By Darren Watkins, Managing Director for VIRTUS Data Centres
Whilst the pandemic has substantially impacted all aspects of our working lives, organisations cannot afford to make strategic plans, however uncertain the future may currently appear. But we can be pretty sure about two things: firstly, hybrid working for some or all is likely to be here to stay, and secondly, technology and IT teams will play a critical role in its success or failure. Study after study shows that many employees want more flexibility and the opportunity to work remotely so they can make financial savings and boost their sense of wellbeing and productivity. Although this has been a trend over the last two decades, home working was largely enforced due to lockdown restrictions. With tools and technology already in place to enable remote working, it is hard for businesses to argue that for some moving forward it just isn’t feasible.
Studies show that hybrid working is good for businesses too. Companies that adopt a hybrid workplace are estimated to save circa $11,000 (approximately £8,000) per employee who works remotely half of the time, according to a report from Global Workplace Analytics. The savings coming primarily from increased productivity but also from real estate savings and reduced absenteeism.
The most sensible way forward is for businesses to look at how to best enable hybrid working so both businesses and employees can benefit where possible. What cost efficiencies and changes to the work environment can be made to optimise productivity in this new way of working? Is more or less office space needed? What is the best use of floor space? Is there a need for more collaboration areas and/or meeting rooms? How can new contracts with landlords be negotiated? And what can be done with the IT server room or in-house data centre? Whatever the reason, the amount of space that organisations occupy is a critical concern for industry leaders today. What is often mistakenly overlooked is the positive impact that IT can have on these strategic decisions.
Why data centres?
Whether this results in a reduced or increased demand for floorspace will depend on individual business activity and cultural dynamics, but IT teams can help free up whatever space is available. Regardless of how digitally transformed or cloud enabled an organisation is, there is still hardware to be considered. Even if the organisation chooses not to have a physical office, equipment like servers, routers and storage have to go somewhere – and that somewhere has to be robust and secure enough to support remote and hybrid working for the long term.
Almost all small, medium and large organisations will have a data centre of some sort. It could be anything from a few servers in a small room, to an entire floor of IT equipment, to a warehouse full of infrastructure taking up space. With office space at a premium when planning for this new hybrid working, now could be the optimal time to move IT equipment off site and free up valuable real estate for the new way of working when on site.
Flexibility is the key
It’s here where colocation should be considered. For companies who want to streamline their physical presence, colocation can free up valuable office space, creating more room for hot-desks, meeting rooms and collaboration areas. And there here are plenty of additional good reasons to migrate data servers from on-premises infrastructure even for an office that isn’t going fully remote.
Having IT assets in a colocation facility allows fast, easy connectivity to cloud services which are almost certainly part of any remote working strategy, not to mention digital transformation. The robust, reliable data centre interconnect infrastructure can enable speedy access to the cloud environment needed, often much faster than using the in-house IT network.
The beauty of colocation is that it doesn’t just meet the needs of today but also supports plans for the future – whether that be growth, downsizing or flexibility to do both as and when needed. Colocation in a data centre provides the flexibility to expand or decrease space and power to fit the infrastructure needs of the company without having to take on extra, sometimes prohibitive, capital expenditure. With the Coronavirus pandemic provoking this new mix of working from home and presence in the office, demands will most likely increase and fluctuate on both the technology infrastructure and physical office space.
Wherever you are starting from and whatever your goals may be, it is safe to say that almost all organisations are at a critical moment. Hybrid working is here to stay and the organisations that invest wisely in its facilitation will reap the rewards. And whilst building the optimal technology environment might not be quick or cheap, it doesn’t have to be painful. Organisations’ choices about their technology will ultimately determine how successful they are, both in terms of hybrid working and broader strategic goals.
In the future, many more people will continue to work remotely when the task is appropriate – their decision based around cost, convenience and company policy. However, office premises are likely to remain part of the business set-up whilst there is an inherent personal limitation in solely working from home, which lies in the need for, and the value derived from face-to-face human connections. How the office is designed will have a strategic impact on the success of an organisation, so how much space and how the space is used will be critical. Reimagining the IT would be a good place to start.
Separating servers from the workplace allows organisations to set up flexible remote access that can accommodate future changes, and colocation is an attractive solution to the IT conundrum. This will lead to a technology infrastructure that allows for true agility as we move beyond the pandemic into a dynamic and exciting world.