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Redefining our jobs in new and remote work environments

Published December 15, 2021

Worker preferences and expectations about their jobs have transformed since the early days of pandemic, especially with regards to workplace, schedule, freedom and inclusion. That’s largely because today’s professional workforce is more remote than ever and unlikely to ever return to the office fully. This marks a fundamental shift in work culture and spotlights the need for organizations to adapt to new work styles and needs.

The rate of US workers returning to the office is at a pandemic high according to Kastle Systems, a security systems company that also tracks office occupancy across U.S. metropolitans. But that’s not indicative of a long-term trend. Work-from-home productivity has proven effective globally, and many employees wonder why they should need to return at all – this of course varies by job type and demands.

In any case, the hybrid workplace is here to stay. And to succeed in this new world, workforce and technology leaders will have to figure ways to complement evolving workforce policies and procedures with collaboration technologies to ensure a productive and fair environment for all.

Hybrid workplace trends

The most widely visible of all is remote work. Gartner estimates that remote workers will represent 32 percent of all employees worldwide by the end of 2021, up from 17 percent in 2019. And as offices reopen, 51 percent of those remote workers will be working in a hybrid environment, such as from home or somewhere else at least one day a week.

These are unprecedented shifts that require long-range planning around management culture, HR procedure, real-estate use and growth strategy. But right now, the new world is already “impacting how and where remote workers use IT equipment,” Gartner notes.

By country, Gartner expects the U.S. to lead in remote workers in 2022, accounting for 53 percent of the workforce. Estimates for Europe put the U.K. in the lead at 52 percent in 2022, while remote workers in China and India will account for 28 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

So, there is much to consider, regardless of where in the world you are. This is especially true for HR and IT leaders. They must rethink how to provision technology remotely, share network access and maintain data security across on-site and remote populations. For these reasons, IT leaders are already being forced to hasten digital transformation plans, shortening horizons by five years or more.

Additionally, organizations across industries have stepped up investments across a range of remote-enabling technologies, such as teleconferencing, telemedicine, internet infrastructure and data privacy protection. This last one is big. Remember that for many organizations, home networks now comprise the bulk of the enterprise network.

In short, COVID-19 has been and remains a tall order for executives and planners at nearly every level and facet of the organization.

Related: The work from home trend shifted consumer sentiment locally-here's how to take advantage

Tools and technology for successful hybrid environments

So many organizations are now grappling with finding the right technology to power and support their hybrid workforces. They must balance employee demands for remote access and flexibility with security. All the while they’re still planning for longer term investments, such as for cloud adoption, VPN capacity and in some cases, Software Defined networks such as SD-WAN.

Another big investment trend is in AI capability. According to Cisco’s Hybrid Work Index, the use of AI increased 200 percent between July and September 2021.

Other major IT investment trends include:

  • Collaboration apps – absolutely fundamental to hybrid work   
  • User-centric security for heightened threats of attack on remote workers
  • Home-to-work connectivity – home networks are now part of the enterprise network
  • Cloud provider networks – more favored now than Internet Service Providers (ISP)

In sum, the new hybrid reality has forced organizations to ramp up their pursuit of better ways to connect teams, secure data and automate processes for a more hybrid workforce.

A changing culture

With hybrid workplace comes hybrid culture. This has brought many of us greater freedoms in how we schedule our work and our personal time, where we work, when we travel (and for how long) and how we dress and groom (or not).

A recent experiment with employees at a healthcare company showed that the freedom to not share video on virtual meetings reduced fatigue, especially for women and new hires, who tended to feel more pressure to project what they perceived to be an appropriate appearance.

Personal hygiene freedoms aside, the most practical, major benefit of hybrid work is that it has spared many of us the burden of commuting, which saves time and money, and in many cases improves productivity – there are simply more hours in the day.

At the same time, remote workers are on their own enhancing their productivity and connectivity through devices. Gartner predicts that through 2024, remote workers will use at least four different device types for remote working. That’s up from three devices in 2019.

Okay so now a bit of the downside. Yes, the freedom to go off camera is great. However, seeing faces on camera is useful. It conveys expression and body language, which can help us understand tone, emphasis and engagement. This is useful information for presentations and trust building. Problem is, it can also feel like another unnecessary layer of monitoring and control.

Many argue that we simply don’t need video sharing in every single engagement. And not every engagement should require a prescheduled meeting.

In this sense, hybrid work hastened a cultural trend that was already underway: the gradual replacement of informal communication with formalized meetings and booked Zoom calendars. We feel less freedom to just pick up the phone and dial, or walk over to a colleague’s desk, uninvited.

Despite some remote workers feeling the Big-Brother effect, there remains a real need for monitoring. Gartner predicts that by 2023, 10 percent of workers will try to fool AI-driven tracking systems. The possibility of such activity will fast forward an organization's digital business transformation.

Hybrid work checklist

  • Engage on-site and remote workers with secure and collaborative experiences
  • Adapt to changing workstyles and job needs
  • Provide secure access to data and other IT resources
  • Map out flexible and inclusive team engagement strategies that bring remote workers into the fold

All employees, on-site and remote, should have the opportunity for immersive experiences on a day-to-day basis. Again, that’s why organizations are investing in communication and collaboration apps and rethinking workforce policies and training programs. These efforts have already come a long way in helping us engage with each other via virtual white-boarding sessions, demonstrations, presentations and more. And the need will only increase. 

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