A tipping point

May 1, 2020

Jason Legget, city manager for CityFibre in Newcastle, reflects on the home working legacy of COVID-19 and having the right digital infrastructure in place to accommodate it

Malcolm Gladwell’s infamous book, The Tipping Point, explains and analyses the concept of that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviour cross a threshold, tip and spread like wildfire, ultimately changing people’s behaviours, thinking or even everyday culture.

The current dramatic changes in our own behaviours, thinking and everyday culture are certainly not as subtle or nuanced as those set out by Gladwell. But, these unprecedented and fundamental changes in our workplace, community and even how we socialise with our friends and family, have the same potential to make a lasting impression on our behaviours.

Even before COVID-19, everyday habits and working practices were becoming more flexible. Changes to UK employment law, the rapid adoption of mobile technologies and reliable broadband connectivity have meant for many that the daily commute was already a distant memory. Analysis from Aviva prior to COVID-19* estimated that more than four million UK employees worked  from home on a regular basis – a staggering one in seven.

But COVID-19 has meant the whole nation has now had to change the way they live their lives, literally overnight. Working from home has gone from a flexible option to a necessity and our lifestyle and the everyday tasks we took for granted have had to adapt.

The broadband connection is now your lifeline to your workplace, family and, in some cases, an essential source for food and supplies.

It is this compulsory shift in the way we are working, socialising and living our lives that may well drive a more permanent change in culture, society and the workplace.

According to Ernst & Young’s survey** of 2000 UK consumers, many of us are increasing usage of existing digital services:

• 29 per cent have used TV streaming services more often

• 30 per cent report an increase in home working via collaboration applications such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams

• 35 per cent are making more mobile phone calls

And due to COVID-19, many people are trying digital services for the very first time with:

• 18 per cent of consumers trying video calling such as Zoom or Skype

• Nine per cent trying online shopping

• Nine per cent watching catch-up TV for the first time

So what could these changes mean for us all and could they become a more permanent feature going forward?

For working from home to truly work, it relies on one thing – technology.

From being able to connect to your organisation’s servers to having the right software to take part in video conferences with colleagues, a reliable and high-speed internet connection is not just nice to have for home workers, it is a necessity.

Modern working is data intensive and for too many people their home broadband isn’t fast or reliable enough to make working from home a more permanent choice.

So why are so many people still frustrated by their broadband connection in this era of ‘fibre’?

One of the reasons might be that most of the UK is still supported by legacy copper networks, some dating back to the Victorian era.

While some internet services are promoted as being the fastest available, a true, full-fibre connection really is the fastest possible. These connections are often referred to as Fibre-to-the-home connections and it is something people should look out for when choosing their next package – although access is currently sitting at around 11 per cent in the UK.

But things are changing. As part of the drive to  level up the country’s infrastructure, the rollout of full fibre has gathered pace. Rapidly establishing itself as the third digital infrastructure platform in the country, CityFibre’s Gigabit City programme is currently mobilising across the UK and aims to reach up to eight million premises. More specifically in Newcastle, CityFibre is investing £50 million in bringing this gigabit-capable connectivity to practically every home and business.

Working from home isn’t just something that only a select few can make the most of. The whole country has had to make changes to their work life, with some finding it easier than others, but the reality is more and more people might choose to carry on working this way if deemed appropriate. With no stressful commute resulting in better use of time, there are clear benefits for many. Who knows, it may even be a tipping point for you.

*www.aviva.com/newsroom/ news-releases/2019/09/top-ten- uk-regions-for-home-workers- revealed
**www.ey.com/en_uk/ news/2020/04/coronavirus- prompts-marked-shift-in-uk- households-digital-habits-ey- study-finds

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