Digital Collaboration: a transformation accelerated by COVID

Article content

According to McKinsey, despite the immense challenges CEOs are managing today, when it comes to digital transformation, now is the time to act.

Globally, organisations have had noteworthy successes in adjusting to COVID-19 and taking rapid action. In a recent Telstra Webinar, we discussed the success of popup locations and wireless branches in allowing vital operations to keep flowing. In particular, WISE Employment talked to their use of wireless connections, popup locations and remote access as being crucial to their ability to keep supporting clients when the pandemic caused them to shut down their offices.

Whilst WISE Employment prepared to go wireless back in 2014, many companies were more reactive when the pandemic hit, with processes set-up seemingly overnight to allow employees to work from home, and the business to stay afloat. In research done by Citrix, it showed that almost half (48%) of the organisations did not have a business continuity plan based on the vast majority of the workforce being mandated to work from home, and 64% found it challenging to migrate their workforce to remote-working. In saying this, almost three-quarters (70%) of Australian IT leaders believed that the rapid shift to working-from-home (due to COVID-19) has accelerated their organisations’ digital transformation.

Even before the pandemic hit, we were starting to see how collaboration in an increasingly globalised economy could accelerate innovation and lead to faster time to market for new products and services. Due to COVID-19 levels of remote work have skyrocketed, with ~90% of firms globally requesting people to work from home versus 5% previously. Even after the worst of this crisis is over, these new forms of collaboration are here to stay. However, many of the quick fixes that may have been sufficient for a few weeks will not be viable for a permanent hybrid workforce.

Organisations need to continue to refine and improve their unified communications and collaboration strategies, establishing what mix of software, applications and processes will best work for them. In talking to HRD Magazine, Keith Buckley from Citrix Australian and New Zealand confirmed, “The next task is to make this sustainable and effective for the long-term, while also beginning the mammoth job of reintroducing workers back to physical workplaces.” Forrester’s research, commissioned by Telstra, revealed that this includes streamlining security investments, training employees to be cybersafe, deploying virtual private networks (VPNs) or Zero Trust network access, and building a reliable security foundation for personal devices.

What we’re learning

1. Video Conferencing is here to stay

For one thing, we’ve all realised the immense benefit of videoconferencing. When COVID-19 struck, The Samaritans Foundation really relied on Microsoft Teams and Telstra Calling for Microsoft 365 to remain productive. "I have wondered many times across the last few months how we might be doing all that we can without our new collaboration tools, and our calling system," says Brad Webb, Samaritans CEO. "These technologies really have enabled our workforce to keep delivering what they need to."

The adage that those who work from home are ‘bludging’ has long evaporated as we tune into countless daily video meetings and find ourselves often more productive . So, whilst research has shown that in-person meetings are still preferred by many, hybrid models will likely emerge to take advantage of the benefits of both remote and in-person connection, once the pandemic lifts. Buckley also acknowledged the likelihood of an emergence of a truly hybrid working environment, asserting that, “IT teams and business leaders must make sure this is as seamless, secure and adaptable as possible.” Whilst great collaboration does result in improved efficiency and increased productivity, that’s only the case if you have the right tools in place.

2. Remote working can have implication for mental wellbeing

As working from anywhere becomes ‘next normal’, remote work isn’t a smooth transition for everyone and it’s crucial that organisations pay attention to the more human side and effects that remote working can have on mental health and look out for the warning signs;

  • More than half of remote employees say they feel disconnected from in-office employees. (CoSo Cloud)
  • 22% of remote employees report that unplugging after work is their biggest challenge. (Buffer)
  • 19% of remote employees report loneliness as their biggest challenge. (Buffer)

In order to combat some of these feelings of isolation, we’ve seen collaboration tools being used across Telstra to connect teams in new ways;

  • Virtual town halls
  • Online conferences and events (including Telstra’s own Enterprise Team Forum)
  • Virtual lunches and Friday afternoon drinks
  • Online team trivia
  • Streamed yoga, meditation and HIIT fitness classes

3. We need to evaluate the cyber security of our work from anywhere set up

In Forrester research commissioned by Telstra, we found that “a scramble to support a dominant remote workforce has led to security and risk exposure”. Many Australian businesses were unprepared for the rapid shift to remote working and did not have essential security practices in place to safeguard an increased remote workforce. In a rush to stand up a remote workforce, many organisations have implemented new systems without necessarily applying their normal considerations for security. Now, around two in five IT decision makers report that their IT departments have adapted networks, telecommunications, servers, and storage to meet the needs of an increased remote workforce. In addition, more than 30% have considered changes to endpoint security and VPNs to meet increased security demands.So, “while allowing the workforce to be flexible is only a small part of digital transformation, it carries with it the need to ensure that services are implemented securely.” In fact, shadowing the acceleration of Australia’s digital economy is an equally rapid acceleration in cyber threats

  • Devices need to be protected using full disk encryption, enabling strong multi-factor authentication, and using VPN technology to access data.
  • Applications and tools to enable remote productivity need to be vetted and configured to protect customer data and sensitive company material.
  • Employees need to be more aware of scams such as phishing, as these staff may be more exploitable away from the workplace.

A recent webinar facilitated by Telstra’s security team delved into how to manage cyber risk in the ‘new normal’, talking to security considerations during the phased return to office; how to manage connectivity for remote, hybrid and office users, ensuring they are secure and stay connected; and how to ensure your organisations meet their governance, privacy and compliance requirements post COVID-19.

The disruptions of the coronavirus have emphasised the crucial role of technology, from supporting remote working to scaling digital channels. It’s highlighted a point that’s been made before but can no longer be ignored: technology is a core driver of value, not merely a support function. Digital collaboration is transforming the way we do work and the technology underpinning our everyday remote working functions is something that demands serious consideration. “Getting Australian businesses to embrace digital innovation will make every sector more resilient, agile and productive,” Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, said.

Find out more about Telstra’s unified communications and collaboration solutions or click here to speak to someone about your individual organisation’s needs.