OPINION: FTTH/B set to enable a remote workforce, finally
OPINION: FTTH/B set to enable a remote workforce, finally
Fibre to the home/business (FFTH/B) is spreading rapidly and visibly throughout major centres of South Africa. The growth of fibre is, surprisingly, driven predominantly by residential suburbs and once it's in the home and across our cities, fibre has the ability to transform the workplace by potentially removing traditional boundaries and forcing us to rethink ingrained ways of working.
How will FTTH change our workforce?
Until recently, big bandwidth delivered by fibre and the like has only really been enjoyed by industry and enterprise – it was not accessible to the individual working off-site. An individual working from home or a remote location is usually equipped with a mobile data card and burdened with the limitations that come with having only mobile access. These burdens include inadequate data speeds, which make it difficult for remote workers to access their company's IT driven systems, which has a significant negative impact on their productivity and dependability.
FTTH means that anyone working from home can now have the same systems access as a person sitting in the office, and business applications such as document collaboration tools and web based video conferencing are all made possible. Companies can, therefore, start to seriously consider the possible benefits of a virtual and mobile workforce as not only does FTTH offer faster home connectivity than any other technology, but fibre does so at a much lower latency, which means the interaction between web servers and services from a home environment are much more responsive, enhancing the productivity of the environment.
As with everything, adoption of technologies is driven by people, not organisations. Technology has an impact on human behaviour, which places pressure on corporate behaviour to respond accordingly. Here, the adoption of FFTH will see corporates under increasing pressure to adapt their IT environment to better accommodate a workforce that chooses to skip the daily traffic and work from home instead.
What else needs to change for a remote workforce to become reality?
A remote workforce will require a massive change in mindset for corporates and big organisations, but it's a shift they're going to be forced to address sooner rather than later. Furthermore, enabling a remote workforce is not something that corporates should shy away from, as the benefits of a remote workforce can be significant: employees will potentially be more productive, and as a result businesses will be more profitable.
This is because companies would still have access to their employees, but their overall well-being would increase, along with attendance and commitment levels, as it would give employees more flexibility in terms of stress, health problems and having to juggle familial responsibilities, which isn't always possible when physical presence at the office is required. A remote workforce isn't just about enabling people to get their work done out of the office. It's also about enabling collaboration between teams and individuals on projects and tasks.
With FTTH in play, there will finally be a shift from the mentality that requires an individual to drive to a physical meeting location, toward meeting in an online space. Now FTTH provides the necessary bandwidth required to make use of web-based conferencing, document collaboration tools, which means that the need for face-to-face interaction is reduced, eliminating the need to waste valuable time in traffic.
Security is likely to be a big concern for companies with employees that work from home, as their networks - and the information carried by them - will no longer be confined to a controllable space but will span everywhere the employee goes. Given that every point is a potential security risk, companies will need to have a measure of control over the employee FTTH connection and the access they enable remotely, placing data security at a higher priority than before.
With the correct security measures in place, enabling a remote workforce is still a desirable outcome, given that businesses are all faced with the need to drive down costs, and downscaling physical space is the easiest way to do so by allowing employees to work from home.
If companies take charge of FTTH services for their employees, they can easily reduce the need to have large offices with multiple desks while keeping a tight grip on security controls. Here, the temporary office becomes a real possibility, offering a limited number of "hot" desks for use by anyone who needs to be present at the office. Employees can become more productive working from the comfort of their own homes, and there are tools available for companies to be able to measure their productivity and attendance.
Fibre a faster, more stable and reliable connection
The changing engagement model between companies and their customers also highlights advantages for operations like virtual call centres. Businesses such as banks are taking their business fully online, needing less office space than ever before yet increasing their need for a call centre.
Agents can be empowered to work from home rather than the typical open plan office filled with hundreds of cubicles. Business that prefer traditional modus operandi will struggle with this shift because it will require a change in approach and a transformation of the ways in which traditional business processes can be undertaken electronically, but given that the story of fibre in South Africa is still in its early chapters, there is still time to grapple with issues of productivity, solutions and accessibility.
Fibre is bringing a more stable, reliable and faster level of connectivity that makes accessing collaboration tools and cloud-based services easier and quicker, and it is outperforming ADSL in terms of uptake and efficiency – it's simply a matter of waiting for the right time, before approaching your boss about working from home.
* By Eckart Zollner, Head of Business at Jasco Group