Time and distance

Remote working
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Extraordinary times place a focus on the value of remote working, says Billy MacInnes

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Billy

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28 April 2020 | 0

It is incredible how much the world has changed over the past few weeks because of the effects of the Coronavirus and the threat it continues to pose. Schools, pubs, clubs, sports, shops, offices, so many places have been closed down. Far-reaching restrictions have been imposed on how we conduct our daily lives and socialise with each other. All of these measures, while beyond the bounds of most people’s imaginations even two months ago, are now in place and widely recognised as essential, vital even, to ensure the health and protection of as many people as possible.

The IT sector is no exception to the list of industries that have been affected by the virus and had some of its activities curtailed by it. Normal business practices do not apply. But the virus has also brought technology into the spotlight for a number of reasons. The requirement for most people to stay at home has highlighted the need for businesses to enable some form of remote or home working if they want their employees to be able to continue their labours.

The industry has worked hard to make the case for more home and remote working in recent years on the back of significant advances in mobile and broadband technology. Some employers have seen the benefits of adopting this approach, particularly with the rising cost of living in Dublin and the long commute times for employees seeking to get to work in the morning. But it would be fair to say that there are many who have been very resistant to it.

 

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Perhaps the biggest obstacle most companies have to overcome is the reluctance of management to surrender physical oversight of employees in an office. It is not just a lack of trust but also an anxiety over the value of their own position if the people they manage can perform their roles without them present. The measures put in place to combat the virus have effectively demolished that barrier by leaving most companies with little choice. Either they make it possible for employees to work from home or they make it impossible for them to work.

In many cases, that is not as difficult as it sounds. Depending on the nature of the tasks employees are called upon to perform, they can probably work remotely fairly easily with much of the technology they already use or own themselves. A lot of businesses will not have much choice because it could be too expensive to supply employees with equipment overnight. It may not even be possible.

But this merely serves to highlight the value of IT in enabling people to use the technology they have far more effectively, by exploiting the benefits of cloud computing, faster broadband and mobile apps. One of the unintended consequences of having so many people using broadband from home – remember, it is not only home workers using it during the day but a whole load of kids stuck at home because the schools are closed – is that surging demand is showing its capacity limitations. So much so that Netflix has reduced its streaming quality to counter the danger of taking up too much bandwidth at the expense of other applications and uses for broadband.

Making do

For the most part, with so much of the economy in lockdown, businesses and people are making do with the hardware they already have but still managing to use it effectively to do what they want or need it to do. Does this tell us anything about the way our industry behaves? To a certain extent. Perhaps the biggest lesson is that if circumstances dictate, we cannot upgrade and refresh as frequently as we would have liked, we can still get by very effectively. It is possible to make do and mend. In fact, it is possible to make do with what you have and still change if you have to.

From a personal standpoint, I can testify to the value of technology during the virus. As someone who works from home, there are no changes required for me to do my work except for whether the demand continues to exist for it in these changed times. Right now, I am typing this in the UK where I am spending time with my mother who is ill. Thanks to the technology that I carry around in my pocket, I can see and talk to my family back in Ireland on a good quality video call and they can see and talk to me – and my mother. Last night, I had video calls from the hospice with family and relatives in Donegal, Dublin, Birmingham and London in the space of 35 minutes. It is not so many years ago, that none of this would have been possible. And this is something I can do today without the benefit of all the other promised technology that is still to come, such as 5G.

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