I recently read an article by Trust Radius that dives into how business technology spending is fluctuating as a result of the corona-virus pandemic. In their survey, Trust Radius found that 26% of survey responders experienced no change in B2B technology spending during the pandemic with 53% of that percentage stating they already had the infrastructure in place to work remotely. 40% of responders said they increased their B2B technology spending, many investing in video conferencing software and security software such as VPNs. In my experience, I’ve worked for large, global companies and small tech companies. Both operated with varying degrees of technology use, and it made me wonder how technology spending might differ between these two types of companies and affect their day-to-day operations even after the crisis itself. Will everything go back to the old norm, or is the lockdown instilling in us a sense of trust in technology that may not have existed before?
Before the coronavirus pandemic spread to Texas, I was on site at my client’s Austin office nearly every day. We had an open floor setup, and on a typical day the seats were filled. For my co-located colleagues, this was great. We could chat, brainstorm, and even grab lunch together. However, my client is a global company and my current project integrates with offices across multiple time zones, so to my colleagues abroad, I was still a remote partner. Moreover, the product I’m helping my client produce is software, so the core of my work is done on my computer. When my client made the call to shut down their physical office, and I had to work remotely (like fuzzy slippers, cat on the lap remotely), I just needed to set up a makeshift desk, turn on my VPN, and go.
My client already had the infrastructure in place to promote a remote work environment thus falling into the “no change” category that Trust Radius reported on. But while the general operations of my job are relatively the same now as they were before the pandemic, for those of us that were originally co-located, our communication techniques have undergone some changes. A desk-side chat is now a “ping” on Skype or Teams. A whiteboarding brainstorm session is a meeting with screen-shared notes or models, the latter of which have become a particularly useful tool for visualizing a process virtually. Some of my coworkers have even begun sharing their video cameras during meetings to emulate the feeling of being in person. On our team, this led to a “Zoom happy hour” that now our remote colleagues can participate in too. Our ability to communicate with local colleagues may have been strained at first, but through learning new techniques we have achieved a similar caliber of interaction, and our relationships with our remote partners has strengthened. While I think the remote workstyle has led to beneficial insight into the flaws of our processes, because there was no change in infrastructure, it would be much easier for my client to continue in-person work but with a better ability to communicate with remote partners when the crisis is over. There may be more leniency around the occasional remote workday, but if nothing needed to change to allow people to work remote, then nothing would need to change to bring them back to the office either.
Small technology companies are likely to fall into the “increased software spend” category from the Trust Radius survey in regards to B2B technology spending. A couple years ago, I worked for a software company of around 15 employees whose clients were all within the United States. The sales team and a small training team handled the face-to-face interactions with our clients, but the software engineers, who made up most of the company, were mainly involved in internal discussions and collaborations. Because we were all co-located, any meetings or solutioning were done in person. While some work could be done remotely, the company’s infrastructure was not set up for a totally remote workstyle.
Given the pressures to continue to operate during the lockdown, I think this company and others similar to it would be able to transition to a remote workstyle, but, unlike my current client, it would likely be a non-trivial shift in their culture. Maintaining effective communication would require them to obtain video conferencing software to gain a similar quality of collaboration as in-person meetings and work sessions. Depending on the nature of their work, they may require additional security software as well to ensure their processes and products are protected. Companies that don’t have this infrastructure already in place would likely not be able to implement it overnight, which might hurt productivity for a period of time as employees learn how to use the software and then perform their everyday tasks with it. Unlike a large company with many global partners, however, smaller software companies would have the ability to adapt quicker to newly acquired infrastructure and use it to their advantage to be more agile in their day-to-day operations. This infrastructure may actually improve these companies’ processes enough that they decide to continue to utilize it beyond the pandemic.
With the changes companies are making to adapt their everyday operations to work remotely, it’s increasingly apparent that there is a rapidly changing perspective in the way the global community views the role of technology in work culture. Companies that are compatible with a remote workstyle and are able to obtain the necessary software to make the shift will likely become more remote in nature even after the threat of corona-virus. It may be that large, global companies like my client or the ones that had the remote infrastructure already in place will be more likely to go back to their previous routines when all is said and done because of the limited changes needed to continue operations, while those that made work-altering shifts will have adapted to a “new normal” that could permanently revolutionize how we view work culture.
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Rachael Williamson is a Requirements Analyst at Seilevel, a product management firm committed to helping clients make technology a strategic advantage. In her role, Rachael's focus has ranged from eliciting requirements to identifying technical solutions. She holds a dual bachelor degree in Computer Science and English from the University of Pittsburgh.