What a difference a year makes. For a long time, remote and home working was looked upon with a degree of suspicion, particularly among verticals with longer histories, and certainly in those environments in which colleagues have needed to gather physically to make sure they’re all seeing the same thing.
But, having been forced by Covid-19 to adapt and innovate fast to make any kind of working feasible under current circumstances, such suspicion is a luxury many organizations can no longer afford. Clearly the human cost of the pandemic must always be the central narrative of Covid-19. But the reality is that the changes it has forced in the working lives of millions of people have also shifted the technological landscape. Openings have been created for technologies - including the one formerly known as ‘video conferencing’ - to move past users’ natural reticence and become lynchpins of the working day.
2021 promises to be a transitional year as vaccine programs look set to reintroduce greater physical interaction in the workplace. But that does not mean that all of the adaptations which have been made so far will be instantly undone. In part because of the continued impact of the pandemic, but also crucially because of the real operational benefits they deliver, these new ways of working are here to stay.
Indeed a recent Gartner survey found that 74 percent of leaders plan to shift some employees to permanent remote work positions as a result of the pandemic. That is not trivial. Access to a computer, an internet connection, and generic productivity and communication apps is relatively easy to provide, and addresses a base set of requirements. But there is a lot more to be done if we are to keep entire ecosystems of employees, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders collaborating effectively in a post-Covid-19 world. Here are three trends which we expect to see in effect across industries and organizations.
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Increased IT spends - bad news for landlords is good news for software and equipment providers
A new study by CCS Insights revealed that 60 percent of business leaders in Western Europe and North America expect at least 25 percent of employees to continue to work at least partly from home, even when we have emerged from the pandemic.
Clearly there is an economic upside to this, with firms able to reduce the size of workspaces and associated overheads. But expect savings made here to be partly redeployed to increases in IT budgets designed to ensure employees are effectively set up to work remotely. Google - which has led the way in embracing homeworking since this time last year - has already given each employee a budget of £800 to cover homeworking equipment costs during the pandemic.
Likewise, we expect to see increased adoption of enterprise grade IT services in the home environment. This will include faster broadband, increased cloud storage, remote working software, and web hosting. More extensive packages, perhaps targeting smaller businesses without significant IT infrastructure, will offer IT support, security, and device protection.
Increased adoption of specialist collaboration platforms - Zoom et al have paved the way
To the point above, people in 2021 don’t have ‘video-conferences’. They Zoom, or Hangout, or Teams. Zoom has become a genuine household name during the pandemic thanks to a canny entry-level play, fortuitous timing, and a rapid assessment and exploitation of explosive demand.
Like Office and Google Workspace, Zoom is a generic (and effective) tool - but it doesn’t serve every need. With the path established by these very broadly focused solutions, we now expect to see strong growth for more vertically targeted and integrated collaboration platforms.
For many working in the technical industries, getting set up with the correct software and services to be effective remotely or from home has been more challenging than for those who simply need email, web access and generic tools. If you work in manufacturing, for example, you might need the ability to access and work with technical product data and even 3D CAD models themselves. This is data which needs to be communicated and understood throughout the organization, from design right through to sales and after-market services, and that’s more difficult to do when people are gathering in person less frequently. Platforms that enable effective remote collaboration with this kind of specialized content look likely to see strong growth in the year ahead as enterprises double down on empowering increasingly distributed teams.
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Growth in flexible working - rapid ‘spin-up’ of teams on demand
A shift in the way enterprises view remote working could reshape the way they think about their teams altogether. Increased uncertainty combined with the need to be able to deliver rapid response to new opportunities could create expansion in demand for individual contractors as well as specialist consultancies.
Freelance working was on the increase in many markets prior to Covid-19 and the pandemic has accelerated the shift. According to a study by Upwork, the share of US paid workers who were freelance had jumped to 36 percent by summer 2020 after being more or less flat (25 - 29 percent) for the preceding five years.
As more of us look to focus on our work-life balance, and as family roles and responsibilities become more fluid, this may evolve into a desirable - or at least tolerable - lifestyle choice for many more professionals. While the uncertainty associated with a contractor’s life may not be for everyone, the reality is that ‘certainty’ and ‘stability’ ain’t what they used to be.
It is understandable and appropriate that so many of the news stories in which employment and Covid-19 intersect have focused on loss of jobs and cutbacks among the industries and companies hardest hit by the pandemic. But it is equally important that we focus on how we progress out of this situation and move ahead, and increased investment in technology that keeps employees connected, engaged and collaborative is clearly going to be central to success in that regard.
Attention has been turned to how businesses can become more responsive, flexible, and efficient whatever the circumstances. Successful businesses will be those that plan to make these characteristics part of their operational reality far beyond the depths of the pandemic.
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Patrica Hume, CEO, Canvas GFX