The business world has seen unprecedented change since the outbreak of Covid-19. Companies have had to ramp up their IT infrastructure and reorganise business operations. It’s fair to say that adapting to remote working and managing changes to consumer behaviour has been a challenge.
Almost everything is entirely online, and most businesses were not ready for a full-on digital delivery. Whilst advances in technology have helped businesses to meet the demands of the “new normal” pivoting to a fully-fledged digital operation has not been plain sailing.
Trends such as the Zoom boom, remote working, increased customer activity, and the increased burden on customer services do not look like they are going away any time soon. They will undoubtedly form the new normal way that all businesses will be run, with businesses who can’t keep up falling into irrelevancy. But the question is, is your IT infrastructure good enough to meet these challenges
Video Conferencing Suites
During the pandemic, all meetings being moved online. Zoom became a popular tool for its ease of use and fantastic communication capabilities. Perhaps, Zoom’s best feature is its simplicity. Having said that, we like its ability to lower the volume of all but the loudest two people. It’s a touch of genius that allows firms to hold online meetings involving hundreds of people without background noise getting in the way.
This Zoom boom brought in unseen levels of traffic, and Zoom rose to the challenge. During the height of the first wave in April 2020, Zoom had 300 million users.
Upgrading your IT infrastructure to support extensive Zoom usage is very simple. It’s a fairly modest investment compared to other video conferencing services that offer similar features. Some small businesses might even get away with the free version.
Having said that, Zoom does offer a heavily limited free version. Although it offers all users unlimited meetings of up to 100 participants, meetings are capped at 40-minutes. This may mean rushing through meetings or having more than one – which will probably be counter-productive.
Zoom offers three plans for unlimited meeting length. The ‘Pro’ plan allows unlimited length meetings with up to 100 participants. The cost of this plan is £119.90 per account licensed to host meetings.
The ‘Business’ plan costs a little more, at £159.90 per account licensed for hosting. You can have as many as 99 licensed accounts on this plan, and your meetings can have up to 300 participants.
If that seems expensive for your workforce to hold meetings there are other options. Pre-pandemic, video calling solutions such as Microsoft Teams and Skype were far more popular than Zoom but are not ideal for company-wide meetings.
However, for general day-to-day meetings, Teams offers remote workers multiple options to communicate and makes it easier for managers to organise workloads, assign tasks, and record timelines/deadlines. Everybody knows what everyone else is doing when it has to be done and when it is completed.
IT Infrastructure for Remote Working
The stint of remote working will have revealed whether or not your team can perform as well at home as they can at the office. A report by McKinsey & Company found that 20% of workers could do the vast majority of their work just as well in remote locations.
According to McKinsey, this will translate to further growth in remote work after the pandemic, ending remote work growing to three to four times the pre-pandemic level.
Not only did the pandemic show us that more remote work is possible, but it has also changed the expectations of employees. Remote working helps people to fashion the coveted work-life balance. Countless hours wasted on commuting to the office can now be spent with their families.
Investing in an excellent productivity suite designed for remote working allows workers to communicate, seamlessly share documents, and facilitate collaboration. Microsoft 365 is the leading software for bringing a remote workforce together.
M365 allows your teams to collaborate on documents within Microsoft Office apps in real-time. For communication, there is email and planning solutions, alongside Microsoft Teams integration. The main competitor to Microsoft 365 is Google Workspace. All productivity suites offer fairly similar services, and you should do extensive research before making your decision.
Data Protection Strategies
Giving your workers the optimum opportunity to be productive is only half the job of improving your IT infrastructure. Remote workers are at an increased risk of cyber-attack as was seen in the recent REvil attacks.
On the 4th of July, remote workers of 1,000 US businesses were hit by a ransomware attack that spread globally. A decent amount of avoiding these cyber-attacks is about best practice, and your workers will be in good stead if they are educated on the dangers they face.
Best practice alone is not enough to prevent all cyber-attacks. Your workers will be even better protected if they have access to the right cybersecurity infrastructure, and your IT support team should make it their mission to ensure every device used for work has the right protection.
The IT infrastructure needed to protect your workers exists in two layers. Firstly, you can secure networks by consistently investing in a virtual desktop. For companies that do not have the skillet to create virtual machines, Microsoft recently launched Windows 365 Cloud PC service which will solve numerous complications for small businesses.
The second layer of cyber-safe IT infrastructure is protecting workers’ devices. Protection is fairly simple if you can invest in the right antivirus suite. They can be expensive, but considering that cybercrime costs global business £1 billion a year, it is well worth the investment.
