To be clear, remote work is not a new concept. Prior to March 2020, there was already a home office and flexible working. However, the extent to which employees have access to these options varies greatly by industry and company. The pandemic changed everything and triggered the largest global work experiment in history.
Companies were forced to venture into uncharted territory. But it is fair to say that working at home has been a huge success. This was achieved using existing technologies that enabled efficient work, including communication applications such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack for business and general use. Video conferencing services have experienced exponential growth over the course of the pandemic. For comparison, Microsoft Teams, for example, now has 145 million users, compared to about 32 million users before Covid-19.
A survey of 1,200 US professionals conducted by industry service providers Techradar Pro and Smart Brief found that 75 percent of respondents used Teams and more than 80 percent used Zoom during the pandemic. Other notable technology applications that have seen heavy adoption include Cisco, Dropbox, and Skype.
Innovative technology companies such as Everbridge, a critical event management platform, have also come to the fore, enabling businesses to efficiently manage and communicate workforces while enforcing lockdowns.
But not everything was going smoothly everywhere. Understandably, many companies were not equipped to deal with the pandemic situation. Accordingly, the Covid-19 virus has accelerated corporate spending on technology to unprecedented levels. Investments that companies usually spread over several years are made in a matter of months. That’s according to a 2020 survey of the world’s leading technology companies conducted by Harvey Nash and KPMG. The survey found that companies are spending about $15 billion more on technology – per week – to ensure safe remote work during lockdowns – one of the largest increases in technology investment in history.
What does hybrid work mean in practice?
Is working from home now the new normal? Arguably the traditional five-day-a-week in the office is a thing of the past given where we are today. But a permanent transition to a global workforce working from home is unlikely. The “mixed” work model – in which workers split their work week between home and the office – has been recently adopted by many industry leaders. It can be assumed that this approach will be preferred in future by both employees and firms, which have to make concessions to their skilled workers in the face of labor shortage.
In order for the model to be implemented successfully in the long run, some considerations are required. The main problem is the division of the week between home office and office work. A recent survey by management consultants McKinsey shows that expectations for the future of work vary between companies and employees. The majority of CEOs surveyed by McKinsey assume that their employees work in the office three or more days a week. The main reason for this was to maintain the company’s culture and team dynamics. In contrast, more than half of the employees who participated in the study wanted to work from home at least three days a week.
A recent study by consulting firm Gartner also found that 75 percent of employees who prefer working from home to office work have higher expectations when it comes to flexible working. As many as four in 10 of these employees said they would leave their current employer if they were asked to return to the office permanently.
Such surveys give an idea of how important it is for management and employees to come together to achieve the best results for all stakeholders.
Robots and automation are on the rise
The biggest disruption in shaping the future of work will come from innovative technologies. Various activities that have traditionally depended on human labor are being automated by robots, complex algorithms, and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI). The International Data Corporation recently predicted that companies will spend $342 billion on AI in 2021 alone (15 percent increase from 2020). The market is expected to grow another 19 percent in 2022 and to exceed $500 billion by 2024. So, in 10 years, will we all be replaced by robotics solutions that can do our jobs faster, smarter, and at an exponentially increasing scale?
Despite some critical voices, we assume that the continued development of robotics and artificial intelligence will have an overall positive impact on economies and the labor market. A number of jobs will inevitably change or disappear, but AI will also help create new jobs and industries that require new skills and training for the workforce of the future. We don’t believe technology will replace human entrepreneurship and creativity. Instead, it will help us solve some of the biggest challenges that will confront workers, businesses, and the world at large in the future.
Cyber-attack protection becomes essential
Although companies have significantly increased their investment in technology – including cybersecurity in particular – during the pandemic, the Harvey Nash and KPMG survey found that this has been accompanied by an increase in cyberattacks. Undoubtedly, continuing to work from home will increase these risks. The continuous innovation of technologies such as artificial intelligence can help solve the growing threats to cybersecurity. Another problem that more advanced AI can help with is resource efficiency issues in all industries. Significant improvements and innovations can also be made in other important areas such as healthcare.
Our conclusion: robots should not take the reins, but they will facilitate the implementation of many new approaches into working life in the coming years.