The Covid-19 crisis has, at least temporarily, brought thousands of people to the home office, writes Garsen Naidu Cisco South Africa country manager.

The question is, what happens after the pandemic? Are companies returning to the old models with only physical presence? Or will they see digital communication processes make them more resilient to future crises and strengthen their business model?

“Without alternative” in politics often means the opposite, but in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak there was no other choice: even the most skeptical companies sent employees to their home offices and switched to digital communication in record time. This pressure and IT solutions, which were even offered free of charge by many manufacturers, made the rapid digital conversion possible.

Large technology companies like Cisco have been exploring since the 1990s how to work in distributed corporate structures and how productivity is influenced by digital processes.

Across all media, business continuity and remote working has been the main theme for weeks. Understandably, but the focus, perhaps should not be about the place of work. But about reorganizing the communication channels in the company. The elimination of a physical bracket around teams, departments and company structures is partly a technical challenge, combined with securing the extended company perimeter into the home office. But it is also a question of organizational and communicative processes.

Before Covid-19, many companies reluctantly or not at all relied on distributed work. Studies and arguments centered about, questions of control, a new mindset for management and worries about work-life balance.

Strategy: understanding your own needs is crucial

Technical and organizational communication are interconnected. In many companies, the telephone system has been at the heart of internal and external communication for decades, supplemented by e-mail since the 1990s, which has given the telephone a new role: since then people have only picked up the phone when an immediate exchange is necessary. In the past ten to fifteen years, video communication has been added, important both in the private sphere and in the business area.

Today, communication pervades every area of an organization, sometimes more sober, sometimes social, sometimes more strategic. From a technical point of view, it is about mirroring the communication habits and processes in the company into the digital space.

Therefore, before implementing the technology, a company needs a basic understanding of its own needs, an understanding of all communication channels and the corresponding tools as well as an evaluation of the best and safest solution – communication beyond the original company perimeter opens up new areas of attack for cybercriminals that need to be protected.

Security: Networks have to be geared to future threats

Resilience requires a high level of security awareness. As in other IT areas, employees’ senses for attacks from cyberspace must be sharpened, the networks must be geared towards future new threats – more and more business content is being disseminated in virtual meeting rooms and thus also in home offices.

A video conference also requires some security measures to protect the business and drive the teams forward. The minimum requirements here are protection through a single sign-on (SSO) of the organisation and through multifactor authentication, such as a second security layer, for example with a smartphone.

In addition, it is important to hold the provider of a solution accountable in terms of data protection and security: conferences must be encrypted and no user data should be passed on to third parties. It therefore requires careful selection and due diligence of the provider of a collaboration software – after all, you entrust it with internal communication, which should always be kept secret.

Webex: 14-billion meeting minutes in the first month of lockdown

Cisco Webex – with over 14 billion meeting minutes in the first lockdown month of March alone – offers true end-to-end encryption, compliance, transparency and control. Nothing happens in secret.

The security principles are based on the verifiable fact that Webex is developed from the ground up with a focus on privacy. The development follows the Cisco Secure Development Lifecycle (SDLC) and is regularly checked and extensively tested by an independent organisation.

Resilience: an important factor for the future

Resilience means more than just technical security. This is the basis for securing business models in times of crisis.

Companies that better distribute their communication processes and detach them from physical locations create new hybrid structures that absorb vibrations better and make employees work more agile and customer-centric in times of shrinking budgets, but also smarter: new technological developments in digital collaboration such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and augmented reality make it possible to focus on content instead of traditional session rituals.

This strengthens the innovativeness in the company. Employees are empowered to form agile and innovative teams across physical and network boundaries.

The focus is on goals instead of presence. This puts more demand on leadership and opens up new opportunities for companies. That is why the switch to distributed work should not be seen merely as a technical task; the commitment of the leadership is essential.

The abrupt change of strategy has raised awareness in many companies that distributed work is definitely possible.

Nevertheless, company structures will not disintegrate because of this. Digital collaboration will be ideally complemented with personal meetings that are the beginning of a successful project. The eye-to-eye principle ensures the necessary loyalty and creates liabilities across virtual meetings.

Efficiency increase thanks to a smart collaboration strategy Smart working with smart tools enables the optimization of processes in the company. Technical developments offer an opportunity to increase efficiency, reduce fixed costs and at the same time strengthen innovative strength with a clever collaboration strategy.

A new remote culture is needed – establishing it is challenging. With the right, open and standards-based tools, companies can focus entirely on modeling their new communication landscape. It is not who is present who makes a contribution to success, but who is communicative at all levels.

Digital collaboration has proven that it works – and can be designed securely. Now it only has to become the DNA of the economy in order to strengthen its resilience. There is really no alternative to this.