Why flexibility is key for businesses moving forward

Dav Sandher, O2’s head of SMB product and propositions, on the shifting work models of 2020 and business collaboration post-COVID

Many SMBs have experienced huge upheaval in 2020. The COVID-19 outbreak has cast a spotlight on their technology solutions, pushing them to think digitally and become flexible to the shifting demands of an increasingly distributed workforce.

But where do we go next? For that journey, O2 Business is aiming to support organisations with the tools they need for a hybrid model of business collaboration, where some staff are stationed in the office and others working remotely. In a recent IT Pro Podcast, we were joined by O2’s Head of SMB Product and Propositions, Dav Sandher, to explore the vital lessons businesses can take from the unexpected challenge of this year (you can listen to that discussion in full below).

Sandher was kind enough to expand his thoughts, and here he talks to IT Pro about the importance of digital business models and improving an organisation’s agility and flexibility in a post-COVID world.

Obviously, remote working has seen a huge increase this year. But in what other ways have working models shifted over the course of 2020?

What we're seeing, outside of remote working, is a reevaluation of processes, and how to digitise processes so they're more flexible. There's a greater focus on what a business does end to end, and how to remove any waste or unnecessary complication. With COVID, thinking digitally has become a mindset, and being digital means being flexible, more than just remote working. On the IT Pro Podcast, I referred to some changes in how people are thinking about the contracts and how they deal with partners and suppliers; certainly how they're interacting with their customers. There's a greater acceptance that certain things could be done online, which customers and businesses previously might have been a little bit hesitant for.

Lots of people have websites, but they haven't necessarily kept them up to date and thought about the content; it's just the presence. Certainly at the smaller end, there's now a greater focus on how businesses can actually ensure customers can contact them or understand what they do. And it's not always necessarily going to be on premise or over the phone. That initial step where a customer discovers a small business, I think that's going to be one aspect of COVID digitisation that stays. And it does play into flexibility, because actually, you have to accept that your customers will want to interact in different ways.

The pandemic has driven a huge increase in the importance of this digital business model. How can organisations best support this through the remainder of the crisis and beyond?

If we look at it from an end user perspective, one of the challenges SMBs have told us about is actually the support they require to adopt something. Rather than just rolling out the applications, organisations also need to consider the end user support that's required, and how quickly they can get people up and trained. The business case for digital? It makes sense. But in reality, implementing it and realising the benefits requires a lot of effort.

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Consider how employees can get up to speed, and how they're going to get trained on that service so it actually reduces the adoption barrier, and introduces new ways of working much quicker. And that can be done quite easily; we offer onboarding and set-up experiences, it could be on a per hour basis, or it could be down to how many employees you want set up. I think that's really important, because it's the people who use the solutions that are the ones who help drive change, so you've got to be quite focused on the user. 

Have organisations changed how they're deploying and delivering their business applications in light of this?

We're seeing some different behaviours. There's certainly a trend towards having managed services in small business. Managed services can sound really complicated, and really expensive, but I think the acceptance of small and medium businesses is that they're changing. They don't have the know-how themselves, and more importantly, they don't necessarily have the resources available on hand, so they're looking for those managed services which are available on demand. Small medium businesses have realised just buying directly from a vendor means whilst you get the service, you don't get that overall wrapper of support when you need it, both as an administrator as an employee who's using those digital services.

We're also seeing requests for people wanting to trial services before they roll them out. From a business perspective, creating that business case is quite important, being able to demonstrate very quickly to other departments about the benefits that can be brought on. That was certainly there pre-COVID, but during COVID, there was almost a forgiveness to go away and just buy a few sets and services. But as you move into a post-COVID world again, I think there will be a greater focus on understanding what the benefits are and demonstrating through the trials of those services before expanding out.

Looking at collaboration, you spoke on the IT Pro Podcast about moving to this hybrid model of business collaboration with some remote users and some in office. But will this hybrid model of business collaboration improve an organisation’s agility and flexibility in a post-COVID environment?

I think it will, and I think the benefits are in a number of spaces. One area is staff retention, because about 70% of UK employees want to be able to work flexibly. People always talk about millennials wanting the ability to work flexibly, but it's actually across the different age groups. So that desire to work flexibly and manage your home life, I don't view it as just a millennial thing.

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There's also the benefit of talent acquisition. It's very hard sometimes, as a small and medium business, to find the right people. You can be in competition with larger organisations. And sometimes those right people, you don't necessarily want full time. So there's a benefit there of being able to access resources if you've got that hybrid workplace model, where you're contracting a piece of work out to somebody who's sitting in Devon, but actually the office is across in Plymouth.

It's an opportunity for businesses to get closer to both their client base and their partners. On the podcast, I was talking about reinventing what the actual office structure looks like with a hybrid workplace; everybody talks about a reduced floor space or maybe you need a smaller building, but I don't think there's going to be a massive shift over time. Businesses are still going to be quite cautious, but will start actually redesigning the workplace and considering how they can interact and collaborate better with their partners and customers. I believe there's an opportunity there with the hybrid workspace.

Learn more about how O2 Business can give your organisation flexibility

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