Tuesday, 19th January 2021

Research reveals the impact of lockdown on business and IT

As the COVID-19 crisis took effect, businesses rushed to deploy technology that would help their teams work remotely and continue to be effective. The situation created widespread concern around a range of issues, from the ability of employers to deliver home working infrastructure, to productivity levels and the impact of lockdown on existing IT projects. By Chris Pont, CEO at IJYI.

It’s only now that we can begin to assess how well UK companies and their employees were able to adapt, and what the lasting effects will be on long-term tech strategies and working culture. A recent study has helped to shed light on many of these issues, among the most notable being the potential damage done to strategic IT projects, where the research revealed that half of UK businesses are facing delays in the delivery of strategic IT projects, with a one-in-ten now “considerably behind plan”.

But what’s also clear is despite the impact of lockdown on existing IT projects, employers in general reacted quickly and effectively to the need to deliver remote working. Nearly three quarters (73%) of respondents said their organisations were immediately able to adapt processes to enable remote working. Half were forced to deploy new technologies, such as collaboration and video conferencing services, with 74% reporting that these investments had proved very reliable.

Despite widespread speculation that remote working would negatively impact productivity, 94% said it had either improved (42%) or was unchanged (52%). Only 6% said it had got worse. As a result, the vast majority of businesses plan to retain home working, with only 4% stating it will cease completely in a post-lockdown setting. A massive 98% said that technology had enabled them to work effectively during the pandemic.

The impact of the business response to COVID-19 on technology strategy has been significant. Despite the economic impact of the pandemic, 29% of businesses have spent more on IT since the onset of COVID-19, while exactly half of organisations believe their technology strategy is now in a better position than it was before the onset of the pandemic. No respondents said that it had become worse, with 44% stating that it was ‘unchanged’.

However, 47% said their organisation was not currently thinking about or has established a digital transformation strategy. Just under a third (32%) say they are focusing on digital transformation, either in the planning or implementation stages. A fifth (21%) didn’t know the status of digital transformation within their organisation.

When lockdown was announced, the stakes for UK businesses could not have been higher, and this research reveals how effectively they have adapted to the challenges brought about by this unprecedented situation. But businesses should also be careful to take this experience as a signal to focus on digital transformation, not only to prepare for the unexpected, but to place them in a stronger competitive position in an environment that is always changing.

Looking positively to an uncertain future

So, what can we expect to see as the situation continues to develop?With the government recently returning to the ‘work from home if you can’ policy, many organisations that can’t fully meet that requirement will instead adopt a hybrid approach. This means office-based and remote-workers will need to collaborate effectively on an ongoing basis. Technology tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, or in the case of development teams, Trello, Atlassian JIRA or Microsoft Azure DevOps can allow cross-location teams to work with the same assets. However, hot-desking brings its own set of challenges in a post-COVID world and maintaining hygiene on a daily, or even hourly basis may not be achievable.

As with the 2008 recession, with many businesses putting a pause on recruitment or looking to downsize, automation will be a focus to ensure existing staff can work as efficiently as possible. Organisations will want to make the most of their data by using technology to ingest, process, and communicate findings, with artificial intelligence and machine learning applied to find patterns, behaviours and insights.

Collaboration tools have been a focus since lock-down started, and people have needed to get to grips with them quickly. These will continue to be a big part of business, with many companies deciding to hold meetings using video conferences rather than travel. Data from Ofcom shows the significant uptake and acceptance of personal video conferencing use in the UK, and business use has also grown dramatically.

The ability to use remote collaboration tools effectively will also play a huge part in ensuring that organisations take full advantage of new technology. Teams will need training on new systems, new processes and new ways of working. You'll need time for that to bed-in and for any conflicts with existing systems or processes to come to the surface.

Although many organisations will be heading back to the office when possible, a hybrid model will develop with a healthy mix of both remote and office-based staff. According to a recent Gartner report almost three in four CFOs plan to shift at least 5% of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions post-Covid 19. This is just one example of the lasting impact that the Covid 19 pandemic will have on everyday working practices.

Technology that was once considered nice to have has suddenly become essential, and with this in mind, it is vital that organisations make the most of the investments that they have made in cloud and collaboration technologies over the last three months and build this into their future planning.

On an interpersonal level we see difficulties around how to maintain relationships between groups. There will also be physical challenges relating to how remote workers can use the office by hot-desking while remaining "COVID-Secure" (the government's guidance on managing the risk of COVID-19). Social distancing may dictate that a subset of remote workers is necessary due to lack of space, and many organisations will need to tape-off desks to ensure that distances are maintained.

Technology has played a massive part in our reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, which has taken the growth in digital transformation and accelerated it to a point where many businesses have been revolutionised - some virtually overnight. The ability of organisations to collect, process, and share information has improved dramatically, helping governments to monitor and contain the virus, and helping businesses to continue to operate during these testing times. We're not at the end of this adversity by any means, but companies that use the tools at their disposal will find it easier to collaborate, plan and make informed decisions to see them through to brighter times. For many, there will be no turning back.

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