What will be the Long-Term Impact of COVID-19 WFH Policies on MSOs?

By Joe McGarvey, Senior Director, Marketing |

Over the next couple of months, ATX Networks will roll out what we are calling the 2050 Project, a vision and technology roadmap designed to assist MSOs in extending the longevity of their HFC networks for the next 30 years.

It’s an ambitious plan, and one we hope will enable cable operators to stretch out their inevitable — and expensive — transition to an all-fiber infrastructure.

It’s also a little disconcerting, giving the current environment, to be thinking so far ahead. Casting an eye toward the future feels a bit off kilter at a time when the world seems to be standing still. Though many states and countries are beginning to relax shelter-in-place restrictions, a return to business-as-usual (life-as-usual) still feels many months away.

Essential Services

“The only way to manage the unexpected and the unforeseen is to fortify your network with as much agility and flexibility as possible.”

While MSOs are among the thousands of businesses negatively impacted by Covid-19, their broadband pipes are more congested than ever. A not-so-surprising impact of the virus outbreak and resulting Work From Home (WFH) practices for much of the workforce is a significant rise in broadband traffic. In its recently published Q1 Broadband Usage Report, OpenVault cited a 47% usage surge in the first quarter of 2020, compared to Q1 2019. Those are some heady numbers, especially given that OpenVault previously estimated that it would take all of 2020 for service providers to reach that level of growth.

These upticks in both upstream and downstream traffic, as well as skyrocketing downloads of video conferencing software, have everyone wondering if WFH policies are the new norm, or if the homebound workforce will head back to their cubicles once it’s safe to do so. MSOs, of course, are among those trying to get a good read of the telecommuting tea leaves, curious to understand if they need to make significant adjustments to their network evolution plans or simply weather the current surge.

It’s a tough read, and one that can’t be deciphered fully until the data comes in. Speculation is rampant on both sides. This recent blog from Forbes all but declares the end of office-bound work practices. It argues that no evidence exists that the interpersonal interactions of face-to-face contact increase worker productivity, and once businesses have put in place WFH policies and associated support infrastructure there will be no going back. “Remote work is here, and here to stay,” the article concludes.

Still, others make the argument that the isolation and, well, remoteness, of working remotely isn’t for everyone and the longer these forced WFH practices go on, the more anxious employees will be to rub elbows with workmates. This news analysis article, Why Zoom is Terrible, cites studies showing that video conferencing sessions are inducing fatigue by requiring participants’ minds to work extra hard to fill in non-verbal clues that are essential to human interaction but difficult to detect over sometimes-grainy computer displays.

As Goes Facebook

Ironically, the bellwether for MSOs and other businesses monitoring the staying power of current WFH practices might be Facebook, which is also experiencing usage surges associated with shelter-at-home mandates. The social media mega-company is paradoxically, and some might argue hypocritically, one of the staunchest anti-telecommuting employers in the country, as pointed out in this The New York Times article. The article also claims that many of Facebook’s 45,000 employees are working from home for the first time.

The situation is setting up an “as goes Facebook, so goes the rest of the country” scenario. MSOs would be wise to monitor Facebook’s post-Covid-19 WFH policies. An about-face on telecommuting by the Silicon Valley giant, which last week extended WFH practices through the end of the year, is probably a strong indication that WFH policies are truly here to stay.

If that’s the case, cable operators may need to make ad-hoc adjustments to their network evolution plans to account for a sustained increase in traffic, especially the type that could be an added strain on current upstream spectrum allotments.

Agility and Flexibility

The point of all this is that no one can predict the future, whether that’s two months from now or thirty years out. The only way to manage the unexpected and the unforeseen is to fortify your network with as much agility and flexibility as possible. Another truism for these unsteady times is to make sure that any technology you put into your network today provides a seamless and cost-efficient path to the future, and is backed by a company nimble enough to make needed adjustments along the way.

ATX Networks is working hard to make sure we are there for our customers during this pandemic, while also protecting the health and safety of our employees, as well as their families.

The cable industry, given the essential role it plays in the daily lives of millions of people, is open for business. But it’s anything but business as usual, when so many are suffering and grieving. Even though the future seems further away than ever right now, maybe there is some comfort in knowing that whatever the future may hold, you’ll be ready for it.