When searching the market, you should look for anti-virus protection against all the most prevalent cyber-attacks. These include attacks on unpatched software, malware and spyware attacks, viruses, Trojan Horse attacks, and phishing scams.
No matter how hard you work to prevent cyber-attacks, they can still happen and you need to be prepared to mitigate the damage. The main way of doing so is to prevent massive data loss by backing up data remotely via a cloud data backup service. If all of your most important data is backed up, your workers can simply redownload any data lost in a cyber-attack.
Shifting to a remote or hybrid workspace is a big step for any business, but the benefits in worker productivity and wellbeing can make the hard work pay off. Through investing in excellent productivity and security infrastructure, you can make sure that the change is as seamless as possible.
Increased Online Customer Activity
The global pandemic has forever changed how consumers behave, and what they expect as a customer. As shops closed, more and more transactions were happening online. In his book The Howard-Sheth Theory of Buyer Behaviour, business scholar Jagdish Sheth discovers that how consumers behave is linked to where they are consuming.
So an unprecedented shift of customer activity online is a complicated matter. Not only does your business now have to adapt to a huge amount of online traffic, but you also need to predict how this will change customer behaviour.
It is easy to think that now we are mostly out of the pandemic, your customer’s behaviour and activity will soon return to how it was before the pandemic. This could not be further from the truth. Studies have shown that consumer habits take a maximum of 254 days to develop, a great deal shorter than the pandemic. Your customers have had time to adapt to online ways of doing things and are unlikely to go back for some time.
Meeting the needs of your consumers in this new age of online transactions is again a matter of upgrading your IT infrastructure. Your websites and servers may need ramping up to cope with a higher percentage of traffic.
This can often be a simple matter of contacting your web host and requesting to move to a higher cost plan. If you have selected a good web host, the change can be made within a day, and your customers will soon have access to an improved website.
If your business has access to more capital, and you host your own servers, you may be able to harness the technology of the future to improve server capacity. The main technology used by forward-facing businesses in this area is machine learning and artificial intelligence.
This incredible technology learns as it works to adapt quickly to surges in traffic and predict user behaviour. AI also comes with a host of other benefits for your business; it can even be taught to be more energy efficient. Google has reported that its server electricity usage had reduced by 40% because of machine learning.
Whether you operate a small business with websites hosted by a larger company, or you have a large business with its own websites and servers, you will need to adapt to ever-increasing traffic in the post-Covid era. Meeting these new consumer demands will require a sizable investment, but it is a price worth paying to avoid embarrassing downtime.
Increased Burden on Customer Support Services
Reacting to increased traffic is more complicated than just sustaining your website. Growths in online customers can also increase the burdens on your workforce. These burdens were worsened by lower productivity during the pandemic, with over 118 million workdays lost to sickness.
A reduced output is unavoidable in this situation, and disgruntled customers have already increased the strain on your customer service team. Making your customer service staff work harder is not the best solution. Instead, you can invest in chatbots to make your team more efficient.
A chatbot is an AI tool, which learns from previous conversations with humans, to respond to their needs. In 2019, 40% of businesses with more than 500 workers used chatbots, and the technology is constantly becoming more accessible. In the post-pandemic world, customer service chatbots will likely be the first move small businesses make into the world of AI.
Chatbots work by answering common questions and, failing to do so, direct customers to the appropriate customer support workers. Tech company Intercom estimates that their chatbot can answer 33% of customer’s common queries.
It’s unlikely that Chatbots will fully replace customer support teams for some time, but they can vastly improve efficiency and reduce waiting times for customers. They are soon to be a standard part of businesses’ IT infrastructure and they cannot be ignored.
Moving Into The Future With Your IT Infrastructure
These key trends in the post-pandemic world are unlikely to return to the old normal. The shifts are dramatic but manageable. And with the right adaptations to your IT infrastructure should prove to be successful, profitable and convenient.
Through improving your capacities, keeping up with the latest technology, and adapting to customer needs, you can establish a reputation as an advanced, forward-facing business.
Of course, if you’re embarking on a project to upgrade your IT infrastructure, you need a team of specialist IT professionals to help. Pivoting to the cloud alone requires expertise to ensure your systems are configured correctly.
Micro Pro also have numerous solutions to tighten up your security defences and ensure your remote staff have IT support 24/7. So they can work where they want and when they want. Even if a member of your staff is in another time zone, they can contact us.
If you want more information about the type of technologies and software solutions you will need to implement the ideal IT infrastructure for you, feel free to give us a call. One of our friendly and knowledgeable IT professionals in London will be happy to provide advice and assistance.