Work From Home and Telework – New Telecom Opportunities

Author: Derek Kerton, Chairman at the Telecom Council

As a result of the Coronavirus, we’ve seen a surge in telework, and associated Work-From-Home (WFH) news stories over the past few months. Interestingly, the first wave of stories seemed to fall into the “This is the best, why are we just trying this now, we will now WFH forever!!” category.

But that early enthusiasm has faded. The reality is that many functions of a business can coast along, and remain fairly productive through a brief WFH period, as that period grows, people start to realize the parts of going into the office that they are missing. And companies start to recognize the business functions that are NOT well served from permanent remote work:

  • the rich details that face to face communications enable
  • culturally dependent, and unspoken communications (like “reading the room”)
  • the need for interpersonal connections
  • the value of personal relationships
  • miscommunications that end in long, difficult emails that SHOULD have been a quick chat
  • New employee on-boarding
  • You may keep team cohesion remotely, but can you ever build it?
  • productive, collaborative brainstorming
  • serendipitous discovery
  • lunch, water cooler, team building
  • zoom fatigue

Should we work onsite, or should we continue WFH after Coronavirus? It turns out, as one should always expect, that “it depends”, or that the value and the future of WFH is somewhere between banning it (as Yahoo once did under Carol Meyer), and going 100% remote (like Nationwide Insurance, Twitter, Square, or Facebook).

JetBlue is an interesting case study, since this company was a pioneer in 1999. At the time of the airline’s launch, they chose a WFH solution for their Customer Service staff. This solution has worked so well for JetBlue that they received nine consecutive J.D. Power and Associates awards for Customer Service. By hiring WFH staff, JetBlue was able to lower overhead costs, attain superior productivity, and maintain a flexible work force that can expand or contract more easily. But JetBlue started early, thus got the advantage of filtering the USA workforce for those people who sought to work from home. As a result, they could tap into a pool of high-quality talent that had relatively few other job options: stay at home parents, part timers, people doing elder-care, people with mobility impediments, agoraphobics, etc. But JetBlue was early, and not every company can still hire the best from this home-worker superset. And no company’s existing staff is 100% made up of people who would prefer to work from home – so is taking away their office desk going to suit them? JetBlue’s example is useful in showing us what kind of work, and what kind of staff are well suited for permanent WFH, but NOT that this applies to everyone.

In fact, most normal companies have (unwittingly) done the opposite of JetBlue, and “filtered staff for those that would prefer to work onsite at a specific location”. Which means it’s unlikely that all their staff would desire to WFH. Reasons to want to avoid working from home include the benefits list above, but also:

  • too noisy at home, too many distractions
  • hard to draw the line between work and home life
  • inadequate workspace, ergonomics
  • inadequate equipment, connectivity
  • need access to specific people or tools at company site
  • no “zeitgeist” energy, shared experience

As we should expect, different people feel differently about all the pros and cons of WFH and on-site working. This takes us back to the “of course, it depends” start of this article. Are employees and companies better served by WFH? Well, that depends:

  • Some people are, some not
  • Some companies can do this, others not
  • Some job functions are well-suited for WFH, others not
  • Some portion of the time as WFH may be right for a given staff, but not all the time

There are just a few things that are certain about WFH, but they can take you a long way towards the right solutions:

  • Correctly done, productivity climbs, WFH staff-hours can be more productive than on-site staff-hours
  • Staff can be happier, and thus more loyal
  • Companies can shift some costs of facilities to staff, who may be happy to accept that
  • Nobody misses commute time, this is a net win “Windfall”
  • Forcing employees to one extreme or the other is probably NOT the answer, but flexibility is.

Where should telcos fit into this new shift to WFH?

There are ample opportunities:

  • Corporate customers pay more for faster, more reliable connections. Can a “premium WFH” level of service be offered to WFH consumer subscribers, but be paid by their employer? Symmetrical broadband, VPNs, private WANs, secure services?
  • Offering modern “zero trust” security services as well as the more legacy VPNs
  • How can 5G play a role in WFH and mobility? Network Slices for secure private networks? Universal Communications? Fixed/mobile solutions?
  • Virtual Call Center services. Help companies set up and operate an in-house, distributed call center as a turn-key service. Sell packages of connectivity, security, software, support, and carrier-grade CPE.
  • Continued investment in last-mile infrastructure to support asymmetrical and high capacity loads in residential areas.
  • Continued investment or acquisition, like Verizon with BlueJeans, in software tools for collaboration and telework.

To learn more about the shifts in WFH, and the opportunities for Telecom Operators, join our members at our Innovation in Telework meeting on June 25th. Location? You guessed it, … your home office.

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