The return to work is officially underway

Peer5’s unique position as the ECDN video conferencing provider for many Fortune500 companies gives us a unique perspective on the return to the office.

The return to work is officially underway

Since the start of the pandemic we have been bombarded with innumerable thought pieces on the “new normal” post-COVID. Every single one of these articles concludes that we don’t know exactly what our daily lives will look like 6 months to a year from now, and yet all agree that nothing will ever return to the way things were.

Peer5’s unique position as the ECDN video conferencing provider for many Fortune500 companies gives us a unique behind-the-curtains perspective on this particular issue.

Our advanced analytics tools give us very detailed insights on how many employees are accessing all-hands events from within a corporation’s network and how many do so from home.

And there is a very clear trend: the return to work has begun!

Work from Home — Cementing Video in Our Daily Routine

Remote working has turned out to be a necessary evil for some, a welcome change for others. But for most it’s a mixed bag.

The Leesman Index reports that surveyed workers find the home better for creative thinking, reading, phone conversations and audio conferences.

Most collaborative exercises, on the other hand, such as learning from others, or hosting clients, are most strongly linked to in-office environments.

Needless to say, collaboration within companies of any size is fundamental, and is hindered by email or audio-only communication:

When the pandemic hit, companies had to scramble to restructure every aspect of their day-to-day operations in order to accommodate the newly enforced remote-work model. But without a doubt, the linchpin holding it all together was video communication.

Corporations completely revamped comms policies and HR guidelines in order to use video communications more efficiently. Some adopted new tools, like Zoom, whereas others dusted off the old (Skype usage spiked 70% in March 2020!). In fact, between 2019 and 2020, Zoom’s business customers grew by nearly 6x, an amazing testament to the sea change that enterprise communications underwent over this very short period of time.

But for enterprise, Microsoft is truly the benchmark. Between 2019 and 2020, Microsoft Teams grew nearly twice as much as Zoom, recording a more than 11-fold increase in active users.

Teams Growth

One-to-one or one-to-few calls are no problem for most video conferencing platforms, and there are many out-of-the-box solutions that supply this service adequately, so widespread adoption exploded.

Indeed, these services have become so ingrained in our daily routines that, despite the fact that they all provide similar features — chat, screen sharing, etc. — we often become unsettled when we have to use a platform other than our platform of choice. Many meetings often begin with, “Oh, I never use Chime/Meet/Zoom. I can never find the ‘share screen’ button. I much prefer Chime/Meet/Zoom.”

Inevitably, these collaborative tools and rhythms that support quick, efficient, productive cadence calls and stand ups are not going to disappear with the return to the office. And in principle, the increased adoption of these tools once workers return to their desks shouldn’t represent a threat to office network infrastructure due to their lack of concurrency and the limited number of participants in each meeting.

But our relationship with video conferencing doesn’t just involve 15-minute stand ups and cadence calls. Remote all-hands meetings have now become part of corporate culture as well. With a push of a button, C-levels can now have direct access to their entire staff.

And the problem, as always, comes when we try to scale.

Scalability

Outside of newly built offices constructed no more than two or three years ago, it is very rare to find network infrastructure that is prepared for the massive bandwidth requirements of large-scale video streaming.

And the truth is that the broadcast of an all-hands meeting to a large workforce over insufficient network infrastructure can be disastrous, as it can throttle the network, impede productivity and shut down basic services on a company-wide scale.

You can’t Zoom or Meet your way out of this problem, as these tools simply aren’t designed to scale into the thousands of viewers, and even if they could, they are not optimized to protect LANs from bandwidth overload.

So as a company’s workers, or in this case “viewers,” return to the office, they bring with them their new video bandwidth requirements which must be served by limited, and often outdated physical network infrastructures.

The cost of upgrading physical network infrastructure can ascend into the millions upon millions of dollars and can be disruptive to a company’s facilities during weeks or even months, as walls, floors and ceilings are all ripped open to replace the copper or fiber circulatory system hidden within.

Upgrading a corporate LAN requires replacement of nearly every element of the network (depending on the age and robustness of the existing infrastructure). The future growth and network needs many years down the line must be evaluated and taken into consideration, generating not only logistical but also operational complexity. And there is no guarantee that the investment in infrastructure will actually provide material benefits over the long term, as we may have to return to a remote model at some point in the future, move to new facilities, restructure the workforce, etc.

The most sensible solution is to minimize the bandwidth required by internal video communications, which is exactly what peer to peer excels at.

Instead of serving up the video stream to each individual viewer, Peer5’s peer to peer technology allows the viewers themselves to prop up the network, sharing the stream with one another, and thereby unburdening the LAN to a remarkable degree, often in the range of 95% offload.

It’s a technologically advanced solution that can be implemented in mere hours, and requires no software installation.

Interpreting the Data

The vaccination roll out has been underway since the end of 2020, and it would appear that there is a direct correlation between vaccine penetration / COVID mobility restrictions and workers returning to the office.

Firstly, according to our platform's analytics, there has been a consistent uptick in the total count of unique users connecting to large events from corporate IPs since February of 2021. This strongly supports the view that there are more workers accessing internal comms from the office.

It is possible, however, that this increase in total viewers has been due to an increase in the total number of events being broadcast. So what we have also done is examine the ratio of in-office employees accessing the stream versus off-site employees.

Take the following example: we serve enterprise video for a a very large German customer based in mid-western Germany with over 100,000 employees (not all of whom are based in Germany). Our analytics show that since the end of February there has been a very strong trend toward in-office connections. The ratio between in-office to out-of-office connections has shifted from practically 0% to a maximum of nearly 70%.

This means that in February, nearly everyone connected to large-scale events from home, whereas now only 30% continue to connect from outside of the corporate network.

If we compare this to the severity of workplace stringency measures in Germany over the same period, we can see a consistent softening of the restrictions placed on the populace.

In the graph below, move the left-hand slider to Feb 2021 and let your cursor hover over Germany in the right sidebar.

Our data show an even steeper growth in workplace attendance than the stringency index shown in the graph above, but perhaps the most obvious explanation for this is that the workplace is one of the first, most important destinations to open up post-lockdown, and would see a more drastic increase in attendance than, say, concert venues, clubs, or sports events.

And with so many locations across Europe and the US starting to ease restrictions or even to “fully reopen” as of the writing of this article, and barring the appearance of a new, vaccine-resistant variant, we feel that this trend will only continue to grow.

As of the writing of this article, Germany, a country where Peer5 serves up video to several enormous corporations, is leading the charge to vaccinate its population fully, along with Spain, Canada and the UK, all countries where Peer5 also has large corporate customers.

Peer5 strongly believes that peer to peer is the answer to this increased demand for video within the corporate infrastructure, and will continue to provide bleeding-edge solutions to make sure that large-scale enterprise communication can be undertaken reliably, cost-effectively, and with an ideal user experience for all event participants.