First, here's the non-news. Most organisations - at least 84 percent of them, according to our research - have increased their use of remote working during the pandemic. That's no surprise in the wake of multiple lockdowns. But a survey of IT leaders revealed some deeper and more surprising findings. In some cases, they are troubling.
First, our Q&A of 150 IT decision-makers found half of organisations saying that they would be increasing their use of Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud applications moving forward, with 61 percent saying their move to cloud-based workflows had been accelerated by the crisis. Nine percent of respondents now base all of their workloads and applications in the cloud, a figure that is increasing.
So it seems that the crisis has not only persuaded organisations of the need to use cloud applications tactically - perhaps as a Covid stopgap - but also strategically for a future in which ‘expect the unexpected' is the norm. That's wise.
But not everyone has made the transition easily. While many organisations were well on their way towards using cloud-based platforms and collaboration tools before the crisis hit - with some of the workforce already working remotely - others saw the world in very different terms. For them, business has always been about bricks, desks, and rigid hierarchies.
Our survey was conducted before a new wave of UK Covid restrictions and the extended winter lockdown. At that point, 20 percent of organisations were urging all staff to go back to the office - a move that now seems short sighted. Indeed, it may have been a contributor to the subsequent spike in infections, alongside Christmas relaxations, the winter weather, and the emergence of new virus variants.
Yet this 20 percent seems to have stuck to its guns even during lockdown, according to a report in the Guardian. A news story published on 11 February found that one in five workers are being urged or even forced back into workplaces by employers, when they could do their jobs safely from home.
It should be acknowledged that roughly one third of workers in a TUC survey cited by the Guardian have jobs that can't be done from home, and we have all been relying on their labour. However, a further 20 percent of respondents said that employers called them back into workplaces during lockdown either some of the time (roughly 12 percent) or all of the time (eight percent), even though their tasks could be carried out remotely. It seems that some managers see no reason to change a culture that has long been premises-based, traditional, and hierarchical, in many cases supported by on-premise technologies.
Of course for many of us, sitting in an office with our colleagues now seems like a vision of a better, more innocent time - when work was a destination as much as an activity. When the crisis is over, many will seize the opportunity to live in that world again, at least some of the time.
But it's worth considering just how vulnerable that concept was in an on-demand world, and therefore how vulnerable some businesses were all along. So what is the issue?
For a certain type of leader, walking the floor and seeing that employees are at their workstations is what management is all about. In such companies the transition to a flatter, more demand-led, diffuse, and collaborative workflow has been tough - at least culturally. Particularly as it has been forced on them by circumstance, rather than being the type of strategic, top-down decision that they are used to.
The crisis has proved that these organisations need to be more flexible, adaptive, and agile- and not just because of the coronavirus.
In the business world we have all seen that long-held assumptions about the world can be challenged overnight - by pandemics, certainly, but also by more nimble competitors who don't carry the costs, tech legacies, and expensive city-centre properties of market incumbents. That gives them the freedom to move quickly, to be adaptive networks rather than static blocks.
The point is this: arguably, Covid-19 has revealed just how fragile some organisations are, and how vulnerable to changes in their markets. The chances were high that they would hit a crisis eventually. If not in the form of a microbial Godzilla, then perhaps a startup King Kong.
For every organisation, scenario planning and considering the worst possible outcome now looks like pragmatism, not pessimism. And having cloud-based tools that can scale and adapt to changing business needs now seems like a solid bet on the future - one that gives leaders more options and flexibility - rather than a cloud vendor's diktat about how the world should look.
In a pre-pandemic world, time, cash, and legacy investments often seemed like compelling arguments to keep doing what we have always done.
But suddenly, the risk of doing nothing is much greater than the risk of deploying new technologies, which is why even legacy firms have had to shift essential workflows to the cloud, as our white paper explores [LINK].
Let's hope that those companies now see the wisdom of retaining cloud's advantages, even when we can greet our colleagues face to face again and savour the buzz of human contact that is so hard to replicate online.
For one thing, it helps staff balance their home and working lives. After all, behind every worker sat at their desk at 9am may have been hours of commuting - day in, day out. Keep clock-watching and micro-managing staff and at some point they may quit for the competitor that offers greater flexibility, mobility, support, and respect.
Some of us may appreciate getting the slow train to work after months of being trapped indoors. But once that moment has passed, having the agility, flexibility, and cost-reduction advantages of the cloud will remain a bonus, even for on-premise organisations.
One thing is certain: a competitor thinks so.