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Building digital infrastructure for the ‘anywhere office’

Building a digital infrastructure for the ‘anywhere office’
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The Barbados government’s invitation to foreign nationals to live and work there under the Welcome Stamp Visa scheme is definitely a case of living the dream. Since last summer, more than 3,000 so-called “stampers” have moved to the island, working for their existing employers from a laptop while enjoying Barbadian broadband, beaches and bars.

About the author

Evan Wienburg is CEO at Truespeed.

While this is an extreme example of the WFH revolution, back in Blighty even traditional businesses such as HSBC, Nationwide and PwC have gone on record to endorse the hybrid home/office model. This permanent shift away from the daily office commute supports the “anywhere office” principle, where people hot-desk effortlessly between offices, homes and coffee bars.

The anywhere office

Many experts have weighed in on the benefits of a more flexible working model that combines the buzz of office collaboration and team building with the convenience and productivity gains of WFH. As Julia Hobsbawn discusses in the Demos Nowhere Office report, by focusing more on what makes a healthier, more functional workplace – wherever that may be - we can reduce stress and drive up productivity. This is a win-win for employers and employees with other benefits including lower commuting costs and travel time, and savings on office space costs.

Digital island hopping

Flexible working can also help to level-up the UK and reduce geographic inequality by boosting opportunities in areas away from major conurbations. The government-backed Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and jobs website Indeed recently analyzed nearly 20 million job applications and found that offering flexible working explicitly in job ads would increase applications by up to 30% and create at least 174,000 flexible jobs in the UK economy per year.

But for this workplace recalibration to take off nationwide, people need access to the right digital tools and the right digital foundations - wherever they choose to live and work. Ultra-reliable, ultra-fast broadband connectivity is a must. And there lies the rub.

The broadband divide

Even before lockdown, access to reliable broadband was regarded as a crucial part of modern life. According to a OnePoll national survey we recently commissioned of 2,000 parents, 92 per cent of respondents would be ‘lost’ without the internet at home. But only a third 36% have a highly reliable home broadband connection, adding to the frustration for those who don’t. Of the two-thirds (67%) of respondents saying they need fast broadband connectivity because they work from home, 28 per cent have had to cope with video calls shuddering, freezing or even dropping out entirely, while 17 per cent have even struggled to get their broadband to cooperate when sending an email.

Currently, only 40% of homes and businesses across the UK can access a reliable, ultrafast Gigabit (1Gbps+) speed capable broadband network, and most of these are in urban areas. The Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit program aims to close this digital divide and reach at least 85% of all UK premises by the end of 2025 - aiming to get “as close to 100% as possible” by that time.

A gigabit broadband workforce

According to new estimates published by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR), one million people could return to the workforce when full fiber broadband is available nationwide, based on the ability to WFH. This includes over 300,000 working-age carers, nearly 250,000 older workers, and 400,000 parents of dependent children. The study also predicts that a successful FTTP roll-out could boost UK productivity by up to £59 billion by 2025.

The CEBR also claims that the combined impact of a WFH workforce and full fiber coverage could see 500,000 people move out of high-density urban areas such as London to live in more rural locations. This would reduce the pressure on housing and transport in major cities, and increase economic opportunity in more remote areas.

Living the full fiber dream

It’s clear that boosting Britain’s broadband networks with ultrafast, reliable connectivity is pivotal to the country’s future growth ambitions and desire for a fairer society. Fortunately, up and down the nation, a host of independent full fiber broadband providers are building brand new fiber optic networks in harder to reach rural areas and historic cities that have been left to tread water in the digital backwaters for far too long.

The race is now on to increase the tempo and ramp up efforts to ensure every citizen has access to the digital fast lane. Full fiber infrastructure is an investment in the UK’s future. And it’s future-proof as speeds can be increased remotely for decades to come - even up to 10Gbps. It’s the gold standard of connectivity - exactly what is required to get back on track as we recover from Covid-19.

For businesses and employees lucky enough to be located in a gigabit-capable zone, it’s a no brainer to ditch the ‘fiber broadband’ part-copper service and switch to a full fiber broadband package to reap the many benefits. For those still waiting for gigabit-capable infrastructure builds to be greenlit by their local authority, it’s worth checking online to see which full fiber providers are making headway in your area and registering your interest. The more businesses and households in an area to register their interest, the greater the chance of a faster time to roll-out.

By viewing the past year as a catalyst for rethinking the world of work, we can embrace a more sustainable and flexible working model that results in a happier, more productive workforce. Underpinned by a nationwide full fiber network, the anywhere office will become the new reality for office-based employers and employees alike. And while relocating to Barbados for a year of remote working might not quite float your boat, the chance to work full or part-time from the comfort of your very own island idyll – aka the kitchen or the local café – just might.

Evan Wienburg

Evan Wienburg is CEO at Bath-based Truespeed, the full fiber infrastructure provider and ISP.