Agility. Ability. Survivability.
Chris Bayly, CCO at Aquacomms, explores the new normal and its impact on the communications industry - from networks to hiring
What is Normal? In fact, what is the New Normal, the frequently-used phrase since start of the pandemic? It is a question that many companies are asking themselves. Not just for now but for the foreseeable future.
Normal is defined as “the usual, typical, or expected state or condition”. 2020 has been anything but usual, typical or expected. 2020 has seen ‘normal’ turned upside down. Most think now that the future is one of unknowns – expect the unexpected. But how do you plan for that?!
‘Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react and reinvent.’ Bill Gates
This quote, from the the founder of one of the most successful companies in history, strikes the right note – particularly in light of recent changes. It’s hard to see how to plan perfectly for the future and so it is surely a case of creating a platform that can be agile, that can be flexible to ensure it can deliver to its customers, in fact to enhance its offering to customers whilst ensuring it delivers on its requirements as an employer – and with an eye always on the future while always putting people first. Employees are the key to a company’s success so making sure they are able to work safely is key.
In light of this, what have we seen in the Telecoms industry?
Telecoms is rightfully seen as critical infrastructure – more so than ever and maybe now more widely recognised as such. This has meant that Operations staff can have ‘Key Worker’ status that allows them to be where they need to be during Lockdown to support the network, be it installing new hardware in network POPs or repairing a fault etc. Yes, there may have been some impact on timings in some countries at certain times, but generally it really hasn’t impacted service levels meaning business and home workers can continue to function as expected despite the challenges.
But what about the rest of the Operations team? The NOC for example.
At Aqua Comms, we operate a managed outsourced model which includes an outsourced NOC. Aqua Comms is structured with a management tier of 20 experienced managers that run the functions that make up the overall business from Sales to Engineering to Operations, Legal, Finance, Marketing, HR etc.
One of those experienced managers is the NOC director that determines the processes and workflows that the Aqua Comms outsourced NOC follows. Control is retained whilst outsourced, ensuring that it works to the standards it desires and sets, but a cost that reflects activity levels – it is a variable cost. Not a fixed overhead.
Beyond that, it operates in the US and is managed remotely. This allows the operations to continue even in the extreme situation we find ourselves in today and increasingly tomorrow. This is a company that runs modern subsea cables including across the Atlantic – the busiest internet route in the world – and at such a critical time our operational agility has ensured that we have not been impacted in our ability to operate the network. In fact, it has meant that we have delivered new services to customers in record time of just a couple of days in their hour of need, a need driven by the dramatic changes in traffic profiles and usage.
Moving from Operations to the front line of Sales and Marketing, and the global circuit of industry events. This has seen a fundamental change for the companies operating in this space. With no international travel, with no obvious way to allow events such as Capacity’s ITW this summer to go ahead in their usual format, the events companies have had a major challenge to find another way for the industry to come together, to find another way to replicate the value in these events.
The value ranges from the sharing of content from speakers within but also outside of our industry, to having a few days of densely packed-in customer meetings, to networking and enhanced relationship building outside of the meetings.
This has seen a shift from flying around the world to instead attending and participating in regular online panel sessions and webinars. These have generally seen strong attendance with the audience keen for the content and to stay abreast of developments whilst feeling in some way personally connected to their peers. Further, there has been the ability through platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams to still see and meet your clients remotely as well as to listen to industry experts and colleagues who are also trying to navigate the best path through the pandemic.
But it seems that there is some way to go to fully replicate all of the value that a 3-day style event can offer with being there physically in person.
The events companies have quickly adjusted their business model and their modus operandi, and it seems certain that it will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. The introduction of fully virtual events and the inevitable move to a hybrid live and virtual model is an exciting and necessary development that will change the way we interact in the future. As innovation leaders – using the networks of their customer base, whilst embracing and making the best use of technology, are they the leaders in this space that we should all follow to enhance our ability to optimise our sales and marketing performance?
It’s hard to imagine meeting someone who hasn’t heard of Zoom.
Zoom has grown from 10 million daily users in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020 (source: Statista). Its market capitalisation is close to $50Bn. In December 2019, it was circa $15bn.
Is there a better example of agility in this new normal? Companies adopting Zoom where it is now a standard part of life. Zoom itself being able to support a 30-fold increase in daily users in just 5 months. Can you think of another example of this scale for such seamless and unadulterated growth?
But how far reaching is the impact and the benefit of the likes of Zoom? There are the obvious meetings that happen. But what else? We have seen companies recruit staff that they have only met over Zoom – that includes interviewing and on-boarding. These new hires have started – not in an office of course but at home – and have been integrated into a company, into their teams, have had meetings with their line manager, team mates – and have quite possibly never met any of them – or even been to their office. Honestly, who would have thought this was possible just 6 months ago?
Hiring like this is happening – and as shocking as it was to start with – it already doesn’t seem so extraordinary as we all get more used to the many forms of life changes we are having to make.
And it’s not only the hiring of new staff that has seen such significant change. We have also seen entire workforces move to home working. It might be churlish to suggest but surely the Telecoms industry should be the one leading the way – it is that industry after all that designs, builds, sells networks for its customers, so surely it must be something that comes naturally.
But is it as simple as that? There are many considerations to make from having sufficient broadband to every home, to having the space for a home office – when you may also be home-schooling – or when you have more than one member of your household now working from home regularly.
And so it then needs careful consideration from employers as much as employees to adapt to optimise their output and ensure they meet or exceed the previous quality of life. Living at home and working at home comes with its problems and as the lines blur between work and homelife we need to work ever harder to find ways to ‘step away’.
Employers are increasingly recognising this and looking at ways to address this. This can include more frequent ‘All Hands’ call, all on video of course but with less formality, more personal information sharing and not just work content. This is commendable but is it enough?
Some are trying other initiatives such as the need for more flexible working hours such as a 9-day fortnight – to ensure everyone takes every second Friday as a day off for example, be it a company-donated day or taken from the employees’ annual allowance. There are current debates over a 4-day working week – and that may work for some but not all. Is the 9-day fortnight the compromise position where productivity doesn’t drop and employees have more time away from their home office to keep fresh, to keep healthy in body and mind.
When looking into the crystal ball, what do we see, what do we expect? It’s of course impossible to tell but there is a clear expectation that life as we know it has just moved on to a new way in as little as two months. Some things will return to how they were of course, but such has been the impact, and such has been the enforced adoption of existing technology to survive, surely what has changed is merely the speed of change. The change from the daily commute, the change to how we communicate, to do it efficiently and effectively, without though having to be in the same room – be it the office or at industry event at venues all around the world.
All this to simply make use of what is there for the betterment of not only the businesses we work in but for the employees who work in them – for a better way of living in everything we do. This is ‘simply’ evolution.
This is not to wash over the tragedy. Absolutely not. This has been an extreme situation, a brutally tough situation, with many lost loved ones, many sacrifices, many brave heroes at the front line – but amongst the sadness, the world has shown itself to be agile, that it has the ability to adapt, the ability to survive – our collective responsibility is to embrace the change to flourish and improve.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin