Tech leaders on how to transition from "survive" mode to "thrive" as states reopen

The coronavirus may permanently change how some companies function forever.

COVID-19: How artificial intelligence can help companies plan for the future

The explosion of remote work since the outbreak of COVID-19 has fundamentally changed how businesses are functioning on a daily basis. 
 
Even as states like Georgia, Texas and others begin to reopen, there are many indications that things will not return to the way they were in the next few months, if at all. How people conduct work when they return to offices may forever be changed by the work-from-home stint, which spurred the need for more video tools, better collaboration platforms, and a huge shift toward cloud platforms.
 
"This whole notion of digital transformation has been going for a decade, but there was always this question of when it would become real. Well, it's real now. This whole conversation about work has been enabled by digital transformation and moving to the cloud as well as virtual meeting capability," said Carl Wiese, chief revenue officer at video, voice and content collaboration and communication technology company Poly. "Whole new business models will be created."
 
Wiese and Jeetu Patel, chief product officer at Box, spoke to TechRepublic about how their customers have adapted to remote work and what the biggest trends are across industries.
 
SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)
 
Poly is one of the world's largest providers of video conferencing devices, headphones, and conference phones that integrates with collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
 
Over the past month, Wiese, who spent decades as an executive at companies like Cisco and BlackBerry, says he has been in conversation with CIOs and IT leaders across nearly every industry including major universities and construction companies. Several customers he's spoken with had already begun outfitting employees and changing processes to enable remote work before shelter in place mandates but are now sketching out plans for reopening and what things may need to change for the time being or for good.
 
"Companies are in three areas—survive, alive, and thrive. People were in survival mode when this all started but now people are starting to plan for the stay-alive portion when the opening starts," Wiese said.

"Firstly, video adoption is here to stay. Prior to COVID-19, even when people got on a Zoom or Webex call, 80%-90% of people did not use video. Video will now become one of the sticking points. When people go back into the office and go to a conference room, they're expecting Zoom to be up just like they have on their personal device."

Wiese also said there will be a second wave of purchases centered around outfitting home offices. When states and countries initially began to put in place quarantine orders, people cobbled together whatever they could find or order on Amazon to get ready.

Cameras, headsets, PCs, and monitors were quickly ordered at first, but now that people have had a month or two to work from home, they have a better sense of what they need to be productive from home, Wiese noted, adding that even as people return to work, many will still be spending two or three days a week telecommuting. 

The "tele-x" movement has also spurred widespread adoption of video tools. Churches, doctors, and teachers have all found ways to do what they do over video or audio, and this will almost certainly continue even when people are allowed to return to public spaces. Even government officials have made a point of communicating more frequently over video, highlighting the need for better tools to facilitate this.

This new wave of buying will include things like noise cancellation headsets, especially for those with kids, and possibly upgraded cameras, he noted.

Changes to office working

Even with enterprises being allowed to bring workers back, industry leaders are still questioning how offices should look in light of continued concern over the spread of COVID-19. 

Wiese said team meetings at offices may be reduced or limited to no more than two to four people per room. 

"The huddle room may become the new individual room because at a minimum, nobody wants to huddle right now. The room for 2-4 is now a room for one. The room for 10-12 is now going to be a room for four," he said.

He added that multiple executives have spoken to him about potentially continuing telecommuting practices even from the office in an effort to keep practicing social distancing. Office layouts may have to be changed to be more dispersed so that less people are forced to huddle in small rooms. 

"Customers and partners, very few of them know what this looks like when they go back. They're still worried about how to open effectively and what the rules look like. They haven't even gotten to part two, which is the communication-collaboration piece in the office. That will flow in once they know what the office looks like," Wiese said.

"Some customers have said they've made a policy that there will be no more than 10 people in any meeting for the rest of the calendar year physically."

He suggested that some companies may want to try a model being practiced in schools across Europe where half of all students come in half of the week and the other half come in on opposite days. Each side is taught remotely on the days where they are not in the physical building. This way companies can promote social distancing while keeping enterprises running. 

The crisis around coronavirus has also prompted many enterprises to rethink what they use to get their work done. In addition to providing higher quality video and good headsets with noise cancellation, many companies are trying to gain a better understanding of the best meeting collaboration platform for them.

Many companies have told him they use multiple platforms, whether it is WebEx, Zoom or Microsoft, but he suggested choosing one and rolling it out aggressively so that people can be trained effectively. 

Another big change is that every company will now need to have a work-from-home policy.

"If you look at the research, a high percentage of companies did not have a work-from-home policy pre-COVID-19. Could you work from home? What could you expense? What was the technology you needed to use?" he asked.

"All have it now but initially it was thrown together. Now it will be well-crafted strategies around capability including things like support for people at home, people's bandwidth at home and the different levels of support needed. The policies will be clear, more robust and everyone will have one."

Cloud adoption and new business models

Cloud adoption has also skyrocketed since the pandemic began and people had to spend more time working apart, Wiese said. Box's Patel agreed, saying adoption of cloud platforms will have "definitively accelerated into permanency."

"There are a lot of customers that might have been skeptical about the move to the cloud and what we've seen here is those customers that made the investment and moved to the cloud early on actually suffered way less compared to the ones that hadn't," Patel said.

"For the ones that hadn't moved to the cloud, this became a catalyst event for them to move to the cloud. The new normal is going to have cloud as a permanent fixture of work as you move forward."

Box provides services to 70% of Fortune 500 companies, and Patel added that people across industries are going to realize that there were some things the crisis taught them that they should probably keep even as enterprises get back to normal.

He noted that even at Box, they have innovated more than ever yet none of them had been at the office while doing it. 

"A lot of these changes will become part of the new normal. I don't think things are just going to go back post-COVID to the way that things used to be. I don't think everyone will be exactly the way they were," he said.

"We have to make sure we're defining the new normal and people are going to want to work in a more agile way. The clock speed is much faster than we're seeing with our customers than what it used to be and as a result, our clock speed is faster. We have innovated more in this time period than we have in any other time period in the history of Box, and none of us have been in the office while doing it."

Wiese echoed those comments, saying the quarantine may prompt entirely new business models and redefined industries.

While many have likened the current situation to other notable events in US history, Wiese noted that few have had such a drastic effect on everyone simultaneously. Few things in history have had such a profound effect on how we live, learn, educate, and work.

"There will be a lot of things that we look back on and say, 'you know when that was done?' It may even give some people hope or the desire to get out of survival mode and get into thrive mode," Wiese said.

"This one will fundamentally change things. We have to be proactive with customers in thinking about what their business model is going to look like or what will be fundamentally different. How can you use what you did in the last eight weeks to figure out something different?" 

Also see

Working from home during Covid-19 pandemic.

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