Darren Watkins, managing director for VIRTUS Datacentres talks about the rise of hybrid working and the significant benefits of colocation.

Much has been discussed and speculated about office spaces and their usage post the coronavirus pandemic. Today, hybrid working is a ubiquitous conversation and at risk of sounding like a buzzword, but it is evident that there is a genuine shift in organisational behaviour and the implementation of hybrid working is likely to be here to stay.

Can we banish the commute?

The pandemic has forced the adoption of new ways of working and expectation around work and the workplace has fundamentally changed, accelerating the trend of remote working that was already evident over the past two decades.

In June 2021, the Office of National Statistics reported that, of working adults who were homeworking at the time, 85% wanted to use a "hybrid" approach of both home and office working in future, preferring to swap the commute for more time with friends and family.

Hybrid working brings benefits to both organisations and employees. Companies that adopt a hybrid workplace are estimated to save $11,000 (approximately £8,000) per employee who works remotely half of the time, according to a report from Global Workplace Analytics.

The savings come primarily from increased productivity but also from real estate savings and reduced absenteeism. Employees benefit too; they can make financial savings and boost their sense of wellbeing and productivity.

Making work from home, work

Driven by the nature of the business and the demands of employees, business leaders all over the world are considering what cost efficiencies and changes to the work environment can be made whilst optimising productivity.

They are now looking strategically at the operational requirements for office space and real estate such as reduced or increased square footage, the best use of floor space, the need for more collaboration areas and / or meeting rooms, and how to negotiate new contracts with landlords.

And questions are being asked in terms of should the organisation stay at the same location(s) or should it move to new premises? And what do you do with the IT server room or in-house datacentre? Whatever the reason, the amount of space organisations occupy is a critical concern for industry leaders today who are faced with fast-approaching lease renewals.

For some, this means a wholesale shift to virtual working, giving up office space and making huge savings on real estate fees. Others are turning to a hybrid environment, where offices are kept, but slimmed down, and on-premise work is seamlessly combined with the ability to work from home. What is often mistakenly overlooked however, is the positive impact a thorough review of the IT infrastructure can have on these strategic decisions.

What are the technology challenges of hybrid working?

Whether the outcome is reduced or increased demand for floorspace, will depend on the individual business activity and cultural dynamics. But rest assured, technology and the IT team will have a critical role to play, just as they did at the beginning of the pandemic when they undertook the incredible job of rapidly tooling up employees to allow for remote working. However, the circumstances of the sheer speed at which some of these solutions were implemented has led to an unavoidable "catch-up and patch-up" approach to technology infrastructure.

For you

Be part of something bigger, join the Chartered Institute for IT.

Almost all organisations deployed a vast number of apps to help their employees start working remotely, and quickly - a study by Okta put the number at an average of 88 apps per customer - but they don't always integrate seamlessly with existing technology.

This mass migration to the cloud drove other issues such as redundancy. A recent survey by CloudCheckr found that 35% of organisations had unused virtual servers and 32% ran into trouble migrating apps to the cloud where the architecture was not fit-for-purpose.

With operational decisions being discussed now, these kinds of challenges can be avoided. Businesses should give their IT teams the luxury of developing truly fit for purpose, long-term IT strategies that support organisational goals. Regardless of how digitally transformed or cloud enabled an organisation is, there is still hardware to be considered.

IT teams can help free-up whatever floor space is available, if the organisation chooses not to have a physical office; equipment like servers, routers and storage has to go somewhere - and that somewhere has to be robust and secure enough to support remote and hybrid working.

Almost all small, medium and large organisations will have a datacentre 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, now could be the optimal time to move IT equipment off-site to a third-party facility and free-up valuable real estate to support hybrid working environments.

The colocation solution for now... and the future

It’s here where colocation comes in. 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. But there 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 datacentre facility allows fast, easy connectivity to cloud services which are almost certainly a part of any remote working strategy. The robust, reliable datacentre interconnect infrastructure can enable speedy access to the cloud environment needed, generally much faster than using in-house IT set-ups.

Security is a crucial benefit as companies move to virtual or hybrid working. At a most basic level, if your computer room or datacentre is a part of your office building, and that office building is empty, how do you know your IT infrastructure is safe? Even if you have some staff in the office, this physical security aspect is a potential issue. In a colocation facility, the physical security measures in place, plus the presence of experienced datacentre staff, provide peace of mind.

Monitoring and maintenance becomes easier too. Companies may find that monitoring IT assets located in their own datacentre / computer room may not be possible; pre-pandemic, it is likely that most organisations would have had on-site staff carrying out this task with limited to no remote operational capabilities. Colocation facilities offer this service as standard.

When it comes to maintenance, while essential workers have been allowed into their workplaces throughout the pandemic, it’s almost certainly the case that a colocation provider’s maintenance regime - in particular the ability to respond rapidly to a potential problem - is smarter and more agile than an in-house programme, because that is their specialty.

Will offsite storage make maintenance more difficult?

Being off site, separating servers from the workplace, doesn’t make them any more difficult to manage. The organisation is still in complete control of the systems, they are simply housed in a more secure, robust, efficient facility. Colocation datacentres enable organisations to set up flexible physical and remote access that can accommodate future changes.

When searching for a suitable colocation datacentre provider, companies must ask questions about location, reliability, resilience and disaster recovery. And don’t forget facility and network redundancy, and sustainability.

As so many workers are now remote, organisations cannot afford for systems to go down in the event that mains power is out or because the facility's main cooling has failed. In this hyper-competitive business environment, business continuity will continue to be key; you only have to look at the recent Tesco website outage to see the disruption that can be caused.

The beauty of colocation is that it doesn’t just meet the needs for today, but also supports plans for the future - whether that be growth, downsizing or flexibility to do both as and when needed. Colocation 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.

A bright future for remote working

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 their broader strategic goals.

With hybrid working, it is likely that demands will increase on both the infrastructure of today and tomorrow. Organisations that take a collaborative approach with their business decision makers and IT leadership are the most likely to develop a complete view of their business.

Separating servers from the workplace allows organisations to set up flexible remote access that can accommodate future changes, and colocation is an attractive solution. This will lead to a technology infrastructure that allows for true agility as we move beyond the pandemic into a dynamic and exciting world.