How video calling has evolved… and where it’s going next

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Over the past few months, video calling has exploded in both our personal and professional lives. We not only rely on regular calls to stay connected with our loved ones during this time of lockdown, but have come to depend on it as a primary mode of communication at work, in order to maintain the same standards of collaboration and interaction that we experienced in the office. Indeed, the number of people using video calling on a regular basis has increased by 87% over the past two years[1], and shows no sign of slowing down. 
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Is the Internet of Things the distributed workforce’s Trojan horse?

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Our lives are more interconnected than ever, with everything from televisions to fridges, kettles, cars and even doors and windows now able to be linked together over the internet. Having long since moved on from being just an intriguing concept, the Internet of Things (IoT) is very much here to stay, with devices like Bluetooth headphones and the Amazon Alexa now omnipresent in many people's lives. But while these 'smart' devices are often convenient and fun, they do present a number of concerns regarding security.
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Ensuring home working benefits staff, families and organisations alike

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There's no doubt that home working is here to stay. While it may have initially been deployed at large scale out of necessity, in response to COVID-19, it is clear that we are witnessing the dawn of a fully distributed workforce. However, as organisations continue to invest in new solutions to drive this change, it's important to remember that these are still the early days. We've never seen home working at this sort of scale, which means we need to establish a new standard of best practice and - equally importantly - the technology to support this.

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Managed and Professional Services: How complementary solutions are becoming critical ones

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Throughout the past few months, we have seen organisations' internal teams forced to adapt their processes, infrastructure and strategies in ways that would previously have been inconceivable. Key to the success of this process has been the support of external service providers, who have complemented companies' internal expertise and freed IT teams to focus their attention where it is most needed. As it becomes clear that the distributed workforce is here to stay, such partnerships are going to be more important than ever moving forward.

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From heads in the Cloud to eyes in the Cloud

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Cloud adoption has been rising year by year for some time now, with Gartner predicting this trend to accelerate beyond 2020. It has long moved on from its earliest days, where it was largely regarded as an intriguing concept but unsuitable for enterprise-level applications. Now, with a wide range of options available - including Public, Private and Hybrid solutions - it has become a highly attractive prospect for organisations at all levels, especially against the backdrop of COVID-19 and the resulting advancement of remote working. While these trends are very much the latest stage in a long process of transformation, the pandemic has undoubtedly been the catalyst behind much recent Cloud adoption, as organisations accelerate their journeys towards a distributed workforce.


So, where does that leave us in terms of the biggest question: "Is Cloud right for my organisation?"

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Culture and technology: getting UK business’ through lockdown

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The past few months have certainly been challenging for businesses all over the UK - from start-ups to established industry leaders. Organisations have found themselves adapting to the demands of a remote workforce virtually overnight, deploying communications solutions to enable their teams to engage with both each other and their customers. While it's true that this technology has been available for a while now, it has never been deployed at this scale before. This has presented a range of challenges when it comes to infrastructure, but these are only part of the picture.

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IT providers come of age, as trusted partners for companies across the UK

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COVID-19 has forced organisations across the UK to re-evaluate virtually every aspect of how they operate, from policies regarding remote working, to the security of their data. There's no doubt that the IT landscape has been fundamentally transformed by these challenges, as new innovations have been unveiled and deployed at an unprecedented pace. None of this could have been achieved without businesses and IT providers working hand-in-hand to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic.

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Why the security of Unified Communications must be a key priority

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There's no doubt that Unified Communications have never been in such high demand as in recent months. The current global pandemic has meant the need for secure and reliable remote working tools has risen to an unprecedented level, with a wide range of solutions thrust into the limelight as a result. Platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are now an established part of both our personal and professional lives, with Zoom alone hosting more than 300 million meeting participants in April 2020[1].

However, as with any technology that experiences a period of rapid growth, we are now moving beyond the initial emphasis on speed to market. As Unified Communications become an increasingly essential part of the virtual workplace, we must now establish exactly how this impacts users, how it meets compliance requirements, and how secure it is.

Our initial response to COVID-19, which focused on the rapid onboarding of UC solutions, has demonstrated that we should always be vigilant when implementing new systems. Technological developments to address immediate concerns are certainly essential, but users – both personal and professional – must be conscious of any security risks and ensure they follow best practice at all times, particularly with BYOD arrangements. For example, the importance of utilising strong passwords is already well-established, but its importance was highlighted once again by recent incidents where cracked passwords have been used to disrupt online meetings, taking advantage of platforms' lack of end-to-end encryption[2]. And whilst updates are regularly released for all platforms to rectify security issues as they are discovered, this doesn't eliminate the initial risk that is posed, which means users must take the time to educate themselves, with the support of their providers.

