The Future of Work is Here to Stay

Nothing changes the landscape as much as a pandemic. In the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, the disease caused such dramatic changes to life as we knew it. As a result, researchers are racing to collate data on it, understand it, and create a vaccine. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, working from home became the norm for many. This became a means to stay safe, continue earning a living, and for businesses to remain operational. Without a doubt, the Future of Work has arrived sooner than expected.

Working from home

According to IDC’s May 18 report, this pandemic “has caused complete disruption of the workforce. Employers have had to scramble to quickly move to support a remote workforce. The abrupt shift to managing, measuring, and engaging employees remotely creates a new set of obstacles for employers.

Columbia University School of Professional Studies Dean and Professor of Human Capital Management Jason Wingard warned in an article at Quartz at Work that working from home may affect the home-life balance of those who do:  “Without a delineation between the office and home life, employees may work too much. In one survey of more than 4,500 developers and tech workers, for example, 66% of remote employees reported feeling burnt out. The reason? More than half cited longer work hours.”

With a work from home setup, team leaders “should fight the urge to micromanage their teams and instead act as advocates for their new remote employees, encouraging them to set clear boundaries and to protect themselves from work-from-home exhaustion,” Wingard advised.

New metrics for new steps

IDC’s Asia/Pacific Vice President of Security Practice Simon Piff wrote that “Work from Wherever (WFW) has become the world’s new normal. Geographies, where work from home set-ups have recently become a legal mandate, are observing this practice.”

“To ensure seamless and efficient continuity of this new work style, change must happen at the organizational level,” Piff wrote. He noted that a poll taken by IDC in Asia/Pacific showed that organizations are “mainly concerned with the drop in productivity.”

He also wrote that “people and processes need adequate time to adapt to this new normal.” According to him, “specific business needs must be carefully studied in order to fully understand and address the issues faced.”

“Concerns around privacy and cybersecurity appeared third in the list of challenges” faced by the survey participants, Piff added. “Perhaps as more businesses settle into the current situation, it will be easier to allocate funds in order to address security concerns on working remotely that have been around even before COVID-19.”

The IDC recommendations Piff shared in his article are:

  • Invest in IT/cybersecurity to build digital trust for customers, employees, and partners
  • Explore industry application scenarios for 5G and IoT
  • Create a new remote office and enterprise collaboration system
  • Improve efficiency and reduce costs by optimizing operations
  • Explore new business models and business growth areas (via digital)

Customer-centric processes to create extraordinary customer experiences. Organizations must consider mining the value of information and data to achieve insights at scale. They must develop a competitive digital culture and organization. Furthermore, they need to make improvements to the working environment to attract and retain talent. Organizations must also build strengthened software capabilities to achieve digital innovation at scale

Benefit to society

Businesses’ contributions to the efforts to stem the tide of COVID-19 infections are vital for beating back the pandemic. Distilleries are ramping up the production of hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol. On the other hand, clothing manufacturers are mass-producing personal protective equipment for medical personnel. Meanwhile, hotels are hosting medical front-liners and transients caught by lockdowns and quarantines.

Businesses rising to this call now are working for the social good. Here are some examples of leading organizations using technology to beat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Corporate social responsibility is already a business byword. Employees and customers care about the values of the companies they interact with. Contributing to social good is good for business.

New workforce needs

In recent (pre-COVID-19) IDC research, 62% of U.S. workers indicated that their organization offers some flexibility regarding remote work, while 58% said that they enjoy full flexibility in regard to location and time – and 56% of their senior decision-makers agree.

Some 69% of employees worked from a centralized or branch office before the onset of the crisis and another 16% were at remote company locations. Only 15% of employees regularly traveled or worked from home.

Over 50% of respondents to the worker survey said they had difficulty communicating with and/or collaborating with internal colleagues, and 43% said this difficulty extended to external stakeholders. Almost 40% said that they lacked effective remote access.

Though organizations understand that employees are looking to work in more flexible ways, 67% of respondents indicate that they grapple with the tension between flexibility and security.  The speed of technology change has also been a challenge. 62% of companies shared that they struggle to keep up with workers’ expectations as their consumer experiences color their view of how work should be.

Almost three-fourths of the respondents agreed that a future workspace model will drive business value. Further, almost three-quarters have dedicated work transformation budgets. Those budgets were expected to increase by an average of 11% over the next 12 months. However, that spending may now be accelerated.

IDC’s recommendations include ensuring that employees have the basic tools and connectivity to log on and access corporate resources with protocols for VPN, SSO, and similar tools for the 40% who don’t offer effective remote access. Another piece of advice is to explore the myriad offers coming across your email for content sharing, collaborative tools, video conferencing, etc. Finally, consider new protocols for meetings, collaboration, and other social interactions.

Change as a need

Businesses now truly need to change inflexible work environments, talent limitations, rigid organizations and hierarchical leadership, and conflicting security, privacy, and trust requirements.

Where this Future of Work report envisioned that human workers would operate side by side with digital co-workers to enable humans to focus on higher-value activities by 2021. Unquestionably, this timeline needs to be brought up to 2020, and at the soonest possible time. Moreover, it envisioned that the contribution of digital co-workers will increase by 35%. More tasks will be automated and augmented by technology. This includes artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality/virtual reality, and intelligent process automation.

One of IDC’s Future of Work reports quoted Holly Muscolino, Research Vice President for Content and Process Strategies. She stated, “The future of work isn’t really about the future — it is about initiatives that companies need to pursue now.” Organizations that embrace these technological and organizational changes and cultivate an agile, dynamic worker experience and work environment will gain a competitive edge.