COVID-19 compels UK to embrace remote working

20 April 2020

Companies across the UK are taking fresh action in hopes of preventing employees from getting exposed to Covid-19, by restricting travel, encouraging remote working and using tools such as video conferencing.

The move came after prime minister Boris Johnson said employees should work from home where possible, in a bid to navigating coronavirus, which causes the new illness.

Using video services such as Zoom and Skype have become the norm for remote workers in this unprecedented time and some have questioned whether company networks and home broadband connections will be able to handle the increased traffic.

“The possibility of the UK having to remotely work over the next few months has led to questions about the ability of ISPs to handle the additional workload of employees working from their homes,” said Andrew Glover, chair of the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA). “ISPs are ready to handle any potential extra bandwidth and consistently assess the demands that are being put on their networks. Businesses and companies will need to ensure that their own systems, e.g. their server setup, support a potentially significant increase in remote connections to accommodate the potential increase in traffic from their employees.”

Simon Moxon, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) at business video conferencing service Meetupcall, told Networking+ that a typical ADSL broadband connection should be sufficient for most work, such as email and web-based apps but there could be problems when it comes to high resolution photos or embedded video.

“There may be challenges for regular home broadband when it comes to video conferences, especially if the connection is being shared, or everybody else on the exchange is working from home too,” he said. “In this instance, a conference call service that supports regular telephone dial-in should be considered to ensure those important meetings can go ahead without disruption. Providing the organisation has a good conference call service in place that provides multiple joining options, this shouldn’t be too much of a challenge.”

Shashi Kiran, chief marketing officer at cloud-first WAN company and end-to-end managed SD-WAN provider Aryaka, added: “An unprecedented number of employees are working remotely, something businesses are not prepared for. Conference and video calls are paramount in order to get their work done as usual. With unforeseen amounts of people dialling in from home, increased bandwidth traffic will inevitably follow. VPN systems are already flooded and will soon become overloaded.

Mike Smith, managing director, Virgin Media Business said remote working is not just about ensuring your employees can access their emails from anywhere, “it’s actually about giving your people the freedom to take their office with them” – enabling them to work quickly, securely and flexibly. “Achieving this is easier than before,” he said. “Employees can now collaborate across different apps from home or wherever they choose to work – with a vast choice of enterprise-grade software, from video-streaming to project management – and this is creating a more dynamic, fluid working culture.”

However, leadership trainer Hira Ali, who is also the author of Her Way to the Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling, said “despite the alarming rise in coronavirus cases”, only a few organisations are taking steps to go online. “The use of platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft team and Facebook Workplace provides more flexibility, convenience and safety than physical spaces, since interactions are online and can be planned on your schedule,” she added. “Companies can easily leverage technology to make it easy, accessible and safe for employees to work from home. Why haven’t many opted for this already? Why hasn’t there been a government mandate to work from home?”

Meanwhile, Johnson has bowed to public pressure to follow other world leaders and order schools across the country to lock their gates indefinitely. Teachers have started remote teaching pupils from home via video links and other distance learning tools.