Though the shift to the distributed workforce had already been underway, Covid-19 quickly sent a multitude of office staff members home to work, something many companies thought was impossible, at least on a large scale. But broadband access and mobile technology made remote work possible. Many employees already were comfortable balancing their personal and professional lives with personal and professional technology. But the pandemic drove home that work could be reimagined, and some traditional ways of thinking and doing business are still evolving.

A recent Inc. 5000 webinar highlighted how the proposed federal infrastructure deal could help more than just physical roadways and waterways. About $65 billion also was set side to further develop universal broadband infrastructure nationwide, something that has great implications for small businesses and entrepreneurs. This webinar featured a panel discussion with Joseph Boyle, CEO of Truce Software, leading provider of Contextual Mobility Management solutions for businesses; Dean Hager, CEO of Jamf, a software company that helps companies manage Apple devices; and Nooshin Behroyan, founder and CEO of energy management company Paxon. Here are five takeaways from that conversation:

1. Managing work during the pandemic would not be possible without broadband.

Two years ago, if you had asked any business leader about sending all their employees home to work remotely for a year, "almost any business leader would've said, 'Oh, my goodness. No, we're not ready for that,' " says Hager. But many companies did well because they were forced to do something they never would have imagined. The positive message coming out of this experience is, "we have got to reimagine how things can work," Hager says, adding that leaders need to think bigger.

One reason the remote situation worked is because companies had the right technology available, including broadband. People also are used to living in a world that flexes between professional and personal lives. "I think that helped to start setting the stage," says Boyle, but the pandemic showed how adaptable people are, and the critical role technology plays in business.

2. Mobile technology is changing the workplace.

The pandemic forced people to confront a shift that already was in the works. "That acceleration has really made our investments in mobility and the mobility infrastructure that much more critical," Boyle says. The last 18 months opened everybody's eyes to mobility technology's untapped potential and the need for investments in that area. 
The businesses that succeed are embracing a mobile-first work environment, Boyle says. The shift is worker-led, with innovative ideas coming from the end users. People already accustomed to using mobile devices in their personal lives say they could be more efficient if they had additional mobile capabilities in the workplace. 

3. The pandemic is a change-maker.

So many customer and person-to-person interactions were forcibly reimagined during the pandemic. Without that compressed time frame and pressure, business leaders would have had a more difficult time innovating solutions and reimagining other ways of doing business, Hager says. That includes using less energy and taking fewer business trips to increase sustainable practices. "Connectivity actually opens the doors to that," Hager says. While leaders initially might have thought that business couldn't be done without traveling, "as it turns out, that was not true." It's important for leaders to set aside previous notions of limitations and to try new ways of doing business.

4. Digital transformation improves customer touch points.

While telehealth was making strides before the pandemic, hospitals accelerated adoption, as Covid-19 safety measures were essential. Tablets were attached to the sides of the beds, and doctors started making rounds via telehealth. "Was this digital transformation reducing human contact? No. Instead of seeing doctors once a day, patients could now see them multiple times a day," Hager says 

Digital transformation is not only affecting health care, it's also affecting retail, among other industries. Moving employees from registers to the sales floor can help them find items or answer questions during the point-of-sale process, rather than simply ring up purchases. Customers can then use self-checkout lanes for the actual transaction and payment process. 

5. With mobility, security comes first.

With a mobile-first approach, security requires attention and investment. With mobility, the infrastructure must evolve for situational management of devices. "A lot of the tools were based on a PC-type workplace. That's just not the reality of today's workplace, which is a mobile-first environment," Boyle says. For example, in highly sensitive industries like nuclear energy, mobile devices need situational management so that confidential or proprietary information is only available when accessed in the proper location. The same is true in health care. Tablets or laptops contain sensitive patient information, with potential for data compromise--especially if employees use them offsite.