It is all around us at the moment; Zoom calls, Teams meetings, and, on-the-fly phone ‘check-ins’. With most being told to work from home earlier in the year, and now being told to once again work from home if we can, it looks like the reality of the home office is here to stay for longer than we may have anticipated, and hoped!

Source: BBC News

The Novelty vs. the reality
While at first the prospect of working from home for many was a promising novel prospect, waking up for your 9am meeting in your pyjamas, the reality quite quickly set in. Dogs and children have often been appearing in the background, and the occasional (maybe more than that, as we’re buying so much more online) interruption from a delivery person is a further distractions. This leaves many of us becoming quite keen to get back to the office and being able to return to the clear distinction between our work and our personal lives.

Company savings
Many companies, both large and small, have caught onto the ‘home office’ as an opportunity to revisit their flexible working policies. Some companies are quoting employee satisfaction and efficiency being at the core of this decision, whereas others are downsizing their offices in a bid to secure cash. Capita recently announced they are permanently closing a third of their office space. Other companies, such as TalkTalk, already operated on a reduced capacity office model. Businesses, such as TalkTalk, only hold physical office estate to accommodate around 70% of their workforce at any one time. Savills estimates office vacancies within the City will rise drastically, possibly coming close to those seen at the peak of the financial crisis.

While this is good news for businesses, as they can shave a significant proportion off their balance sheet and P&L, how does this leave the rest of us?

Winter is coming
During the initial lockdown period it was not uncommon to see meeting delegates taking calls from the comfort of their gardens or enjoying some time in their airy living rooms. But, with the warm summer now very much behind us, those of us working from home will be cranking up the heating or throwing on an extra layer. There’s a surprising amount of additional expenditure involved when working from home:

  • All those cups of tea, with the tea bags and milk previously provided by the office. Tea consumption has doubled during lockdown, according to a recent survey. An extra 112 million cups a day are being drunk!
  • The heating, lighting, and electricity that’s available as a given in your office.
  • What about the cost of getting you online during the day, for those all-important Zoom meetings?

Ofcom reports that most large enterprises spend between £100,000 – £500,000 a year on their connectivity infrastructure. A large proportion of this spend has been on robust office connectivity. A shift to home working immediately becomes attractive for larger businesses since they can offload this expense onto their employees, by utilising their existing home broadband connection.

Looking after yourself
The NHS acknowledges that working from home can also induce increased feelings of stress, boredom, anxiety and uncertainty. In response, the NHS has provided a series of seven tips for supporting your mental health during these working from home periods. Some may seem fairly straightforward, but the impact in following these tips could prove quite surprising. These include:

  • Following some form of routine,
  • Allowing yourself breaks and time off,
  • Separating out your work and your personal space (if you’re able to do so).

It is also important to be mindful of the potential physical impacts that working from home may have too. Sitting on the sofa or at a dining table all day may not be offering you the best support for your posture. Add to this the fact that many of us work from laptops when working from home, your posture may become progressively poor and could have longer lasting impacts.

Introducing your new office
Post-pandemic (whenever that may be…), a higher proportion of workers will inevitably remain working from home for a larger proportion of their week. Some may need to look at alternative connectivity solutions to meet the demand of increased connectivity requirements. With home entertainment consuming more internet bandwidth than ever before, it might make sense for home-workers who share their broadband connection with other household members, to add an additional line to their house. Fortunately, both BT and Vodafone are already on to this. With Vodafone Work and Play starting at an extra £23 a month, and BT’s second line starting at £29.99 a month.

Is it cheaper to work from home?
You might have initially been in favour of the money you were saving: from your commute, those coffees each morning and those expensive sandwiches at lunch. Some of these savings will be offset against the costs listed above – and don’t forget you have to have lunch. You’re just paying Sainsburys instead of Pret. Thankfully, some of your costs attract tax relief. HMRC outline the details for this on their website.

Keep it secure
Not often mentioned in the recent rise in home working, the importance of working securely is more important than ever before. The National Cyber Security Centre have published a range of guidance to both employers and employees around this topic. For example, when working from a home broadband connection, secure connectivity may be needed to connect to the office network, particularly for sensitive data. Companies need to ensure their staff know the relevant IT policies and are helped to implement them at home.

The question then turns to possible risks of competition. What happens if you and your partner work for competitors? Security extends far beyond IT technicalities into physical security such as privacy on phone and video calls.

All systems go?
Zoom announced exponential growth in their profits in light of the ongoing pandemic. With many businesses already paying for expensive ‘collaboration’ solutions that claim to provide ‘unified’ experiences across nearly any device; questions should be asked as to why so many businesses are turning to solutions such as Zoom? Maybe there is something to be said for the ease of access, and ease of use, unlike many of these complex ‘unified communication’ solutions available in the market.

The BBC has created a visual representation of the ‘future office’. Who would have thought in January of this year we would be seeing such a drastic change to the way we live and work?

10 questions to ask
So, what are the practical things from a technology point of view you should consider if your company is moving to a longer term home working solution. Here is our list of questions, and the reasons why, to ask:

  • Does my existing phone solution let me move my desk phone to home?
    Not all of them do, particularly if you have a PBX in the office, rather than a VoIP solution.
  • Do I want to have hot desking in the office so that when people come in they can make any phone theirs to use with their number?
    Hot desking will enable social distancing and give your teams the choice of whether to work from home or in the office (government restrictions allowing, of course). Your phones need to be set up so individuals can sign in to any device.
  • Will my broadband at home support the phone as a number of domestic provider block voice calls?
    Not all do, some notably Virgin and Sky may be running something called SIP ALG on their routers which can interfere with VoIP calls
  • Should I look at a separate business broadband at home that is secure and is dedicated to work?
    Depending on the family needs and the business needs, this may be needed. Business broadband solutions are not massively expensive. 4 or 5G may be alternatives, dependent upon where you live of course.
  • Do I need a physical phone at all or could I use an app on my mobile or laptop as my office phone?
    Unless your staff have dedicated space to work in when at home, the less equipment they have the better. A simple headset with a microphone can work very well with a mobile app or application on their laptop.
  • Is my wifi router adequate – did you know wifi slows to the speed of the slowest device connected to it and things such as Christmas lights interfere with it?
    Depending on needs, it may be that separate networks need to be set up, keeping business and pleasure apart. If your router cannot do this, WiFi extenders, such as the Linksys Velop range may be an alternative, as they produce a separate network. They can even provide guest access too! Separate access is important if your company has sensitive data. If you people are working for different companies from the same location they should not use the same wifi network.
  • Should I integrate conferencing with the phone system or keep it separate?
    Unified Communication tools allow you to combine conferencing and phones, but do you need to complicate matters? It depends on your needs.
  • What type of conference calls will I have with my customers? – it needs to be simple for them to use.
    If you are infrequently conferencing with clients, a free Zoom account may be all you need. However, if you are conferencing frequently, with lots of people on them, you should consider something more resilient from one the paid for solutions.
  • If people are working from home more do we need to reduce the amount of minutes and data on their mobiles as they use wifi?
    Depending on the numbers, this can be a sensible thing to do, particularly if your contract is due for renewal. Suppliers will be far happier when asked to increase allowances partway through a contract, than when asked to reduce them.
  • When does my existing phone contract end? – don’t let it roll over whilst you are out of the office
    Dependent on your contract, letting it roll over could mean you missing out on significant savings. Put a reminder in your diary and check what the notice period is too.

If you’re concerned about how to ensure your staff have the right connectivity, and working environment, to be productive and effective when working at home, give us a call.