The unexpected entrance of COVID-19 is sending shock waves through the enterprise, particularly with the way people work. Here's how this could affect our future.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an unequivocal shift in the enterprise, particularly in regard to how professionals conduct their work. The majority (88%) of organizations now either encourage or require employees to work from home, whether or not they've shown coronavirus-related symptoms, according to Gartner research released on March 19, 2020.
SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)
"COVID-19 has effectively become a tipping point for remote workers," said Shawn Dickerson, senior vice president of marketing at KeyedIn. "Many of us in the tech industry were already familiar with the tools and techniques for working outside an office, such as video conferencing, social messaging, cloud file sharing, etc. But this pandemic has forced workers in almost every sector to adopt those tools and techniques, which I believe has forever changed the dynamic of work.
"As workers discover the productivity that can be found in this arrangement, and companies see the potential overhead savings, I think we will see increasing numbers of remote workers in banking, manufacturing, even healthcare," Dickerson said.
Before the coronavirus chaos, the future of work was already expected to move toward telecommuting. However, that movement has clearly been expedited.
"Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people and businesses to adapt to remote working—whether they were ready for it or not," said Ben Rogers, president of platform and technology clients at the National Research Group (NRG).
"The suddenness of this shift has been incredibly disruptive," Rogers said. "While we might have expected our working environments, processes, and routines to evolve over time, we've been thrown directly in the deep end."
This startling change is not only changing how work is currently being conducted, but also how it will continue to operate in the future, Rogers said.
5 ways the future of work is changing
The novel coronavirus has acted as a reset button for organizations, said Peter Jackson, CEO of Bluescape, a virtual collaboration workspace. This reset button is showing professionals that we can easily work from home, which will completely change the future of work in a variety of ways.
1. Permanently flexible future
"It's obvious at this stage that remote working will be viewed with entirely new importance post-COVID-19," Rogers said. "Investments in platforms, and technology, will need to be made to maximize efficiency in this new paradigm. There will be a significant, permanent, transition to more remote working—even when COVID-19 clears, this new normal will be sustained by fears of the next pandemic."
Not all organizations will remain in a completely remote state, but the majority will be more flexible, said Chris Kozup, CMO at Aruba.
"Organizations and businesses will demonstrate greater flexibility to support a broader range of work situations and scenarios for their employees; for example, companies that formerly had a strict 'in-person' workplace culture might ease up on their requirements and allow employees the flexibility to work from home, when the need arises," Kozup said.
"We'll definitely see some shifts in attitudes and workplace culture that will ultimately result in organizations being more flexible and accommodating of different work styles," Kozup added.
The rigidity of an office-only based environment won't fly anymore, especially with younger generations, according to Rogers.
2. Prioritization of work-life balance
While working from home is both convenient and comfortable, it can be difficult for professionals to seperate home and work life.
"With remote working becoming a new norm, and the expected 'stickiness' of this new paradigm as outlined above, balancing accessibility with the pressure to be 'always on' (self-inflicted or otherwise) will be a challenge," Rogers said.
"Despite the best advice, this is a learned skill, with no 'one size fits all' solution—people need to figure out what works best for them given their career pressures, social and family needs, aspirations, etc.," Rogers added. "Organizations will need to provide tools and training to manage these pressures—but a learning curve will still be required at an individual level."
Nearly 6% of the American workforce says they are depressed, resulting in $51 billion in lost productivity. One of the major reasons is the parental guilt professionals feel not being home with their children, Jackson said.
Hopefully, a shift to working from home will not only help the physical toll of commuting to the office, but also the mental aspect.
3. Movement toward agile work
As teams become more separate with remote work, many will begin collaborating with other employees, especially since online collaboration tools make connections easier, Rogers said.
"We are seeing another trend in the world of agile work, which is growing beyond software development into operations, marketing, finance and others, with the concept of self-organizing teams," Dickerson said.
"The rigid structure around being a part of the product team or the sales team has shifted," Dickerson noted. "Increasingly people from different disciplines across an organization or being gathered together to solve problems, rather than represent a singular division of the business.
"This also increases the importance of the project management office. Once the domain of the IT team, numerous enterprise PMOs are emerging to help manage and staff work that crosses many departments," he added.
4. Increased expectations from employees
"Gen X and Gen Z are handling remote work differently," Rogers said. "Gen X has more life and professional experience that younger generations will learn from--and which will imminently become hygiene factors in choosing an employer (e.g. flexibility, remote working set up, commitment to work-life balance, etc.)."
Different generations appreciate different aspects of the remote work lifestyle, and will want those things when looking at future employment.
5. Trend toward sustainability
Remote work takes the mental and physical stress out of going into an office, but it also has a significant impact on the environment, which people will begin to take note of, Jackson said.
The average commute time to work is currently 26.1 minutes, which is approximately four and half hours professionals spend a week in their cars, Jackson said.
"If we just reduce the commute, reduce people down by one day, that's a 16% lower carbon footprint," Jackson said. "It would be that much lower, just in one day; and, there would be a 20% reduction in energy consumption by reducing the in-office work week down to four days. You can apply the math to a full week and understand why we're breathing such amazing air right now."
How to prepare for these changes
These five shifts are significant, so companies must prepare for the upcoming changes if they want to stay afloat.
"One of the ways that organizations can ensure business continuity is by having a solid networking infrastructure in place to enable their employees to stay connected and be productive while working remotely," Kozup said.
"This means having the systems and tools to ensure employee access to corporate resources and applications, just as they would if they were working in the office," Kozup added.
"The experience should be consistent, seamless, and secure, which is why implementing a network built on modern, cloud-native principles that can operate with best-of-breed solutions is so important and, frankly, a critical part of preparing for any type of disruption, whether it be a natural disaster or public health crisis," he added.
For more, check out How to become a future-proof, agile organization on TechRepublic.
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