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Tuesday, 28 July 2020 11:22

Poly CTO says working from home will not end with pandemic

Bill Zeng: "Cloud solutions accelerated rethinking of what is 'remote working' and 'collaboration experience from home'." Bill Zeng: "Cloud solutions accelerated rethinking of what is 'remote working' and 'collaboration experience from home'." Supplied

The APAC chief technology officer of global communications firm Poly (formerly known as Plantronics and Polycom) says there has been significant growth in the number of people working from home this year as a direct result of the COVID-19 outbreak, with a report from the company showing that some 70% of people worked from home for at least a while during the pandemic.

Bill Zeng told iTWire that 91% of organisations around the world supported working from home, compared to 63% before the coronavirus hit.

Poly makes smart conferencing devices that can be used in any meeting space.

He was confident that the working from home trend would continue after the pandemic ended. "Absolutely – as evidenced in our Hybrid Working report, a Gartner report shows that three quarters (74%) of chief financial officers intend to shift at least some employees to work from home permanently," he said. "It’s important to note that Poly has been talking about flexible working – work from anywhere - for quite some time.

"It’s always been our belief that this will be the trend moving forward. However, the pandemic has just accelerated this change.

"With workplaces closed around the world, people have come to the realisation that work isn’t a place, it’s what you do. So this outcome-based working means the hours we work, and where we work, aren't actually important."

Zeng said it was necessary for chief information officers and chief technology officers to adjust in order to ensure business continuity. He said they needed to "respond, redesign and reinvent".

"When the pandemic first occurred, leaders were in the response phase – a reaction to the crisis and shifting work to home," he explained. "During the response phase, companies did whatever was necessary to keep the business running. We saw companies allow employees to work from home without any guidance.

"We saw companies ramping up existing solutions such as on-premise conferencing systems to accommodate increasing demand for remote meetings. We saw employees rush out to buy the last headsets and webcams on the shelf to get ready to work from home.

"Better-prepared companies were able to handle this phase a bit better than others. Companies that had already moved to the cloud or those that were ready for largescale remote working could switch to remote working quickly."

Zeng said the next step for CIOs and CTOs was to redesign – "look at changing work practices and policies and creating new work environments".

"The initial euphoria that the pandemic will be over in a couple of weeks was busted. CIO and CTOs started to realise they had to look at their collaboration infrastructure, their workspace design and remote working experience seriously.

"For the companies already on the journey to the cloud, they accelerated the transition to platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom during the redesign phase. Cloud solutions also accelerated rethinking of what is 'remote working' and 'collaboration experience from home'.

"Many companies started to standardise critical tools to make remote working palatable, such as headsets with noise cancellation, cameras with speaker-framing technology so employees could naturally talk to remote parties instead of being conscious of whom the camera was pointing at."

He said the next step was to reinvent. "We need to empower employees to work from anywhere and provide consistent experiences across workspaces. Once companies realised this would be the new norm, and that working from anywhere was here to stay post-COVID-19, they started to realise this was a great opportunity to leap to the next level."

Asked about the pros and cons of remote working, Zeng said the most obvious upside was the ability to create a flexible working environment that catered to the needs of all employees.

"Achieving this goal means building a culture of trust, where work is packaged and briefed in a transparent fashion and workers are given the autonomy and responsibility to complete it in the way that best fits their working patterns," he said.

"A potential downside from simply letting people work from home is that it can sometimes result in a lack of collaboration and leave workers feeling isolated. It’s important to ensure that collaboration is at the heart of a hybrid working solution, which means junior staff members still get the critical career development they need, and teams can still work together, even when they’re not face-to-face. And for this, it’s imperative to deploy the right technologies.

He refused to enter into a discussion about the security issues faced by Zoom. an application that has been widely used for remote communications during the pandemic. "Questions related to Zoom’s platform are best addressed by Zoom," he said. "Poly takes the security of its products seriously. We apply a rigorous set of security practices to the design, development implementation, hosting, and maintenance of our products and systems, infrastructure and networks."

Zeng said the general characteristic an app should have to ensure it was good for online communications was to be as seamless as possible.

"In terms of features, it should be easy to join with the click of a button and it should make it easy for participants to engage with one another.

"People should be able to control the layout – how they see the rest of the team so that they feel like they’re part of a meeting with multiple people. They should be able to share HD content – even 4K content ideally. You want to make it as close to a real life meeting as possible.

"But the application is only half the story. In order to have a collaborative experience, you need the right hardware. There have been so many ‘in jokes’ lately about hearing kids or dogs in the background of conference calls or general disruptions from the world around, but when you have the right technology you can block these things out."

He said a very common complaint about working from home was that there was a general sense of disruption and change that some employees experienced. And he said communication would only be poor, if the equipment was bad.

"It’s not enough to use do-it-yourself set-ups or provide a laptop and expect employees to work productively. We need to bring enterprise-grade technology into the home. This means high-quality set-ups: professional headsets, HD video conferencing cameras, high-end audio and active noise cancelling headsets."

Said Zeng: "We’ve just been through a very sudden and dramatic change with many people working from home for the first time - and people did the best they could with what they could get at the time.

"Now, as we move forward, it’s less about that short term, band-aid solution, and more about creating environments that foster productivity, collaboration, innovation and safety. What we’re going to see are the lines between home and office becoming blurred, with workers enjoying high-quality, enterprise-grade experiences, whether they are at home, in a co-working location or company office."

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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