Masergy's Watson: Third phase of COVID-19 fallout could be a long haul for businesses

With coronavirus cases on the upswing in some states, there's an increased amount of uncertainty around how service providers and their enterprise customers will adjust to the new normal going forward.

Masergy Communications' Ray Watson believes the telecom industry is in the third-phase of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said that third phase could take anywhere from three-to-15 months. In the third phase, it remains to be seen how many of the millions of employees that have been working from home (WFH) will return to their shiny office spaces.

According to new research cited by Masergy, which is a managed services provider, 93% of the of CTOs, CIOs, CMOs, and CFOs said they see at least a 30% uplift in remote workers, or close to half of their workers deciding to work remotely.

"When you talk to the workers as well, there's an overwhelming amount of folks that primarily want to ditch the windshield," said Watson, vice president of innovation. "So most people were somewhat rudely thrown into this (WFH) situation with very, very short notice. Phase one was just purely 100% emergency incident response. Just basically bailing water out of the boat so it doesn't sink, Then when we went into kind of phase two, it was that mid-range timeframe where it looked like this might become the new normal for an indeterminate amount of time.

"Now we're in phase three, which is really acceptance and rationalization. Most CIOs and CTOs realize that we're going to be looking at a situation very similar to this for somewhere between three to 15 months."

The third phase comes with a heavy does of ambiguity, according to Watson. While the telecom industry knows there are timeframes around hurricane seasons or DDOS attacks, no one knows for certain how businesses and the telecom industry will bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic.

"In this situation there's still ambiguity, which leads to ambiguity about headcount, about budgets and about revenue estimations," Watson said. "So it's really unique period of time history for us."

The ambiguity of the third phase leads to additional challenges for organizations and IT teams as 59% of employees feel disengaged while working remotely, which places additional pressure on managers, teams and IT to help foster new ways of collaboration, according to Masergy's research.

"There are a huge mental health aspects on the disengagement side, and that is actually surprising," Watson said." But even with that, you're still talking about a majority of workers who express a desire to stay at home at least part time. But I think a lot of folks, including people I know personally, would like to go back to the office occasionally."

Over the rest of this year and into next year, Watson said companies would need to be "real smart" in regards to how they allow their employees to come back to their office spaces while also maintaining social distance requirements.

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When it comes to digital transformations, the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the development of technologies for remote workers, cloud enablement, and working anywhere on any device, according to Watson.

"All of those things were accelerated very quickly, and you're not going to be able to put the genie back in the bottle," Watson said. "It's not going to get undone. It can't because digital transformation has always been about agility. A lot of companies thought that they were systematically or institutionally incapable of being agile. But when called upon to respond to a pandemic—where most companies had 72 hours, maybe 96 hours notice to make a decision about what they were going to do with their workers—almost every single company came out with at least a B plus, if not an A minus on the response time.

"That's extraordinary when you think about how archaic some computer systems are. It is shocking that we didn't have more internet-wide issues."

While Masergy enabled thousands of VPN ports for its customers, WFH has also led to an increased concern over security. According to Masergy's research, 61% of the CSOs were concerned about  cyberattacks targeting employees working from home.   

Watson said the concept of a security perimeter doesn't exist anymore with WFH and work from anywhere due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of security for office spaces or home offices, companies need to provide and monitor security all the way down to the device level, which includes knowing where the users are and what's on their devices.

"There's no security perimeter at all anymore," Watson said.