The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our work environment and how we interact with our colleagues. But the shift in how and where we work presents an opportunity to reshape and reinvent the workplace for a post-COVID-19 reality. Instead of defining “work” as a single office location, moving forward, experts predict that a much more significant percentage of employees will be allowed to perform their job duties from anywhere they can connect to the internet. Thanks to advancements in cloud-based technology and rapidly evolving policies concerning remote work, these predictions appear more accurate than ever.
However, a distributed workforce is only possible if companies enable their employees with the right tools, support and strategy. “It’s critical for business leaders to understand that large-scale shifts are changing how people work and how business gets done,” says Brian Kropp, vice president of industry research firm Gartner. “HR leaders who respond effectively can ensure their organizations stand out from competitors.” In this blog, we look at how the COVID-19 virus changed the workplace, what we can expect from future workplaces after 2020 and what tools you’ll need to prepare for the future of work.
Workplaces Before 2020
While 70% of employees globally worked remotely at least once a week before the COVID-19 crisis, most workplaces remained concentrated, with only 16% of global companies stating they hired remote employees exclusively. However, as younger employees entered the workforce, companies large and small began to evolve their remote-work policies to accommodate the shift in work preferences. A prepandemic survey found that 85% of millennials wanted flexible work hours and the ability to work from anywhere. With millennials now representing the largest employed generation, it’s no surprise that from 2005 to 2018, remote work grew 173%. While many organizations were considering distributed work or starting to transition to a hybrid work model made up of remote and in-office employees, the COVID-19 pandemic in the first quarter of 2020 forced companies worldwide to support a fully remote workforce immediately.
How the Workplace Changed in Early 2020
A study conducted in 2018 predicted that remote work would equal or surpass fixed office work by 2025. With the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, the future of work arrived much sooner than anyone anticipated. Research firm Gallup released data in April 2020 showing that 63% of U.S. employees worked from home due to coronavirus concerns, and 91% of teams in Asia Pacific implemented work-from-home arrangements since the outbreak.
This sudden shift to remote work has introduced new and profound issues for both employers and employees as the virus necessitated that organizations prioritize safety over preparedness. Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found:
- 71% of employers struggled to adjust to remote work.
- 65% of employers said maintaining employee morale has been a challenge.
- One-third faced difficulties with company culture.
While this paints a grim picture, a preliminary study by research firm Valoir found that remote work had only a small negative impact (1–3%) on productivity during COVID-19, despite significant logistical challenges, including small workspaces, subpar home office equipment and insufficient child care for working parents.
What We Can Expect from Future Workplaces
The workplace of the future will look a lot different after 2020 than it did before, though it remains to be seen to what extent COVID-19 workplace accommodations will persist after the threat of the virus has subsided. While there has been an upward trend toward distributed work over the past two decades, COVID-19 drastically accelerated this trend with more employees working remotely than ever before. With ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, no one knows precisely what future workplaces will look like. Still, based on current trends, we can expect workplaces after 2020 to be more accommodating of distributed work and remote workers. Here are a few ways that future workplaces may look different.
1. Virtual workplaces
Jobs that don’t require employees to work on site may see a big turn toward remote work. Manufacturing, distribution, health care and service-related industries still need the majority of their employees to commute to the workplace for the business to operate; however, jobs outside of these industries may go fully remote or have a much more significant percentage of employees working remotely.
Global Workplace Analytics, a research firm specializing in remote work trends, predicts, “The longer people are required to work at home, the greater the adoption we will see when the dust settles. We believe, based on historical trends, that those who were working remotely before the pandemic will increase their frequency after they are allowed to return to their offices. For those who were new to remote work until the pandemic, we believe there will be a significant upswing in their adoption. Our best estimate is that we will see 25–30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021.”
2. Distributed offices
With more employees working remotely, organizations may open smaller regional hubs or provide remote workers with access to local coworking spaces rather than have the majority of their workforce commute to one central office. Before the pandemic, coworking spaces were the fastest-growing type of office space in commercial real estate. While they currently represent less than 5% of the market, they’re expected to comprise 30% by 2030, according to real-estate company JLL.
“People will still gather for work,” says Brent Capron, the design director of interiors at architecture firm Perkins and Will’s New York studio. “But the amount of time you work in proximity with others, and what your work week looks like — I see that to be the biggest cultural shift moving forward.”
3. Online meetings
As business travel and commuting to the workplace largely halted during the pandemic, video conferencing usage skyrocketed. The remote workforce could safely and effectively meet and collaborate face to face through video calls with their colleagues, clients and customers. As companies continue to cut costs and balance their budgets, many experts believe business travel as we know it will be a thing of the past. “There are a few things, like business trips, that I doubt will ever go back,” says Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft. “It’s simply a measure of necessity and risk.” Since video conferencing has become the accepted alternative to meeting in person, we will likely see an increase in virtual meetings in the future. It is a cost-effective and efficient method for conducting business and communicating with people all over the world.
