Kalam Meah, ISP Director, TP-Link UK

Remote/Hybrid-Working Industry 2021 trends and 2022 predictions

Kalam Meah, ISP Director, TP-Link UK offers some trends and predictions for the road ahead in 2022.

The past 18 months has introduced us to the essential role that remote and hybrid working plays in today’s society. The opportunity for people to work entirely remotely and internationally has opened up the world of business, and both the benefits and drawbacks of the implementation of hybrid working. As workforces look for new ways to connect and collaborate, industries have become increasingly aware of the crucial role in which a seamless wireless network plays in the remote working terrain. In addition, new areas of remote & hybrid working across the education and healthcare sectors have high-lighted the growing digital divide that is now an endemic feature of today’s society.

It goes without saying that connectivity is a vital component of hybrid working. To make it a success in business, organisations need to be thinking about employees’ home working environments. Not just the office chairs and equipment, but the strength, stability and security of their at-home wireless connection. It all depends on the type of work which is being undertaken. Businesses need to look into what the conditions for hybrid work are and how it can be made both successful and sustainable. A stable, hi-speed wireless network is what makes hybrid working a real possibility.

Gigabit Britain
COVID-19 and the resultant lockdowns have shown us that we need to be at the leading edge of the speed revolution. The Government’s focus on Gigabit Britain will, in theory, provide 85% of the population with “access” to a Gigabit-speed line, essential for home working. For a significant part of the population a series of changes is already taking place – the most obvious being the spread of this part of the population.

Rather than mass concentrations in cities and suburban areas, some people will increasingly have the option to move out to smaller towns and villages for a better work-life balance. We’re already seeing signs of this shift, with house prices outside London increasing as people look to new areas.

Once this takes place, we may see more balanced economic development across the whole country, reviving areas which have perhaps been left behind. Instead of having backwaters, many people will be connected and ‘online’.

The pandemic and lockdown made it very apparent that firstly, this is what we should be doing, and secondly, what is happening anyway. It is a natural progression and with the Government outlining its objective for Gigabit Britain by 2025, it is clear this is now the direction in which we are collectively moving. The critical focus must be on making sure that every individual is able to take part and ‘connect’.

Connectivity providers must play their part and recognise that it is time to provide dedicated support to all market participants, so that they can take full advantage of the advances in speed, stability and security.

What Have We Learnt from 2021?
The desire for a strong wireless connection has always been an important factor in our everyday lives. However, since a large proportion of our 2020 was spent indoors at home, this preference has turned into a fundamental need. The role of technology has been pivotal in this shift, as more dispersed remote workforces utilising personal devices accelerated the implementation of secure access to databases and company systems, basic & advanced education as well as triage health-care. Naturally, technology and hybrid working co-exist and as one progresses, the other evolves to meet the demand.

Another key takeaway from 2021 for businesses was the importance of retaining a sense of company ethos when in-person interaction was impossible. A positive company culture was a hugely important factor pre-pandemic, however with many companies working on a remote basis throughout much of 2020 and 2021, the company spirit and camaraderie of teams may have taken a potential hit. This is still a vital part of any working environment, so the provision of a team building framework, even whilst working from home, is of the utmost importance.

One substantial benefit which employees have experienced since taking up remote working during the global pandemic is the mass reduction in time spent commuting to and from work. Those living outside the city have 2-4 hours approximately more time each day which ordinarily would have been spent travelling to offices. Taking this out of the picture, you can have a more productive workforce.

For many professions, you don’t need to be in the office to be productive. However, the need for team unity and spirit to continue throughout periods of remote working is essential. As many people move out of cities and towards market towns and villages, hybrid and remote working is set to continue through 2022 and beyond, but to what extent?

As Zhou Enlai, a former Premier of China once said, “…it’s like the French Revolution, it’s a bit too early to say…”

Hybrid Working in 2022
The process of implementing an effective hybrid working model for businesses in a short period of time involved a fair amount of trial and error. As a duty of care, employers should maintain and provide the same working standards as employees experience in-office. This includes both the provision of equipment, such as laptops, chargers, printers, and office materials, as well as a strong, reliable network connection. In addition, the training opportunities offered need to be replicated to the same standard for employees working from their homes, this involves both technology management and health and safety.

Parallel to the benefits of implementing remote working, there are a number of counteracting negatives. There is a substantial aspect of social isolation from working at home. Although there is the possibility of speaking to people online through video conferencing and collaboration tools, employees don’t have the physical engagement which an office environment provides. A recent study found that 74% of UK employees said they had struggled with the social isolation of remote working, 46% dealing with loneliness. The hybrid working model allows employees to have this balance of in-office work and home working.

It is worth considering that remote working doesn’t work for everybody, only a certain group of people. Either specific industries cannot function as effectively from home, or individual employees prefer to work in an office setting to separate work and home, increase productivity and social interactions. This is where the hybrid approach comes in.

The education & healthcare are two sectors that are themselves being revolutionised by hybrid working, but as these are “universal” service provisions, there are massive social implications on the way these services are delivered. Ensuring that everyone has fair & affordable access is now more important than ever. All these service clients need to have the line provision, equipment and be technically aware enough to access remote/hybrid services.

The Vital Role of Wi-Fi 6E
The deployment of a state-of-the-art seamless wireless connection is integral to the operation. We’ve heard about the option of Wi-Fi 6 and the associated benefits it brings to provide users with a flawless wireless connection. But have you heard about Wi-Fi 6E?

Wi-Fi 6E is set to further enhance the user experience to make wireless speeds even faster, dramatically reducing lag, buffering and content loading time. With average broadband speeds of 51.48Mbps, the UK currently ranks 43rd in the worldwide broadband speed league. Faster connectivity is always welcome, as it is the speed of the interaction that enables more things to be achieved in the day. Why ‘faster’? It is the speed of connectivity that drives productivity and digital experiences. The most impactful difference Wi-Fi 6E brings to the table over the current Wi-Fi 6 is a dedicated 6E spectrum as Wi-Fi 6 shares the same congested spectrum as Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6 devices.

Hybrid working is set to be more than just a stepping-stone in the future of working & service delivery environments. It will be a permanent state of working for many – and both businesses and workers need to build their right setup for the future. With worldwide implementation initially to combat the various restrictions and lockdowns of the global pandemic, some corporations have noticed the benefits which a hybrid working model can offer their business and workforce, including maintained or increased productivity, a lack of commuting for employees, heightened overall flexibility and improved work-life balance. However, careful consideration needs to be taken to make the hybrid working model a long-term strategy rather than a short-term solution. Businesses need to come together to make this happen and make this bright future a reality.

Digital Inclusion
For businesses this bright future is something that represents opportunity but there are wider social implications that must be addressed. The COVID-19 experience from 2020 – 2021 has shown us that you need to have basic connectivity to function in modern day society. Without this, you are denied the right to participate. We must ensure that the next generation has the means to participate. The last set of school examination results has shown that those who have connectivity do well and those who don’t have adequate connectivity face difficulties reaching their full potential.

As industry leaders, we must find ways to provide connectivity that ensures that everybody has the opportunity to participate. This demonstrates the vital need for a strong, secure, and seamless wireless network at home and exemplifies its importance to hybrid working. We must ensure that the next generation of children have the means to participate.

As the great Bruce Springsteen says, “…remember in the end, nobody wins, unless everybody wins…”

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