Alexei Kuzovkin on the kind of services IT companies need to make teleworking work

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented situation in the global IT market: never before in history have so many people been forced to work remotely. Alexei Kuzovkin discusses the services companies need to support telework.

Alexei Kuzovkin is director general of Infosoft, a member of the security technology working group at the Russian Association of Cryptoindustry and Blockchain (RACIB) and the former chairman of the board of Armada group.

The main challenge of telework is setting up and maintaining stable communications, not to mention managing the flow of work.

Large corporations with offices scattered around the globe, or at least spanning several time zones, are not new to videoconference technology. What is new is the number of people taking part in virtual meetings and the fact that they are logging in from their homes rather than conference rooms in different offices. This degree of decentralization does seem unprecedented, and it poses a challenge to everyone, from large companies to small businesses.

Communication is not just about being able to organize an online meeting of any size at a moment's notice; it is more about how the work is organized than the specific software or hardware tools used. It requires planning, teamwork, integrating various communication platforms and programs – anything and everything that assures uninterrupted data exchange between those tools. For example, the same project can be worked on by multiple groups that operate independent of one another. One may use Jira as its main project management tool, while another uses Asana or Trello. There are also Slack and GanttPRO, to name just a few options.

They all perform basically the same function. But how can we reconcile them? That is, how do we ensure the stable distribution of critical information across these systems while avoiding confusion?

At times you hear complaints about a shortage of system solutions combining videoconferencing and project management features to minimize switching between different applications. Ideally, users would naturally welcome an all-in-one package where one account could use several different apps in the same space.

Some argue that the devices of remote staff should be protected by biometric security systems sophisticated enough to turn off or block the screen if someone else appears in the line of sight of the laptop camera. That may be overkill – especially considering that many cybersecurity experts strongly recommend putting tape over your laptop camera when not in use. In most cases, users are working from home, and the only people who might catch a glimpse of their screens are family members who are hardly a risk of passing confidential information to rival companies. though stranger things have happened. And in any case, a teleworker should only be able to access corporate resources through secure communication channels (VPNs).

Secure communication is especially important for electronic document management. While lockdown orders have complicated the normal flow of paper in businesses, they have also spurred demand for secure ways to manage the flow of legally significant documents, resulting in new solutions. It is currently impossible to do without paper, primarily for legal reasons. There are limited types of documents that can be used in the absence of paper copies, without incurring legal or tax risks. However, the trend is consistent, and the pandemic is only going to accelerate it: where there is demand, supply grows to meet it. There are a few solutions that enable the sharing of information, including legally significant digital documents, between counterparts working with different electronic document management services, but the market is certainly far from saturated.

Another frequent topic of discussion concerns the use of virtual spaces for projects that require closer interaction and communication than popular systems such as Zoom can offer, but it sounds more like a flight of fancy than a practical need. But again, it all depends on the specific project and on the people involved.

One of the challenges for new teleworkers who are accustomed to an office environment is the lack of person-to-person contact, which can drastically affect productivity. Not having a manager breathing down your neck and the abundance of distractions in a home environment also cause productivity to decline. If you think about it, one way to improve working from home could be an online game model, which might be able to compensate, to a degree, for not being in the office, even if it doesn't quite live up to the real thing.

When the pandemic is over, business owners will probably continue to debate for a long time which makes more sense – maintaining an office or working from home. There are pros and cons on both sides. But it is safe to say that not all employers will want people back at the office, especially if business doesn't suffer as a result. The situation in the spring of 2020 showed that businesses have to be prepared for contingencies like a global pandemic, as well as the kinds of resources they will need to have on hand to minimize the damage.

Overall, however, most technical problems can be solved with existing means. The key issue here is how the day-to-day operation of the business is organized. And that depends on competent managers, not technology.