4. The end of open-floor plans
Open office floor plans were popularized in the 1980s as a way to lower real estate costs, break down barriers between employees and managers and increase team collaboration. Much has been written about the pros and cons of an open office. But if viruses such as COVID-19 become more commonplace, it may be the end of open-floor plans and a move toward more private workspaces. An investigation recently published by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control shows how easily a virus can spread in an open office. On one floor of a call center where 216 employees worked, 94 people tested positive for coronavirus over 16 days.
ZDNet, a business-technology website, predicts, “Open offices aren’t going away completely but will significantly be rethought for the new normal in the workplace. Open offices may wind up serving half the employees they used to due to cost-cutting, safety and worker preferences.”
5. Work from anywhere
According to a recent study by Cushman & Wakefield, a global commercial real estate services firm, 50% of the workforce will likely work across a “Total Workplace Ecosystem” — balancing working from the office, home and other places. Of the respondents to their survey, 73% believe their companies should embrace flexible work policies.
“Work from anywhere” will be the new mantra post COVID-19. Lifesize CEO Craig Malloy explains, “Just as organizations have begun settling into work-from-home arrangements as their ‘new normal,’ there is going to be a ‘next normal’ emerging quickly on the horizon — one that makes returning to work-from-everywhere scenarios possible. This will, yet again, alter the axis of our personal and professional lives, as knowledge workers from educators to bankers to architects, as well as frontline workers in healthcare, retail and customer support contact centers strive to deliver high-touch services from locations outside traditional physical settings.”
Don’t Get Stuck in the Past — Use These 5 Tools to Prepare for the Future Workplace
The last global pandemic was the H1N1 virus in 2009. While plenty of modern technologies existed at that time that allowed people to communicate and collaborate virtually, cloud-based technology was still in its infancy and not yet universally accepted as the digital path forward for business operations. Fast forward a decade, and working remotely is easier than ever before thanks to advancements in dynamic, cloud-based technologies. Everything from video conferencing to web-based project management tools to advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence technology are built in the cloud to take advantage of the real-time processing power of data. Here are five tools delivered via the cloud to help you prepare for the future of work.
1. Video conferencing: Lifesize
Cloud-based video conferencing is especially useful for organizations that embrace a hybrid work model made up of remote and in-office employees since you can connect to a video conference call from conference rooms or anywhere you have access to the internet or a cellular network. The Lifesize app gives you an easy way to start a video chat, join a meeting or schedule a video conference call right from your PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone. This means that remote team members working from home, coffee shops, coworker centers and on the go can all easily connect to a video call and have the same user experience as their in-office colleagues.
2. Team chat: Microsoft Teams
Microsoft Teams is one of the most popular messaging apps and an exceptional tool for persistent collaboration and document sharing within the Office 365® platform. Employees can send one-on-one or group instant messages to their coworkers from any laptop or smart device. Additionally, there are a number of third-party apps that seamlessly integrate with Microsoft Teams. Lifesize integrations with Microsoft Teams adds the Lifesize-quality audio and video experience to the Microsoft Teams interface and extends video conferencing capabilities to partners, prospects and other contacts outside of your organization.
3. Project management: Asana
Asana is a popular web and mobile application designed to help distributed teams organize, track and manage their work. One of the best things about Asana is its simple and easy-to-use interface. It gives you flexibility over how your project board looks, lets you easily move task lists around and highlights project due dates, assignees and progress. You also have access to an activity feed on your dashboard to see what your team is currently working on. Asana makes it possible to work on projects with your entire team, even if you are not physically together.
4. IT enablement: Okta
Okta is an access-management platform that secures a company’s critical resources and provides a single sign-on solution for employees. With Okta, IT can manage employees’ access to any application or device, regardless of their location. It comes with built-in reporting and integrates deeply with cloud, mobile and on-premises applications, directories and identity management systems.
5. File management and sharing: Google Docs
As part of the G Suite apps, Google Docs let you create and work on documents with people inside and outside your organization and see live edits as others type and communicate through a built-in chat feature. Since the documents are stored on Google Drive, you don’t need to install a program on your computer to use it, and you can access the documents from anywhere you have an internet connection. Essentially, workers from all over the world can work on the same file at the same time for increased collaboration and productivity.
The workplace of the future is no longer a single location but a collaborative environment enhanced by technology that enables employees to work from wherever they are most comfortable and productive. This means designing workplaces around flexible work arrangements where employees can come and go from the office based on preference and as project work dictates. More importantly, this means investing in tools that enable seamless work and collaboration regardless of your employees’ locations. The workplace of the future is flexible, mobile and connected.