None of us could have anticipated COVID-19. But when organisations across the globe were forced to radically shift their operations overnight, some were more prepared than others. What set these apart? They had already begun to plan and implement innovative strategies aimed at digital sustainability.

Not only can approaches like remote working arrangements help protect the wellbeing of the planet – and organisations in a time of crisis – they offer competitive advantages in all business climates. Here are 4 top take-aways to consider in the wake of this unprecedented challenge.

 neon sign with the words "for the world"

Digitally sustainable practises are as important for businesses as they are for the planet

1. Use technology to support inclusion & wellbeing of employees

Digital sustainability planning is essential to support flexible work arrangements for parents, carers, and people with an illness or disability.

When COVID-19 struck, organisations that had pre-established technology supporting flexible work such as laptops for all staff, Virtual Private Network (VPN) access and video conferencing platforms were ready to move operations off-site immediately.

But remote working is not just for times of stress – it can offer benefits for the health and wellbeing of employees and offers essential preparedness for a digital-first future. Within the next decade, it’s likely that many organisations will begin to operate in an increasingly virtual way. It offers freedom and flexibility to staff as well as the financial and environmental benefits of a more productive, paperless society.

 bearded man working on laptop

Working from home provides the financial and environmental benefits of a digital-first paperless society

2. Build a resilient digital infrastructure

At the core of modern digital sustainability is the implementation of cloud computing. Working ‘in the cloud’ is an essential element of successful remote operation where access, storage and management of resources must be performed from off-site locations or via VPN.

The use of virtual servers to host services, via large distributed data centres and shared resources online, offers improvements in energy efficiency. It also provides ongoing sustainability benefits such as lower running costs, faster ‘go to market’ and reduction in expenditure related to development, implementation and maintenance of server systems – all crucial savings in a time of economic uncertainty.

 woman accessing secure VPN site from smartphone

Working ‘in the cloud’ preserves energy and resources

3. Promote the safe use of technology

With the shift to a largely remote workforce that COVID-19 has caused, including increased reliance on cloud systems and personal devices, come heightened risks for cyber-crime.

Unscrupulous cyber-criminals wasted no time in attempting to take advantage of individual anxiety regarding the developing crisis. They created malicious coronavirus map downloads that unleashed computer viruses on user systems – and posed as World Health Organization and medical supply providers to hack or extort individuals via phishing emails.

The increased use of video conferencing systems has also led to a wave of ‘Zoom-bombing’ in which uninvited parties enter and disrupt virtual meeting rooms.

These new cyber threats could potentially cause catastrophic security breaches and loss of revenue and trust for organisations. But not those with an already robust cybersecurity profile. Proactive employee cybersecurity education programs and cybersafety advocates within organisations are essential to building an informed, aware and sustainable workforce.

 laptop displaying videoconference

Cyber-criminals take advantage of crises via attacks on Zoom and phishing scams

4. Reimagine the modern workplace

From clear skies over China and India to swans in Venetian canals, we’ve already seen the palpable environmental impacts of a workforce that no longer commutes to work, emitting transport-related disruption and pollutants.

If more organisations adopt a digital sustainability strategy focused on innovation, this could be a glimpse into our future – where traditional meeting rooms transform into virtual, augmented reality spaces and facilities are replaced with Managed Service Providers (MSPs).

Cost savings in operations and capital expenditure will be realised through reduced costs towards leasing, heating, cooling, security, cleaning, travel, printing and paper, and office fit outs – offering great benefits to businesses as well as the planet.

 view of taj mahal in india through an archway

Clear skies across the world's most polluted cities was an immediate effect of COVID-19 lockdowns

About the author:
Tyson O’Leary is a Cloud Engineer at Victoria University with a passion for innovation, sustainability, responsible leadership and digital transformation.

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