Employers may have to think more about how they can better accommodate staff over the next six months in the wake of the government's office working U-turn, according to Tech Data's UK head David Watts.
The government earlier this month strongly encouraged the workforce to return to their offices, but yesterday prime minister Boris Johnson backtracked on this messaging, telling people to work from home if they can, as coronavirus cases surge around the UK. He added that these measures should be expected to last for up to six months.
Watts told CRN that though he understands the reasoning behind the government's decision, he still finds it a "shame" as he was looking forward to a return to the office.
This six-month timeline also gives employers a lot of factors to consider in how they can now best support staff who are remote working, in the same way they do when employees come into the office, he said.
"All this time we as UK employers had been hoping that we will be able to get back into the office; if that is now going to be another six months away, do we actually need to assist people more in working from home?" he mused.
"We've made sure everyone's got their systems working - they've got a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. But do we now need to start thinking about furniture? Do we start thinking about their wellness in the home setting more?
"Do we have a different responsibility? Maybe we do now; these are all things that employers probably think about."
Tech Data has allowed people to come in on a voluntary basis since July, an offer Watts said was taken up by around 450 employees. Since the beginning of last week, it had made it "softly mandatory" for staff to come into the workplace one day a week.
It is now returning to the voluntary model in light of the refreshed guidelines, he said.
Office spaces allow spontaneous conversations to occur between colleagues and instantaneous collaboration, he said, noting that teamwork has been "waning" as employees work from home because they lack these unstructured opportunities to meet.
"I trust the team to work hard, but I feel like teamwork is waning slightly, by which I mean collaboration opportunities and people's development," he explained.
"I've become more aware during this voluntary period that people were saying, ‘I bumped into so-and-so and they've got this issue and we brainstormed and came up with a solution' or ‘we had this opportunity in the market to talk to our customers, and I bumped into so-and-so in the office and we're rolling it out now'. Those sort of conversations don't happen in a closed community Zoom; there's no Zoom corridor where you bump into people and you collaborate.
"That was the reason for asking them back. The government has said something different, so we will go back to letting them come in if they have a reason to come in and we'll keep the office open for now."
The six-month timeline gives businesses time to reflect on their infrastructure and IT needs that they perhaps rushed to get in the initial shift to remote working earlier this year, as well as shore up any issues that may have arisen because of that scramble to get the right kit, he stated.
"We're going to have to work hard with end users on making sure that these solutions that we were deploying would work as well out of the office as they do in the office," he elaborated.
"The right storage solution, the right infrastructure supporting mobility, product security, are all things people have to revisit because of flexible working. I think now they're going to have to revisit them in a rush because I think some of the solutions out there may be sticking plasters."
There are plenty of opportunities out there for the channel as a result of the renewed work-from-home messaging, Watts said.
Monthly billings and as-a-service models are conversation starters with customers who may have spent the majority of their IT budget on remote working technologies, he added.
The circular economy is another budget-friendly option for cash-strapped organisations, suggested Watts.
"If you've unfortunately had to get rid of half of your staff, is there an opportunity to enable those products into the circular economy and bringing you the opportunity to go and buy some more equipment?" he stated.
"There are lots of options to keep the pipeline going with end users over the next six months that I think are going to be just as important as their datacentre policy, for example, to keep people secure and using the right equipment."
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