The events of the past two years have permanently changed the working landscape, with research by business telecommunications provider, Fusion Communications, revealing over 52 per cent of businesses plan to adopt hybrid working long term post-pandemic.
In addition, the research found half of UK businesses are unprepared for BT Openreach’s ISDN and PSTN switch off, leaving them at risk of being without telephony service when the integration is finalised in 2025.
Following the release of these findings, we spoke to Fusion Communications’ founder and CEO, Oliver Rowe, to gain a greater insight into how businesses are managing their communications in the new hybrid working world and the issues they have faced as a result.
Fusion Communications recently conducted research into businesses’ use of telecommunications during and after the pandemic. What were the key findings?
“Our research revealed several key findings – some more surprising than others.
“52 per cent of UK businesses have switched to remote or hybrid [a combination of remote and office-based] working following the pandemic and, as a result, the role of telecommunications has grown considerably, with 54 per cent of businesses stating they have increased their reliance on telecommunications as a result of their new working patterns.
“In addition, more than a third of businesses have changed their communications strategies to support remote working, and just under half said the pandemic has changed their opinions on the need for communications solutions.”
Are you surprised that so many businesses have adopted a remote or ‘hybrid’ working model?
“I think many office-based businesses were always going to move towards hybrid and remote working eventually, but the pandemic has accelerated the shift almost overnight. Companies now realise that permanent remote work is the future of work—pandemic or not.
“Some of the world’s most prominent organisations have paved the way for this. For example, in June this year, Amazon stated that its employees whose positions allow them to work from home could do so two days a week, and Apple now offers 100 per cent remote work options for some of its roles and a hybrid work model for others.
“For some, hybrid and remote working is a ‘no brainer – not only can it allow companies to reduce their overheads by removing the need for expensive office space, but it can also provide workers with the freedom to create their own schedules and work from wherever they please.”
How has businesses’ reliance on telecommunications increased as a result?
“From working with businesses during the pandemic, we saw first-hand how heavily they were relying on telecommunications to ensure business continuity throughout lockdowns. Now, with remote and hybrid working here to stay, the need for a well-integrated, reliable telecommunications strategy will remain, too, and will be essential for businesses to stay connected with employees and customers whilst working remotely.
“In addition, outdated fixed-line communications have become redundant, and many firms have needed to switch to hosted telephony to remain agile.”
From your experience of helping businesses during the pandemic, would you say your findings regarding their biggest communication challenges during the pandemic are accurate to what you have witnessed?
“The main concern amongst businesses during the pandemic was around whether employees would be able to adapt to new ways of working. We found with customers, for the most part, productivity stayed similar or even improved when working remotely, both in terms of the time it took employees to answer the phone and their output on outbound calls. It’s about having the visibility or the tools to give you the visibility if you’re concerned about the impact of remote working.
“Businesses were also worried about connectivity, either at their employees’ homes or when travelling, but we found that in almost all situations, it could be solved either via the use of 4G/5G connectivity or by installing dedicated broadband lines.”
What is your advice to businesses who are struggling with network reliability and speed?
“Find a provider who works with multiple vendors, so there is always an option of different connectivity providers without having to deal with multiple partners.
“If one partner only works exclusively with one or two vendors, it does increase the business’ exposure to poor options, but there is pretty much always a suitable solution available.”
How can businesses address the issue of employees not using communications solutions correctly?
“The use of hosted systems and connectivity tools gives business owners valuable insight into when calls are being answered and by whom, as well as the ability to see how data is being used and if employees are working and using communications solutions as they should be.
“Any good telecommunications provider will also be willing to offer training and support to employees to ensure they are using their technology correctly and to its full potential.”
How can businesses use telecommunications to increase employee productivity whilst working remotely/hybrid?
“Businesses need to carefully consider their technology investments to ensure they can maintain the same levels of productivity, customer satisfaction and cost-effectiveness whilst working remotely.
“As businesses adjust to new working patterns, technology has become more important than ever in providing employees with the vital tools and infrastructure they need to make the most of their time and maximise productivity.
“A robust unified communications system allows vital business operations, such as video conferencing and file sharing, to be streamlined to one central hub, reducing the drain on productivity from managing multiple platforms and apps.
“Advanced communication tools also enable improved collaboration and communication between teams, boosting productivity and allowing a greater degree of mobility and flexibility for employees. They benefit business owners, too, by giving them increased visibility and control over employees who are working remotely.”
Your research found that 50 per cent of respondents were unaware of the BT Openreach PSTN and ISDN switch off. So why do businesses need to prepare for the switch off?
“The BT Openreach PSTN [Public Switch Telephone Network] and ISDN [Integrated Services Digital Network] switch off will be one of the biggest changes in the telecoms industry for over thirty years. It will see BT permanently switch off its ageing PSTN and ISDN networks by December 2025, bringing an end to analogue phone lines and moving communication technology into an entirely online space.
“This means around 16 million lines and channels will need to be upgraded to alternative products over the next six years, and thousands of businesses could be affected in the near future, especially those that are unaware of BT’s phasing out of ISDN technology.
“If any affected businesses have failed to switch to an alternative telecom system, they will ultimately be left without service from 2025.
“It’s not just phone services running over PSTN or ISDN lines that will be impacted – it’s everything that uses the old phone network, including broadband running over a telephone line, alarms, EPOS machines, door entry systems, CCTV and faxes.”
Oliver Rowe is the founder and CEO of Fusion Communications
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