While day-to-day life is slowly returning to a semblance of normality, there can be no doubt that COVID-19 is going to have a long-lasting effect on the way we lead our lives – not least in terms of where we work. With many now having no choice but to work from home for the very first time, the pandemic has urgently accelerated the need for remote enterprise collaboration and communication.
However, working remotely is not a new concept. Indeed, IDC research shows that 15 per cent of the workforce was regularly working remotely prior to COVID-19, either while travelling on business or working from home. Organizations had already experienced a shift in the way they operate and engage with their employees, customers, and partners. And there are two major factors that have been driving this trend.
The first of those is the hyperconnected nature of the workforce, with many workers accessing corporate systems via their laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Organizations have increasingly needed to cater to different age groups and a broad mix of employees (full-time, part-time, and contract), resulting in different workstyles. And the proliferation of cloud and mobility has enabled employees to be productive anytime and anywhere in the world.
No set definition
The second driver is that the definition of what constitutes a workplace is now very fluid. It is no longer limited to a location that is operational from 9-5. An employee can work from anywhere and engage with customers and partners, provided that systems are being accessed via corporate devices or are in compliance with corporate policies.
These shifts have intrinsically forced organizations to change their “culture” from being rigid to being flexible, collaborative, and process-driven. Many of those that readily embraced this culture had policies and technologies in place pre-COVID-19 that allowed their employees to work remotely with minimal fuss.
And this success has led many of them to reconsider their long-term options.
Some big names sign up
Last month, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that his employees could continue working from home “forever”. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg followed suit, saying the company will allow more employees to work from home permanently. He also expects nearly 50 per cent of Facebook’s entire workforce to be working remotely in the next five to 10 years.
With the growing realization that many more job roles than previously thought can now be done from home, there’s been a flurry of companies announcing they are permanently shifting to a “remote-first” business model, whereby working remotely becomes a default for everyone.
Of course, this model won’t be suitable for all employers... nor all employees. As such, the most likely outcome is a hybrid approach that combines both the inherent flexibility of a digital workplace with the power of having physical office hubs.
Stay at homes
Some studies suggest that as many as 30 per cent of all employees will be working from home at least some of the time by the end of next year.
With many employees proving they can operate efficiently from home, the benefits of such an approach are numerous — from improvements in the wellbeing of the workforce to a reduction in the organization’s carbon footprint and huge potential savings on expensive office space. And everything in between.
But the fruits of these benefits can only truly be enjoyed if the right culture is put in place to motivate employees to collaborate with colleagues, whether at home or in the office. If this culture is in place, employees will instinctively engage effectively with both internal and external stakeholders, regardless of location.
From a business point of view, the shift towards increased remote working is a no-brainer. Organizations will keep building out their remote work policies as part of their continuity planning, both now and through the aftermath of the current crisis.
- Jyoti Lalchandani is regional Managing Director at IDC.