were only ever intended to support peak network usage from 17.00 hrs onwards are now required to provide communications experiences on a par with large inner-city offices. There is also the security aspect to consider as home broadband networks don’t have the same level of resilience as commercial ones and the devices running on them are at greater risk of attack.
Mobile coverage must also be taken into account. Mobile phone signals by default are weaker indoors, and the larger the building, the more troublesome this becomes. A number of factors come into play including location, topography, proximity of a mobile phone mast or the MNO. But the biggest challenge by far are the modern materials from which buildings are constructed because they hamper the transmission of mobile phone signals, especially the higher frequency ones used by 4G and 5G. We all aspire to living in an area with superfast 4G or 5G coverage, but it is not always possible, and people are nervous about moving in these uncertain times.
To overcome the mobile coverage challenge, not only from a user experience perspective but also to take the pressure off maxed out home broadband networks, you need to take the outside network indoors using supplementary equipment, such as mobile signal boosters. Since Ofcom relaxed the rules concerning the use of such equipment, it’s now possible to do this using off the shelf equipment, so long as said equipment meets the regulator’s stringent technical specification.
Having access to a superfast home broadband and mobile network in isolation won’t necessarily replicate the enterprise network experience. You need to make sure that the laptops, tablets, smartphones etc running on that network are performing optimally as well. This is not always as straightforward as it sounds because of the way many of them are configured in the first place. There can be huge discrepancies depending on the OEM or model number as well as external factors such as network maintenance or frequency changes. Employers obliged to work from home need an easy means of monitoring the reliability of the homeworking network to demonstrate that any expenditure they may have received to improve their working environment is a worthwhile investment.
As a result of Covid-19, it’s pretty clear that homeworking is here to stay and, in our digital age, this ought to be practically possible for everyone. However, the country’s ability to support a remote working society on the scale needed to ride the wave of the pandemic has never truly been put to the test. Business owners need to reflect on their current practices and how they need to change to create a fully connected organisation that can operate any time, any place, anywhere and with anyone. This means significant investment in the home office infrastructure.
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