When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing into place social-distancing and stay-at-home orders across the globe, the APAC offices of global consulting firm Berkeley Research Group (BRG) began practicing agility on a whole new level. “Our focus previously had been more from a markets perspective—how do we position ourself to quickly respond to shifts in market demand? But since the pandemic, we’re much more focused on operational agility,” says Mustafa Hadi, a managing director in the Hong Kong and Singapore offices and leader of BRG’s APAC region.
“As a consulting firm providing specialist high-end expertise, our people are our greatest asset—they’re both our asset and our product,” Mr. Hadi continues. “So, it’s not just a question of how we continue to do what we do but how can we use the dramatic shifts in flexible working that Covid has afforded us to better appreciate how our people want and need to work, thereby nurturing our talent and protecting our assets.”
For BRG and businesses around the world, technology solutions that keep employees connected to their work, and workplaces connected to their employees have proved the key enabler for business continuity amid disruption. Remote collaboration tools such as messaging platforms and video conferencing services became essential for all facets of work, from internal communications to maintaining external conversations with customers, partners and vendors. It’s all part of a larger trend that has seen acceleration since the pandemic toward workplaces of the future, with traditional office environments being replaced by sophisticated technology promoting productivity, collaboration and even cultural engagement.
A New Etiquette for the Virtual Workplace
When Mr. Hadi first transferred to Asia from London 10 years ago, he was surprised to find that his company’s flexible working policy didn’t translate. “Working from home” in APAC, he soon discovered, referred to the work that followed one home outside office hours.
With much of APAC’s previously office-based workforce now working remotely as a result of the pandemic, there are added complexities—especially in cities like Singapore or Hong Kong, where apartments are small and parents can’t send children outside to play. “It’s hard to have two parents working from home at the same time as Zoom school,” says Mr. Hadi.
In another sharp shift from tradition, video conferencing is replacing even cross-town meetings, while BRG’s international business travel has moved almost entirely online or taken a hybrid form—a change “that’s not going to be reversed overnight,” says Mr. Hadi. “The logistics, the cost, the hassle of moving people for only one, two or three weeks—we’re surprised at how well it’s worked.”
BRG was comparatively ahead of the curve in APAC, having migrated to cloud-based services before the pandemic. This allowed the company to be more flexible and accommodating with clients and partners as they quickly caught up. “There have been technology hiccups, but they’ve been the exception, whereas the expectation was that there was going to be constant glitches,” says Mr. Hadi.
At the same time, an etiquette evolved around virtual teamwork: calling is formal and intrusive, while instant messaging is more familiar. And when on a deadline, BRG teams gather in “virtual rooms” just as they would have in a physical room, where the leader can message individuals to jump in and unmute as needed. Between the right technology and protocols for using it, connectivity is replacing physical offices.
Connectivity with Security and Economies
Businesses across APAC are benefitting from seamless connection thanks to adaptive networks that combine the best core networks with the most cutting-edge technology and services. In turn, adaptive networks are enabling business continuity, greater cost efficiency and are even helping to facilitate company culture remotely.
Investment is following this trend. A 2021 Telstra survey of 420 business decision-makers across seven APAC markets found that 58% of organizations reported spending on services to prevent IT downtime and 57% are investing in streamlining technology solutions.
A major concern in the shift toward virtual workplaces is security. Among companies increasing their information and communications technology (ICT) spending, 56% of survey respondents cited cybersecurity as a top priority, and overall, 39% of organizations in APAC want to expand cybersecurity—almost the same number that cited cyber defense as an obstacle in adopting new technology. For companies like BRG that operate in a legalistic environment where confidentiality is paramount, the issue of security is very real.
In this respect, a trusted partner to help both protect an organization’s migration to the cloud and ensure network sustainability thereafter is an invaluable investment. There are also demonstrable benefits to moving the office online, most notably in cost efficiencies and productivity. Despite continued growth, BRG expects cost savings from a reduced need for office space, while less time spent commuting is translating to boosts in employee productivity.
The future of work will, in many ways, be defined by the power of the cloud and adaptive networks to bring distributed teams together for better, more unified collaboration. “It’s been a factor in optimizing our resources for enhanced productivity,” Mr. Hadi says of BRG’s new approach to harnessing specialist expertise from the company’s far-flung offices without the need to travel. “We can iron out peaks and troughs better because we can tap more people in more places.”
To learn more about how technology is shaping the future of work and to read the full Telstra report, click here
This article first appeared on Wall Street Journal’s custom content