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Get Real About Return-to-Office Planning

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Remote working
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2020 was a transformative year for UC and collaboration. Remote work configurations became status quo and are now well-integrated, both socially and technically, into the daily operations of most organizations. However, a disruption to this work-from-home (WFH) model is looming.
 
Once companies are able to lift COVID restrictions, IT will face the need to support employees working from home, in the office, and on the go. This scattered distribution of knowledge workers will give rise to a new set of challenges in the UCaaS and collaboration space, and blind spots will begin manifesting themselves as the post-COVID “new normal” sets in.
 
False Sense of Confidence
COVID-19 accelerated the move from a cloud-first to a cloud-now strategy for most organizations. After the quick adoption of UC and collaboration apps to support an extremely high percentage of employees working from home, IT departments have gotten a handle on managing a UCaaS-centric world. But organizations may be lulled into a false sense of security. Many network issues won’t start to surface until users begin to trickle back into a post-pandemic world, which will look very different in comparison. Will chaos ensue when the current static remote working model shifts? Will organizations be ready to pivot to a much more dynamic and multi-directional set of endpoint scenario configurations? How can IT teams responsible for managing these services better prepare for and proactively address these blind spots before encountering user complaints?
 
The implementation of a static setup of home offices has been somewhat manageable. Establishing connections to the same endpoint, peripheral device, network, and physical space involve simple configurations. IT has been able to stabilize the environment, and enterprises have gone mainly unscathed after rush-enabling tens of thousands of WFH users. What is usually a set of complex and continuously changing UC use cases has been boiled down to a simple subset and then frozen. But that will change with the hybrid model organizations will need to adopt post-pandemic.
 
The Sleeping Giant
The COVID-created pivot to WFH has changed the nature of meetings (and meeting rooms) and how they’re enabled. What happens when everyone isn’t on an equal WFH footing? A potential future UCaaS scenario of 30% in office, 30% WFH, 30% “remote,” and 10% elsewhere (i.e., a hotel lobby, Airbnb, etc.) will be the sleeping giant. This new mix is going to challenge the collaboration experience and patience for both the end user and IT.
 
Here’s just a sampling of the laundry list of issues the new normal will bring:
 
  • Multi-platform — Was your enterprise running both Zoom and Microsoft Teams pre-COVID? If you are now, and weren’t then, what will multi-platform mean once a significant set of users are back in the office?
  • Room systems — Pre-COVID was all your hardware based on Microsoft Teams or Skype for Business? How is everything going to work now that you’re a Zoom shop?
  • Network traffic — With employee locations fluctuating from day to day or week to week, will your network be ready? Gone is internally managed traffic. Here to stay is unmanaged traffic over the Internet. This will impact proxy servers, Internet access firewalls, and connectivity to PSTN gateways.
  • Video bandwidth — Since March 2020, we’ve recorded at the very minimum a massive 500% (on average) video modality growth. As users become increasingly comfortable with video, you can expect those numbers to increase even more. With that growth, of course, comes a more considerable network strain.
  • Desk phones — Are your hardware endpoints now legacy, or will they still work as expected with your modern UCaaS system? Also, now that users have been functioning for six to 12 months without desk phones, will they even need them any longer?
  • Conference rooms — Office conference room users shouldn’t be treated as first-class citizens like they were pre-COVID. Zoom, for example, has been strategizing ways to adapt its services to better reflect this strategy. Most recently it announced an upcoming Zoom Room Smart Gallery feature. This innovation equalizes the experience for all attendees by improving face-to-face communications for remote users through the use of AI to create a gallery view of in-room participants.
  • Mobile client — A wide and varied set of public networks will suddenly enter into the ecosystem from on-the-go workers. How will these public Wi-Fi, 4G, and even 5G systems work with your UCaaS configuration of choice?
  • Channel overload — As users continue to leverage channels to create chat threads and share documents, who will manage the information overload? This creates unique challenges for channel member, channel owners, and information security officers.
 
A dynamic hybrid model is just around the corner. Unless IT is ready with some quick fixes, when it comes to the hybrid scenarios of this new normal, it’s more of a question of not if, but when chaos will ensue.

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