As businesses study the Government’s guidance on how to safely return to the office, Lister Communications has a different question to ponder – why go back?
Social media giant Twitter has told staff they can choose to work at home for as long as they like once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
And Simon Gardner, sales manager at Stonehouse-based Lister, thinks eight weeks of working from home under lockdown has raised the possibility of many other firms following suit.
A decision which could be made much easier with the communications systems Lister can provide.
He said: “I think a lot of people are going to be changing the way they work. A lot of people will not be going back and there’s no technical reason why you have to go back.
“You can set up a base in the UK, not have an office and be anywhere in the world. You don’t need an office.
“What haven’t I been able to do in the past eight weeks? I’ve got a secure laptop, I’ve got my mobile phone and my desk phone. I don’t need to go into the office.
“And nobody knows I’m not in the office.”
The sudden shift to home working as lockdown hit has seen Lister fielding calls from businesses learning to adapt to a new way of doing things.
And Mr Gardner says the queries have broken down into three main parts – voice communications, telephone systems and IT.
Being at home has seen an even greater reliance on mobile phones which has strained the broadband system and seen an escalation in data usage – not always by design.
“We’ve had quite a few customers saying they need to change the type of phones and tariff they are using,” he said. “Even though they are under contract, they want to change them as they are working in a different way.
“We get alerts when people use extra amounts of data with lots of emails every morning. When we dig down, they come back and say they are working from home in a rural area and the WiFi is rubbish or they’ve got kids at home using the WiFi and and the phone is having to rely on data.
“We are seeing mobile data going up through the roof and more people moving to unlimited data tariffs.”
While many of us are getting used to switching between Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams or whatever tools we are using to keep in touch with colleagues, Lister has a one-stop shop be it in the office or at home.
Collaborate is a cloud-based system which links in with Lister’s Horizon telephone system to provide you with all the control and security you need, wherever you may be.
“Collaborate is built into our Horizon phone system and gives you all the information and control you can need,” said Mr Gardner.
“I can click on my laptop and see everyone in the team and if they are on calls, what they are all doing. I can send them one of them a message, all of them a message or a video call.
“If you ring my office number, my mobile will ring anywhere as I control it all from my laptop. My mobile will show up as my landline, we can work from anywhere and present ourselves as if we were in the office.”
And the fully integrated system is ready to cope with whatever the lockdown brings next.
“Next to me I have my desk phone from my office,” he said. “It is on Horizon and it follows me wherever I go. It won’t show you are home or anywhere other than the office.
“When we return to work, I can plug this into the office, but if we have to go home again to work, I pick up my laptop and my phone, plug it in and it works as if I’m in the office.
The move from office to home working – and back again – brought an IT headache as people adjusted to the differing technical requirements.
“At the start of the lockdown, a lot of people had their desktop PC and they had to go home and leave them,” he said.
“Customers with Horizon and proper mobiles, all they had to do seven or eight weeks ago was hit a button. They probably didn’t even have to ring us. It’s like switching a light on.
“Others were on the line screaming at me because their phone system doesn’t do what they wanted to do or they had to wait six days for BT to sort things out.
“Some people might be ready to go back to work, but if the R number goes back up, are they ready to go home again?”
And he stressed there need be no interruption to work if your home WiFi drops out – or is swamped by multiple users streaming things across the house.
“If you lose WiFi, you would lose your laptop so you just go the mobile as a WiFi source and it is back up,” he said.
“My landline isn’t going to work but Collaborate means I can use my mobile phone as a landline, showing what number I choose. I can switch to video calls or add people to conference calls just the same.
“The thing we’ve sold a lot over the last seven or eight weeks is MiFi units, which have a sim card in and gives off a signal.”
He continued: “”We’ve sent out many hundreds of WiFi units over the lockdown period. You use whatever device you want off that.
“This is what people didn’t plan for before all this happened. These conversations are needed on just how you can work smarter, whatever happens.”
Mr Gardner also raised the concern of device security and businesses letting down their guard to cyber security threats when it came to mobile devices.
He said: “Working from home obviously raises concerns outside of the office “protective bubble” not just for IT services but the often-forgotten mobile side.
“We all think of anti virus, anti malware and firewalls for our IT systems, but just let mobile devices walk out the door with no protection whatsoever.
“At Lister, we treat a mobile device or tablet just like your IT systems and will ensure all of your business communications are secure whether in the office, at home or out on the road.”