I’ll be honest; it’s been a little hard to concentrate on writing this month’s column. As I write, Boris Johnson and the Conservative party have lost their parliamentary majority, somehow plunging the Brexit situation into even more chaos.
This latest phase of the debacle has got me thinking about what will happen to businesses in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The potential negative impacts have been well-documented, from a shutdown of data transfers with the EU to severe delays on international shipments, but the issue that keeps playing on my mind is the strong possibility of a resulting skills crunch.
A clampdown on immigration from EU countries has been high on the list of hardcore Brexiteers’ priorities, which will likely reduce the pool of skilled tech workers entering the country. Even if European developers and specialists aren’t barred from entering the country following Brexit, and the ones already here not compelled to return home, one could hardly blame them for choosing to take their talents to a more welcoming and less chaotic nation.
A sudden lack of locally-based technology talent is a real possibility that businesses have to confront, but there are ways around it. One is to focus on upskilling or cross-skilling existing staff, but that takes time – time that organisations may not have if the impact of no deal is as sudden as some are predicting.
A better option is to embrace remote working. The fact is that, when it comes to technical roles, there’s very little need for all your staff to work out of a corporate office. Cloud infrastructure platforms and SaaS tools allow companies to manage and administrate the vast majority of their IT remotely if they so choose, and even when it comes to physical infrastructure or hands-on IT support, you only really need a small in-house team to effect physical changes, while off-site employees handle the configuration. This is even more true when it comes to developers and software engineers, who can be based anywhere in the world and still be just as effective at their jobs.
For many businesses, the biggest worry with moving to remote working is making sure staff remain connected with colleagues and managers, and continue to be engaged with the business. It’s easy for remote workers to feel isolated or ostracised if efforts aren’t made to include them, but collaboration platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Dropbox, Skype and Google Hangouts are all great tools for ensuring they still feel like part of the team.
Rolling out these tools can have benefits for employees outside of IT as well, increasing productivity and efficiency, as well as allowing office-based staff to work flexibly if they want. Ensuring new systems are adopted can be a challenge, of course, but the long-term benefits are worth it.
By making use of these technologies, organisations can make sure they can recruit and retain European tech staff in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but time is of the essence. If the walls go up on 31 October and you don’t already have wheels in motion to implement remote working within your business, you’ll be on the back foot compared to rivals that do. You may be tempted to wait and see how things pan out, but let’s be honest – it’s far better to be prepared.