According to Global Workplace Analytics, the number of employees who work from home (WFH) rose 173% between 2005 and 2018. The 2020 global pandemic accelerated the number of people working remotely.
Pre-pandemic, 55% of global companies already offered some type of remote work—and 18% of the world’s workforce telecommuted full time. More companies have recognized the cost benefits of transitioning at least a portion of their employees to permanent remote work. In fact, Gartner predicts 74% of companies will use remote work as a viable policy for cost management.
That policy change, however, presents a different challenge for companies: ensuring that their employees have the right tools to successfully complete their work and maintaining their focus and productivity.
Current and Future Workforce Needs
Remote employees will need the right technology—as will their companies—including reliable connectivity, devices, accessories, and updated software. Many industry experts predict that organizations will budget more money for tech investments in 2021 and beyond. That initial investment might affect the bottom line in the short term, but companies who commit now to these improvements and upgrades will see long-term benefits.
To maintain an effective remote-working model, IT and CIO leaders should implement:
- Cloud-ready applications and strategies for reinforcing collaborations, core operations, and support
- A corporate wide area network (WAN) to connect disbursed users plus secure, reliable mobile connectivity to access the cloud apps
- A strong enterprise risk management (ERM) strategy that provides end-to-end network performance monitoring to protect control, security, and usability
- Zero-trust security which strengthens networks against external and internal threats; this model maintains strict access controls rather than trusting everyone by default
- An automation-enabled scalable network, like software-defined networking (SDN) and virtualized network services (VNS) that adapt and evolve to support new usage patterns and prioritize applications based on availability
- A resilient end-user support model and supply chain capable of handling spikes in demand for both IT support and equipment like laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices
Top Software Tools
The pandemic forced how many companies communicated internally and with clients, coordinated meetings, managed tasks and projects, and collaborated. Some experts predict businesses will significantly increase their investment in productivity fundamentals and that the trend will continue beyond 2021 to also influence the evolution of productivity software over the next 10 years.
Zoom became the most popular video communication tool to facilitate online meetings. Its use increased 67% between January and mid-March 2020, and more than 90K schools in 20 countries use it to teach classes remotely. Experts predict it’s here to stay for at least the near future, though it will likely see increased competition from other videoconferencing companies.
Other software tools that continued to grow in popularity during the pandemic and that companies should consider adding or expanding to support a remote workforce include:
- The chat tool Slack
- Online meeting tool Calendly, for coordinating meetings
- Project and task management tools Trello, Asana, ClickUp, Notion, and Monday
- Online collaboration tools like Miro, a collaborative whiteboard platform
- All-in-one online workspace platforms like Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace (formerly G Suite)
Whether a company is based nearly entirely on premises with a limited remote workforce, follows a hybrid model—with WFH and multiple hubs or micro hubs—or operates nearly entirely in a virtual environment, having the right technology that’s scalable and flexible to meet the organization’s needs is critical.
Organizations will need to develop and enhance technology tailored to how its employees work. CIO predicts those technology improvements will include:
- Better cameras in all devices, including PCs.
- Better audio technologies including muting/unmuting, sound quality, and AI-powered natural language processing (NLP) engines that can capture and transcribe conversations more accurately.
- Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that help monitor workplace/employee safety and wellbeing, like touchless entrances integrated into badges or smartphones, and that can help building operations managers control office environments.
Smart LEDs will automatically adjust lighting based on daylight levels and temperature; the act of booking a meeting room could trigger an adjustment to airflow based on projected occupancy.
- More multi-cloud management solutions to monitor and secure applications from cyberthreats.
- An increase in connected whiteboard devices, like Jamboard, Surface Hub, and Flip, in physical meeting rooms to bridge gaps between virtual and on-site employees.
Adding a Remote Office Stipend
Quickly switching gears to work from home—often with fewer than 24 hours’ notice—meant that a lot of employees set up shop at dining room or kitchen tables. As the months passed and the reality that a WFH situation would become a longer “temporary” than originally anticipated, more employees set up more effective workspaces in their homes, often absorbing those costs themselves.
While companies that already have a remote workforce typically include remote work stipends in their benefits packages, other businesses with a majority (or total) in-office workforce don’t. However, providing a budget to employees so that they can better outfit a dedicated home workspace supports productivity and focus and supports establishing a healthy work-life balance.
Experts recommend providing remote/WFH employees with not only a computer and monitor but also a set budget with which they can purchase items like:
- An ergonomic, supportive chair which helps promote good posture and keeps aches and pains that can accompany an 8-hour day from accumulating over time
- A dedicated work desk—and adjustable desks that allow people to change positions and sit or stand to work remain quite popular
- A laptop stand can help reduce eye strain, facilitate good posture, and improve airflow for sensitive electronics
- Noise-canceling headphones (with microphones) to help filter out extraneous sounds and distractions—always a good thing for people who have to work in a more open space that includes ambient noise
Technological innovations will continue well beyond 2021 to support organizations that return to an all on-site approach, opt for hybrid workforces, or embrace an entirely virtual approach. Whether you need to upgrade or expand your organization’s current technology or equip your employees with the right tools to support their work at home or in office, the members of CREA United can help. Del McLennon, Director of Business Development at Safari Solutions, Inc.; Justina Kopec, VP of Business Development at Microwize Technology; Alpesh Shah, President of RevSystems, Inc.; Scott Kuperman, Director of TeamLogic IT; Mike DeSomma, President and CEO of Teknalysis Corp.; and Debra Hoffman, President of System Office Design offer paralleled depth and breadth of experience and knowledge in how to find, incorporate, and use technology to achieve business goals.