Data sovereignty is another serious concern, particularly in sectors like healthcare, legal and finance, which have strict requirements about how and where sensitive data is stored. Recent revelations that certain platforms routed user data through different countries to meet increasing demands for capacity[3] are putting organisations' security posture into sharp focus. Going forward, providers of UC solutions must offer their users complete confidence they are compliant with all local and international data protection regulations, such as the GDPR, which may mean maintaining data centres across multiple regions.

As organisations in both the private and public sectors become more conscious of the potential security risks surrounding UC solutions, we are sure to see the establishment of clear best practice amongst both providers and users. However, this will require close collaboration between all parties concerned if we are to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to the issue, ensuring robust security is inherent in the design of all UC solutions rather than offering fixes when a breach does occur.

If you're keen to find out more about the ongoing evolution of UC solutions and the best practises to ensure you are fully secure at all times, our Head of UCC Solutions, Gareth Hayes, and Head of Cyber Consultancy, Mark Belgrove, will be exploring these challenges and considering potential ways forward, with plenty of practical advice throughout. Register here.

Helping charities continue to make a difference in the midst of COVID-19

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Amidst all the stress of lockdown, it's been heartening to see some of the ways in which people have pulled together to support each other, and the work charities all over the UK have been doing to ensure the vulnerable are protected and the NHS receives the support it needs. However, as with many other sectors, COVID-19 has pushed many charities' IT infrastructures to their limit, as they are not only forced to adapt to the Government's remote working requirements, but also rethink their approach to fundraising.

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Beyond ‘Business as Usual’: How Remote Working is Coming of Age in the Midst of COVID-19

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Four months into 2020, and there's no doubt that home working is here to stay. Even before our current pandemic, we saw the number of people working from home more than double between 2008 and 2018[1]. Nonetheless, in the COVID-19 era, everyone has been thrust into what has often been called the "modern workplace". In spite of our early successes, this is still very much a work in progress, as both organisations and employees establish whole new approaches to the way we work, and new tools and processes arising in response to the challenges we face. But thinking exclusively in terms of the workplace is arguably ignoring the bigger picture. We're not just seeing a shift in how we work, but a large-scale transformation of how we connect and interact with each other.

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Adversity into Opportunity: Transforming the Legal Sector’s View of IT

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It's impossible to overstate the impact COVID-19 has had on businesses throughout the UK, forcing organisations to rethink their approaches to work, and – in many cases – redesign their infrastructures to accommodate the Government's new requirements for remote working. The legal sector is no different, but has been hit especially hard, due to the preponderance of cumbersome legacy systems that need to be migrated and updated, and a generally slow rate of digital transformation across the entire industry.
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Coronavirus Lockdown: A virtual NHS

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The government recently sent letters to more than 65,000 retired doctors and nurses in England and Wales asking them to return to work to help the NHS cope with the coronavirus outbreak. Since then, 7,563 clinical staff have applied to come back to work, including 5,633 nurses and midwives, and 1,930 doctors to help support the hero frontline NHS workers caring for Covid-19 patients.
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How the landscape for remote working will never be the same again

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The current challenges being faced by all businesses regarding the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) are unprecedented in our history.
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10 top tips for working from home

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Working from home can at times be compared to Marmite - you either love it or hate it. You have people that regularly work from home and find themselves far more efficient and productive doing so, and then you have people that are generally office-based and fear the loss of the structure of the day and the social interaction. 

With the majority of office workers now being asked to work from home, we've spoken to some of our regular home workers to get their 10 top tips for working from home, and how to get the most out of it and still feel connected to the wider team.

1. Do have a good working environment

Sitting up in bed or on the sofa sounds nice, but your back won't thank you as the day goes on. You should try to create a suitable working environment where you can sit up properly and have your laptop at the correct working height. Whether it's sat at the kitchen table or in your study, try and create an area clear of clutter. Why not try re-arranging some of your house plants to make your 'office' more inviting?

2. Do make healthy choices  

Stay hydrated - drink water and don't overdo it on the caffeine! Why not keep some fruit or healthy snacks nearby to reduce the temptation of biscuits, chocolates and crisps?  You'll thank yourself for it at the end of the day!

3. Do use video, it's good for all parties

Much of communication is non-verbal. Seeing your colleagues, clients or suppliers on video encourages interaction and engagement. But don't forget, everybody else can see you – make sure you're dressed appropriately and you've not just got out of the shower!

