During the Covid-19 crisis, “The cloud” has been a vital part of making sure businesses can keep running. It’s a place much talked about in IT circles, but what exactly is it and where is it to be found?
In essence, it is a remote storage area where large volumes of data and systems can safely be left and accessed. But it is more than just that. In practice, it enables individuals to work from different locations, including home-based operations sometimes deploying basic and unsophisticated equipment, and to access the same data and information that might otherwise have been inaccessible to them.
Following the announcement of lockdown due the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for home working took on an importance that it had never before enjoyed. Suddenly the ability to work from home was no longer a perk or a luxury, but a commercial necessity without which many businesses would have ceased to function. In very little time at all, companies were forced to adapt to a new way of working whether they were ready to take this step or not.
The future of home working post-lockdown
None of us know quite when everything will go back to normal, but what has intrigued many is the question of how many of the new ways that have been forced by circumstance upon business operators will remain with us. The most obvious example perhaps is the use of video conferencing applications such as Zoom, the popularity of which has increased twentyfold since the beginning of lockdown. It is legitimate to ask why we ever insisted on staging physical meetings, often requiring considerable amounts of time and travel, when the same outcome can be achieved using simple desktop technology which is available to anyone with an internet connection.
Indeed for quite a few months now the concept of working from home has become very much what is starting to be called “the new normal”. Decentralisation is a natural by-product of a pandemic, or indeed of any crisis which might interfere with the traditional practices of travelling to and from work and operating from an office. As well as being essential now, the home working revolution is highly likely to outlive the coronavirus itself.
One of the biggest obstacles to widespread home working has always been the need to ensure that employees are furnished with the necessary equipment and technology to enable them to perform their roles effectively. This guide explains how a 4G WAN network can be used to quickly establish a network away from your main business premises, but it’s not always feasible if you’re working with a number of staff across multiple locations. By definition most private individuals will only have the internet capability they generally need to perform their own everyday tasks. If this is to be overcome, IT teams and external IT infrastructure providers will need to help businesses access solutions that don’t rely on being additional hardware or installations.
Cloud-based systems can be a solution to capacity issues
Cloud technology makes data storage and much increased computing power available on demand without having to be directly managed by the user. Remote servers, often operating out of multiple locations, act as an invisible hard drive to provide almost limitless capacity. They may be provided by a singular organisation, or in the form of “public” clouds. For you as an employer they offer a cost-effective way of boosting an employee’s capacity, enabling them to work from home using their own devices rather than necessitating the provision of expensive, dedicated equipment.
During the Covid-19 crisis, solutions of this kind have proved particularly useful. When there is a choice to be made as to whether employees should be encouraged to work from their own premises or at a central location there are often barriers which leave employers reluctant to take the plunge. In the unique circumstances forced upon them by lockdown, that decision has largely been made for them. When normality resumes it is likely that home working will continue to be favoured by many enterprises now that psychological and practical barriers have already been overcome.
The evidence is already out there
Studies have shown that teams work with greater proficiency when collaborating using the cloud than when they are together in one physical location. Whilst the need for documents and spreadsheets to be passed back and forth for alteration and amendment once rendered this impossible, the emergence of modern applications such as Google Drive and DropBox has enabled the sharing and interactive management of documents by multiple users in real time.
That said, some rudimentary training in the use of these applications before handing them over to employees can be a real time-saver. They are easy to use but, like anything else, can appear daunting without the benefit of a little practical experience. Familiarising employees with some of the terminology that accompanies these new technologies can also help to iron out any potential misunderstandings.
Overcoming security concerns
Cloud-based systems are designed to be secure, indeed they would be quite useless if they were not. But there is an additional layer of concern when employees are using their own devices, which may be shared with other individuals who are not part of your organisation. Some elementary precautions are therefore to be advised, accompanied of course by some basic training in security for those entrusted with your data and your systems.
This may be enhanced by the provision of integrated software which protects your data, as well as by managing levels of access according to need.
Building a team around the cloud
Team-building is essential for any successful enterprise and there is no reason why one which embraces home working should not tap into this reality too. But it is inevitable that, in this much changed environment, different rules will apply. Physical interactions and out-of-hours socialising are not usually possible, so some innovation is called for in its place.
It can be a good idea to create a sense of shared identity amongst your workforce, wherever in the world they may happen to be. A simple company newsletter can be a good way of familiarising members of your workforce with one another, with competitions, promotions or opportunities for interactions between employees. Use your imagination to build a unique company culture using the same technological innovations that fire your business operation itself.