For ten years we’ve been researching and tracking office workers’ use of video conferencing and chat. Now it has become synonymous with the new working from home (WFH) practices that Covid-19 has forced many to adopt. Editorials have been written in praise of video, although doubts about its role remain for some.

In the past, remote working may have involved a video app (e.g. Skype) but now cloud collaboration technologies provide video, instant messaging, file sharing, audio conferencing and much more. Our research with office workers for technology providers such as BT and Avaya showed that 2/3rds of Millennials were frustrated by not having access to the latest collaboration technology. Older generations were about half as concerned, that was six years ago. Organisations were slow to meet demands for collaboration technologies. This created a ‘Wild west’ scenario where people used their personal devices to deal with work matters – much to the horror of IT departments concerned about security. In fact, BYOD (bring your own device) became so popular that many were concerned about whether their organisation’s confidential data was secure.

In 2014, only 1 in 10 office executives said they had access to a secure cloud collaboration technology. Enabling remote and mobile working was the main benefit expected from this technology. Fast forward to today, the use of collaboration technologies has never been greater.

Ubiquitous working locations

As the Covid-19 crisis festers there are unanswered questions about the future of office life, will it return to normal or will everything change? This can seem an unimportant debate compared to some of the issues raised by frontline workers in the NHS, care homes and services such as supermarkets, e-commerce and deliveries. But, with Barclays, Twitter, WPP and others reportedly saying their workforce can WFH going forward, organisations have to develop strategies – fast.

These strategies need to help people work more effectively, whether they are in the office, at home or on the move. How can happier and more productive working lives be created? Here people are looking for the following changes:

• Faster decision making. In many medium (500 employee plus) to large organisations executives are frustrated by the slow pace of decision making

• Wider access to data. Apps, databases and systems are often not available away from the office

• Better information sharing. Silos, hierarchies and protectionists often make it difficult for easy sharing of data. Insight sharing is a priority for many

• Less distraction. Interruptions in the office which get in the way of ‘real work’ are a constant challenge for many, and one of the supposed benefits of WFH (although there may be different distractions!)

• Better team working. With more than half of people enjoying working in teams and nearly 3 in 4 saying informal chats are the best way to know what’s going on in the organisation, collaboration is really valued

• Getting instant feedback. For extroverts in particular, this remains a frustration for workers. Having developed a new idea, they want to know what others think or feel immediately

WFH, why speaking and visuals are a good idea

Motivating those WFH goes beyond the ideas above.  For example, introverts and extroverts like to work differently. Those who are reflectors or theorists (often introverts) prefer e-mail, messaging and call recordings. While extroverts, those who are more active or pragmatic, prefer fast feedback from instant messaging, the phone, social media and face to face (video) interactions.

In all this, we shouldn’t forget that presenteeism might still count for something in an uncertain economic environment.

With pre-Covid-19 ONS data showing that 8.7m people work from home occasionally, in the future the importance of using the right technology for the right people will make a crucial difference to the productivity of organisations. At Davies Hickman we continue to research and track workplace technology usage and employee behaviours through market research and data analysis. Get in contact if you’d like to know more.