Reevaluating budgets to provide UC devices to home workers

Providing a consistent UC experience means taking a second look at budgets to determine how to outfit home workers with UC devices like headsets and webcams.

Today's work-from-home climate presents many challenges for IT, including the impact on budgeting for unified communications and collaboration technologies. IT must consider two economic aspects, and both will likely lead to higher costs.

First is the ongoing per-user subscription cost of the service, and the second is the new costs incurred for additional UC devices or endpoints for home-based work. That said, other IT budget items to support collaboration should decrease as most office spaces sit idle, so the net impact on your overall UC budget may not be that great.

Impact on subscription costs

With offices sitting empty, it's possible that connectivity and UC subscription costs may decline. However, the opposite will likely be the case with working from home. Whereas UC is a nice-to-have at the office, it's a need-to-have at home and will truly become the hub for productivity for home-based workers. One cost implication is that UC licenses may need to be upgraded to ensure employees have a full set of features. For example, they will likely be doing more -- and longer -- video sessions with larger groups, which are generally not supported with freemium or entry-level subscriptions.

Some workers will also need connectivity upgrades to support virtual collaboration, especially in younger households where streaming and gaming are popular. The same applies to mobile subscriptions, as smartphones will continue to be a primary productivity tool. The reliance on mobile subscriptions and devices will be higher in households without a landline, so IT must consider connectivity options beyond broadband services to support UC -- not to mention scenarios where broadband service to homes is limited or even nonexistent, in which case wireless connectivity is the only option.

Don't scrimp on endpoints

The starting point for UC devices is to recognize how different working from home will be from the office. An office provides a common work environment for all employees, but home environments are not predictable. Some home workers will have comfortable, spacious environments, but others will have the exact opposite. Many factors that contribute to the workplace experience will be outside IT's control, so the focus should be on what IT can control.

IT needs to consider whether it's more important to keep budgets down or to invest properly to support home-based workers.

This is where endpoints and peripherals play a key role in making work at home effective for both workers and IT. It's too early to know if working from home will persist post-pandemic. But many businesses are leaning that way, so IT would be wise to take the long view here with UC budgets.

IT has three basic choices. The easiest choice would be to do nothing and just have workers rely on whatever they're currently using at home. This approach would appeal to businesses in total survival mode, where every dollar counts and budgets must be cut. That scenario is understandable in this economy and would apply to businesses that don't do much collaboration and only use the most basic forms of UC.

Businesses with healthier financial situations have two choices. They can either leave it up to home workers to make the buying choices for UC devices or have IT specify which endpoints are acceptable and even manage the procurement. Both options require IT to take a holistic approach around what home-based workers need to be productive with UC.

The latter option is better for IT budget-wise, as all the costs will be known before purchases are made. This approach also ensures that new endpoints will be compatible with the UC platform and provide home workers a more consistent UX -- leading to better collaboration outcomes.

Another financial consideration here would be IT's buying power to get better unit pricing when purchasing for everyone at once. If employees are buying the same endpoints on their own, they will be paying retail prices and not benefiting from any volume discounts.

The bottom line

IT needs to consider whether it's more important to keep budgets down or to invest properly to support home-based workers. Many will be working at home for the first time and will not have business-grade tools, such as a current PC, a decent headset, a desk phone and a speakerphone. A cost-cutting approach here will only undermine the performance of UC, and if productivity suffers, so does overall business performance, worker morale and customer satisfaction.

A holistic view would conclude that this approach would be a high price to pay for the sake of keeping UC budgets down. The expectations for home-based work are generally the same as the office, so workers shouldn't have to compromise on the right tools. Otherwise, they won't feel valued and will lose motivation. If the objective is to keep work-at-home productivity high, spending appropriately on endpoints could be the best investment IT can make with UC.

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