We really weren’t ready to work from home

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Call it teething problems, disorganization or plain Luddism: the first few weeks of working from home were, for many, far from smooth.

Set aside for a second the impact of hunkering down with children, paramours and housemates. The coronavirus lockdowns revealed a deep division even between white-collar workers: between those employed by companies that have invested in what it takes for employees to switch truly seamlessly between the office and working from home, and those employed by companies that haven’t. Many people discovered it was a myth they could do their job just as easily from the dining room table. What might be de rigueur in Silicon Valley is far from normal elsewhere.

Among firms with more than $1 billion of revenue, a surprisingly small portion — perhaps 10% — is used to having much of its workforce regularly work remotely, Gartner analyst Brian Kropp estimates. Another 40% has established work-from-home practices, but didn’t necessarily have the adequate infrastructure for the current crisis. The remaining 50% was unprepared and has been scrambling to catch up with panic buying of services and hardware.

Executives are realizing that work-from-home means more than just e-mail and videoconferencing. That’s creating an opportunity for businesses like Citrix Systems and Teamviewer, which provide so-called virtual private networks that let employees access corporate systems remotely. They allow you to log onto your work computer from your home laptop, route customer service calls to workers’ private telephone numbers or run complex applications — all while keeping the data off the public internet. Citrix enjoyed a 20% sales jump to $861 million in the first quarter. Investors might otherwise have expected an increase of less than 5%, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Mandeep Singh.

Citrix Chief Executive Officer David Henshall said on Thursday that he expects his company to keep benefiting from customers’ realization that their businesses depend on hundreds and hundreds of applications that need to run on powerful networks if the bulk of employees aren’t in the office.

While he warned that doesn’t mean Citrix will be immune to the economic downturn, it’s going to be harder to put the work-from-home trend back in the bottle when people can go back to the office. Now that even companies wary about remote working are building out the necessary infrastructure, employees might as well use it.

The virus has highlighted a bunch of work-from-home defects. It’s also forcing them to be fixed.

Bloomberg News