The Future Fast-Forwarded
“The coronavirus, and its economic and social fallout, is a time machine to the future. Changes that many of us predicted would happen over decades are instead taking place in the span of weeks.”
COVID-19 was a catalyst that accelerated changes in how and where we’ll be working in the future. Thanks to the wide variety of remote-work products and solutions available today, it’s a lot easier to spend working hours at home while still being productive. And since companies were given the opportunity to experiment and employ Work From Home (WFH) during COVID-19, many businesses have transitioned to permanent remote-work solutions.
During the pandemic, companies were forced to change or update to newer technologies and methodologies conveniently designed to support remote workers. But what happens now that remote work is an option rather than a necessity? Were the long-term predictions made about the future of work accurate, and will they hold up from here on in?
Expected or Unexpected Impacts?
Even before the term “coronavirus” was a household name, there were plenty of employees who worked from home one hundred percent of the time, as well as those who just went to work at the office for a few days per week. Most of those remote workers lived far from the office, making remote work the only option aside from moving. Then there were those who commute long distances to go to work, spending several hours per week driving or riding to work only a few days a week (often referred to as hybrid workers). It seemed inevitable that this second hybrid group would gradually get the opportunity to work from home more frequently.
COVID accelerated these trends and changed the game by offering WFH to even employees living short distances from the office. Office buildings sat mostly empty as millions of employees logged in to corporate networks over secured VPN connections, managing their roles and responsibilities out of their home office.
Even during the pre-pandemic era, according to a study reported on by the New York Times
, 40% of employees didn’t think working onsite was productive. The desire to work from home was there, but it didn’t come to fruition on a large scale until WFH was necessary. And it was only after WFH had its major shift in 2020 that 83% of surveyed employers
started to see remote work as a successful business plan for their companies. Across a wide cross-section of roles and industries, COVID-19-induced remote work leveled the playing field and opened up opportunities for both workers and businesses.
For employees, benefits included flexible schedules, no more commuting, and the comfort of working from a home office. Cons included longer workdays, more meetings, and increasing rates of burnout. But the pros won out—so much so that in a Grossman Group survey
, 48% of surveyed employees stated they want to continue working from home post-pandemic.
Of course, employees aren’t the only ones benefiting from WFH as employers are seeing increases in productivity ranging from 20% to 25%
. This increase seems to be a result from different factors, including employees working longer hours, less office-related distractions, stronger employee retention, and less unscheduled absences. Additionally, employers get financial advantages
by saving money from downsizing their office spaces, reducing rent, parking costs, and utilities for the company. Also, with a lesser emphasis on using a centralized business model, employers aren’t restricted from hiring from remote areas anymore and can bring in talent from locations where a lower cost of living results in offering lower salaries, thus lowering operational costs in the books.
In the long run, hybrid work scenarios where workers split their work hours at home and in the office will likely be the status quo. In fact, according to PwC’s COVID-19 era “Remote Work Survey
”, 69% of financial services companies said they expect 60% of their employees to work from home for at least one day a week. Pre-COVID, the percentage of financial service businesses considering this hybrid schedule was only 29%. Others, particularly those who live far from the office, will remain fully remote since many companies saw the benefit of access to a broader pool of employees.
The Importance of Digitization of Work
“Digitization of work,” as defined
by Cisco is “the application of advanced technologies to connect people, spaces, and things together with business processes in order to enhance productivity, drive innovation, engage the workforce, and reduce costs.” When it comes down to it, it’s the digitization of work that brings out human potential and facilitates balance, giving businesses the opportunity to reassess their current state and build strategies needed to maximize workflow. For example, advances in digital communication, like live video calls and instant messaging, can provide faster responses and results than sending an email to an inbox or leaving a voicemail in someone’s message queue.
Looking at productivity from a mobility perspective, thanks to evolving cellular technologies, decision makers aren’t restricted to working behind a desk anymore and can respond to important matters from almost anywhere they may be. One last technical example of how digitization of work improves workflow are digital dashboards used to display and distribute information from a centralized, yet accessible, location across a company’s landscape, spreading important knowledge, key statistics, and important news to a workforce using minimal effort. In the end, digitization and the evolving technologies supporting it provide many opportunities to enable better ways to collaborate. At the same time, the concept of a physical workspace will get restructured and redefined in order to properly serve corporate wishes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the already digitized workplaces that proved to be most resilient to the sudden need to work from home brought about by the outbreak. These workplaces may not have had a full WFH workforce, but even with a limited number of employees working remotely, these companies got a headstart and were able to continue to run their businesses because their collaborative and interactive services were already running. By increasing the scope of use of these technologies, like VPN, virtualization, cloud, VoIP, and cellular, companies and their non-WFH employees were able to functionally transition to WFH scenarios with little or some effort. A fairly recent Deloitte article, “The Digital-Ready Workplace
” helps support this concept.
“When COVID-19 struck, the personal and shared digital workplaces were suddenly separated from the physical one. This separation is commonly seen as a shift from working in the office to working from home, but it can be more productively thought of as a shift to working purely digitally, as workers could choose to work anywhere other than the office; it’s just that for many of us, this happened to be working from home. Rather than working with digital tools in a physical workplace, we suddenly found ourselves in a workplace defined by digital technology.”
To be a successful digitized workspace, the digital tools used need to be optimized for communication and collaboration. The Media Richness Theory
(MRT) lays out the concept for assessing how effective a medium is in conveying communication. From basic face-to-face conversations, which have the highest degree of effectiveness, to email, a less effective form of communication, different forms vary in the value of their communications. To be clear, email is never the best way to deliver certain bits of news. On the other hand, a video call not only delivers the basic message but also adds facial expressions, tone of voice, background images, and a lot of other important components that can effectively help transmit information from one person to another. Other collaboration tools that would support MRT include digital whiteboards like Miro
, voice huddles in Slack
, unified communication platforms like Blink
, or cloud phone systems like Nextiva
, or video collaboration like Whereby
. Essentially, the key to why digitization matters for an effective workplace is engagement, or the ability to effectively focus on one’s job without any distractions deviating a single person’s or a team’s attention.
The Obstacle Blocking Your Digital Freedom
It’s important to note that even the best-equipped digital workspace might have failed during the COVID-19 pandemic if the network was not up to par and could not handle the additional traffic generated by video calls, IP phones, and other data-generating products. For example, voice quality during a call might degrade while crossing a heavily congested network, causing warbling feedback or stuttering. Video calls could also suffer from a taxed network short on bandwidth, causing frozen or skipped frames, making it difficult to carry on a conversation with an off-site employee. With so many connected devices sitting inside and outside a company’s network, corporate networking teams can only do so much. After all, they can only maintain devices they have access to, and as these corporate networks grow, the number of non-IT managed connected nodes outside of the corporate network will grow, as well.
The solution to this networking problem needs to be a robust and innovative method for providing high-quality real-time connections.
The COVID-19 pandemic sped up a timeline pushing WFH as a common practice across the business landscape. Responding to the need of staying in business, many companies submitted and switched to a large-scale remote-work business model previously reserved for just a handful of workforce members. Now, after all the social, economic, and technical changes used to support WFH, including paying for initial investments and overcoming immediate technical challenges, we will return to an altered form of post-pandemic normalcy with new standards, policies, and technologies favoring remote work at a broader scale than before.
Subspace’s global network can help companies with our WFH transition by providing the ultra-low latency acceleration and architecture needed to tackle anything the future throws at businesses. From dedicated optical networks to weather mapping network paths to providing an app-sensitive networking stack, Subspace can help your business prepare for the future. For more information about Subspace, click here