4. Do remember you can blur your background when on video calls

Using Microsoft Teams? You can blur your background on video calls, meaning that the pile of your kids' toys in the corner won't be visible. Handy right!? If you're using Zoom, there is a great feature that allows you to create a 'virtual background' – video call while on the moon, anyone?

5. Do remain focused and productive

Don't be tempted to start that new season on Netflix; plan your activities for the day in small sprints with what you want to achieve and deliver on it. This will help get you into a working rhythm and give you a sense of achievement.

6. Do schedule in 'virtual coffee breaks'

Why not schedule 20 minutes in the morning and afternoon to have a short social period with your team? You can all jump on a video call while you recharge your batteries with caffeine and talk about anything but work. Being able to keep some of the social side has a lot of benefits for all involved.

7. Do stay active and get away from your laptop

It's important that you look after your physical and mental health while working from home. Take the dog for a walk, or go for a run, at lunch. Take some scheduled breaks to do something different to help stay active and let your mind reset.

8. Do have some background noise if it helps you focus

If you're the sort of person that finds sitting in silence mind-numbingly boring, why not turn on the radio? Keep the volume low so you can still focus on your tasks and not get distracted. Just like in the office, if you find yourself drifting away from work due to the noise, make sure you refocus yourself.

9. Do have a routine

It's easy to slip into a 'lazy' way of working, potentially even be tempted to stay in your dressing gown all day, but it's important to still have a routine and set your mind up for the day. Try to keep the routine you had when going into the office - wake up, shower, have breakfast - you'll feel far more ready to tackle the day ahead.

And finally, the one that many people dread…

10. Don't worry about the kids/pets coming into the room

Cat jumped up on your keyboard? Your kid asking if they can have some crisps? We're all human and these things happen. Embrace them if they happen to you, and help others feel comfortable when it happens to them - everybody understands the situation that we find ourselves in. We'll all have stories to tell about 'those' moments in the coming weeks!

Now, most of these points will be stating the obvious for those of us that work from home on a regular basis. The challenges that we will all face in the coming weeks are some of the common challenges faced by regular home workers. Once this all dies down, and we are all able to return to the office environment, why not reach out to your colleagues that work from home to make sure they feel part of the team?

How resiliency is key in the current climate, including our Education system.

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Over the last week, school leaders have risen to the challenges of the current crisis.It is a reminder of the responsiveness and resilience of our education system, and for those that are living on another planet (or wish they were at the moment!), the government is closing schools as of today to the vast majority of students. Children of key (critical) workers are still able to attend to ensure medical and transport staff can remain at work, but what does this mean for the other students?
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Coronavirus Lockdown: The Digital Workspace in action

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With the current global situation, the past week has shown the importance of being able to create the Digital Workspace to provide flexible working solutions for your workforce. 

I decided to write a blog around how Microsoft's Teams, a Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS) solution, has enabled my productivity to not slip despite the whole of my team now having to work from home thanks to Coronavirus.

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Life Sciences & Technology - Part 2: Is DX at the top of Life Science organisations’ agenda?

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The short answer is yes - thousands of businesses are grappling with DX, however most do not consider themselves to be completely 'transformed' yet. Many of the largest Pharma organisations have launched initiatives and created entire departments focused on innovation, and are well on their way to operating in the same way an organisation which has completed its DX journey so far, is.

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Life Sciences & Technology - Part 1: What Can Life Science Organisations Learn From Digital Transformations in Other Industries

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In our offices, businesses, colleges and homes, barriers exist between people that hinder free and easy communication. Physics undergraduates rarely mix with the Philosophy students, our accounts teams tend not to lunch with our account managers, and I almost never speak to the lady who lives in the flat below mine. It's a natural result of living, working and studying in cities with millions of strangers.

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A royal flush: future-proofing our team with Princess Anne

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For any future-facing organisation, the importance of ample learning and development (L&D) cannot be overstated. A few months ago, our L&D team entered the Princess Royal Training Awards (PRTAs) -- and we are delighted to announce that we were successful in the following entries:

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Can London’s Architecture industry continue to lead the world while adhering to the Architects Declare manifesto?

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When the Mayor of London recently quashed the building of The Tulip, it raised troubling questions for the future of architecture in the UK. The Tulip was set to be London's next iconic piece of architecture, joining a long, illustrious line of pivotal buildings that have lined London's horizon and kept the city at the leading edge of architecture since Sir Christopher Wrenn re-designed St Paul's Cathedral in 1710. But can the UK continue to host such iconic buildings in the shadow of the looming impacts of climate breakdown and biodiversity loss?

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