Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and counting, it’s become clear that how business workers feel about this mass work-from-home experiment is only measurable on a sliding scale. They love or hate it - depending on the day or month, the task of the moment or the long-term project, or whether peace or madness reigns in their homes-cum-office.
In some ways, this is no different than the days before, say, mid-March — back when going into the office and in-person meetings didn’t seem like such perilous ideas. But the challenges get magnified within the one-person microcosm that characterizes the office of today. So, what lessons have we learned from all of this remote work? And how will they shape the future of work?
, a global analyst company focusing on current and future trends in technology, tackled these questions this week during its “Predictions Week: 2021 and Beyond
,” event. Clearly, the pandemic and shift to remote working have already hugely impacted the way we work, said Angela Ashenden, who leads the firm’s workplace transformation research practice, during her Predictions Week presentation. “We’ve had to learn how to be productive when working from home, as well as learn how to use new technologies and copy without our colleagues around us,” she said.
While that’s been quite a challenge, it’s shown just how viable this style of working can be — “opening the eyes of employees and business leaders alike” that this is a long-term opportunity, Ashenden added. Evidence abounds, with many companies openly acknowledging that they see wide-scale remote work as a future strength, providing them the opportunity to rethink their physical office footprints and expand their hiring geographies, among other pluses, she noted.
With that backdrop, Ashenden shared three predictions rooted in the changes brought on during the pandemic.
Prediction One: In 2022, more than half of all office-based employees will still be mainly working from home.
“The office will still remain an important part of business life, but its long-held position as the primary place of work is now starting to be challenged,” Ashenden said. Technology, of course, is the enabler, she added, citing the rising use of video meetings in Zoom or Microsoft Teams as examples.
That said, increased reliance on video meetings comes with a downside: a toll on mental health and well-being. “Even aside from our concerns about the virus itself, many of us are working longer hours, spending more time in front of a screen, and many tiring hours on video calls. Stress and anxiety levels are higher, which can [have an] impact on productivity, on employee engagement and satisfaction, and potentially on employee turnover,” she said.
Again, the need to get away from devices isn’t a new problem, but one exacerbated by the constant need for connectivity brought on with WFH. Switching off can be pretty hard to do during the workday, and only having online access to team members can make it more difficult for managers to spot growing stress levels than when meeting in person, Ashenden said.
Technology will play a role here, too, providing the opportunity to “highlight, manage, and mitigate against these issues,” she added. And that leads to her second prediction.
Prediction Two: Features that track and promote well-being appear in all collaboration and HR applications by 2021.
This is an area ripe for innovation among start-ups and established players alike, and activity around this mission is already starting to bubble up. An example of the former includes Welbot, an evidence-based workplace wellness platform, and Microsoft, which recently introduced a Together mode capability in its Teams collaboration platform, Ashenden said. Together mode aims to make the video meeting experience more natural and engaging (see related WorkSpace Connect post, “Video’s Future Is Emerging
Other opportunities lie in better use of analytics to understand behavioral patterns for individuals and teams and to encourage healthy behaviors in a proactive way, she added. Microsoft is taking the lead here, too, she noted (see related WorkSpace Connect post, “Plan a Virtual Commute… & Other Ways to Beat Burnout
Critical as it is, well-being isn’t the only focus of collaboration vendors. “In a remote work world where colleagues aren't interacting in person every day, some of that creative energy can be lost. So, it's vital to find ways to replicate that. This is partly a cultural and business change challenge. But we also need technology that enables and facilitates this kind of interaction in a remote work scenario,” Ashenden said, leading into her third prediction.
Prediction Three: Online whiteboard and co-editing technologies become a hot area of investment in 2021.
The idea of using such technologies for “ideation” had been gaining traction prior to the pandemic, but has now become “hugely relevant in a world where collaboration and innovation has to be done in an entirely distributed fashion,” Ashenden said. As examples, she pointed to the Miro and Mural, digital collaboration platform providers that have received substantial funding since the pandemic’s onset.
Watch for increasing competition in this area, not only among start-ups but the big players like Microsoft and Google, she added.
Love or hate it, it seems remote work will be anything but static going forward.