Following the release of the “Internet Performance Report: COVID-19 Impact Edition,” we spoke with Tony Finn, Regional Vice President - Northern EMEA at ThousandEyes, to discuss the future of the workplace and the IT challenges we will face in the upcoming months.
At the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak, many organisations had to adopt new ways of working overnight. What were the biggest challenges you observed?
Tony Finn: From what I have seen, the workplace is split into three work styles: office-based employees or plant employees who are not flexible; flexible workers who can split their time between the office, a home office and travel; and the field workers who are always on the move. It’s clear that during the global lockdown when we had to fully migrate to remote working, companies who used to have remote employees before the pandemic have suffered less than the companies who were completely unprepared for it.
For example, law firms, banks and some of the large professional services firms, where consultants typically were on the site of customers or on their own site, working from home was not really normal because of the high level of security or data containment expected. This has meant workers from these organisations have struggled to adjust to remote working. This explains why a lot of clients from these industries have turned to us for support. We have also noticed that our clients are saying that they are not going back to the office for the foreseeable future, possibly for 6 or even 12 months.
The shift to working remotely was supposed to be for a limited time, but we see that some organisations are starting to give the option of continuing to work remotely indefinitely or until further notice. How are you seeing organisations adapting to support this new environment?
Tony Finn: Recently, we’ve been working with two clients, a bank and a professional services firm, which are currently in an active plan to downsize their property portfolios across Europe. They observe that their business is running as efficiently as it did before Covid, in terms of sales and success, without having all the employees in offices. It will clearly raise questions in the future around human interaction and our desire to socialise, to whiteboard together and to be in the office together, but in the short term this is not the vision or possible.
The large majority of people are realising the impact of remote working in a positive way—you can save time on your commute and you have a better work life balance in some cases. We are already starting to see a return to the office around the UK and Northern Europe, and for those people who don’t necessarily have the home environment to support effective home working this is a good thing. However, the people who have worked from home successfully will continue to be given the choice to do so for some while still.
When the lockdown started, there was a feeling that ISPs and the Internet would not hold up, as people were at home the whole time. However, our Internet Performance Report demonstrated that the Internet held it up reasonably well, albeit with some increase in outages in EMEA. Do you think this is the end of the corporate network?
Tony Finn: I think the move in recent years to fibre broadband has helped massively, and the investments ISPs have made here has paid off. Across Northern Europe, we’re fortunate to have mature ISPs and a focus on connectivity promoted by governments as a key part of key national infrastructure. Also, what the ISPs have done during the pandemic has been very clever: they have moderated the consumption down over the busiest time to manage traffic in a proactive and dynamic way. They’ve managed it very well.
We’ve adapted as well, not everyone has fantastic connectivity, but we have learned that if our home broadband can’t support video, we can default to less bandwidth-intensive communication, such as a voice call. So, remote working has been effective, however, the part we are missing in remote working success, is the generation of people who don’t have a dedicated office, who love the social interaction of working and going to work, who have not started a family, who might have a 1 or 2 bedroom flat or are flat sharing and suddenly they have to work on the kitchen table or in their bedroom. That generation is caught up by the current situation. They will be the first to go back to the office and enjoy not only the connectivity of the corporate network, but also everything else the office has to offer.
We cannot predict the future, but how do you think the events of 2020 have changed IT strategies and priorities? And what will the next set of challenges be?
Tony Finn: Well, I think we’ll probably see an explosion in SaaS, cloud consumption and more migration and transformation to cloud in the upcoming months. We’ll also see it for Edge computing and 5G private networking. We will see that there is more demand for security, based on the high increase in threats that have been observed.
The challenges for large companies, regardless of how they were set up to support remote working, is that they now face the reality that all employees cannot go back to the office because the office is not constructed to receive them all and stay COVID-19 compliant. Especially now, they have large proportions of their employees working from home, who are in a multiplicity of locations and hugely varying environments.
The challenge is that employee productivity and digital experience are now intrinsically linked and IT still has to support these teams. We say that you may not own the network or applications but you still own the experience. Thus without the right platforms and processes in place, providing first, second and third line of support can result in an explosion of issues and IT tickets. For us, this is simple, digital now includes the necessary insights and visibility to be able to manage the employee experience wherever those users are.
In these challenging times, how can we make sure our IT architecture is holding up to support our customers, employees, and applications?
Tony Finn: I think the “next normal” has to be what the old normal was. What I mean is that an employee experience using an application or connecting to anything pre-pandemic has to be the exact same experience in the new way of working, too. So, enterprises need to have the same service, performance and security levels they had pre-pandemic. This is why monitoring is going to be part of the ‘next normal’ infrastructure and architecture, and it will grow. As organisations rely more on cloud and Internet infrastructure, they need to get unparalleled visibility and insights into digital experiences from every cloud to every employee and customer. This is how ThousandEyes can help.