In just a span of 10 months, we have gone from an employee having to request approval to work from home to an employee having to request approval to work from the office.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has made us reevaluate our lives, change our priorities and transform the way we live, work and play. The pandemic has been a sharp reminder of the fragility of life and the importance of human connections, and we can expect to see a rebalance in work-life commitments and personal-professional priorities going forward as we move into the next decade.
This means that for 2021 and beyond, organisations have some serious rethinking to do in terms of the future of work.
One thing we know for sure is that ‘work’ and workplace of the future is a far cry from what it is today. Here are the top five things to think about as we shape our workspaces over the next few years.
1. Hybrid working model – 2020 saw more individuals and organisations come to the realisation that work can be done from anywhere, to a reasonable degree of efficiency.
At the same time however, there was also the realisation that not everyone can be similarly productive when working from home, or even remotely, as compared to in the office.
For 2021 and beyond, we expect to see organisations becoming more open to redefining what ‘work’ means. Work isn’t a place, it’s what you do, and many companies will shift to a hybrid working model. It’s important to note that hybrid working is different to ‘remote working’ or ‘work from anywhere’ – a true hybrid work model means that for an employee, the work experience is the same no matter where they are, whether in the office, at home, or anywhere in between.
As we move to the hybrid working model, work is no longer defined by how many hours you’ve spent at the work desk, but instead focuses on the outcomes of your work.
For organisations, putting people first will be the key to ensuring a successful hybrid working model. In order to take care of employees’ mental health and wellbeing, organisations will need to find the right balance between time away from the office vs time connecting face to face.
2. Home offices and the rise of the prosumer – Over the next few years, home offices will see a huge transformation.
With more employees accustomed to working from home, home offices will be upgraded and renovated.
More than just throwing a chair and desk in the spare room, those working from home will be looking for the same experience they have in the office – comfortable and sturdy furniture, good lighting and enterprise grade technology and connectivity.
This will make way for the rise of the prosumer – the professional consumer – who isn’t shopping for the cheapest technology to get them by during a temporary lockdown situation.
Prosumers will transform their homes for the long haul, and spend on lightning speed internet, comfortable, noise blocking headsets, and crystal-clear audio and video conferencing solutions which allow them to join Zoom and MSFT Teams meetings with the click of a button.
3. Video – a must have and the way forward – The rapid adoption of remote working during the pandemic meant that almost every organization had to invest in video conferencing gear and solutions in one way or another, whether equipping employees with webcams for use while WFH, or by signing teams up for conferencing platforms like Zoom Pro to help them better connect with colleagues and customers remotely.
Thanks to the pandemic, video is now a common standard for meetings, and at the same time, has become the norm for many industries which didn’t really use video to engage and collaborate with their users and customers; telemedicine is one such example.
When people were unable to leave their homes while shelter-in-place directives were in force, telemedicine providers found themselves ideally placed to meet the medical consultation needs of the many working from home.
The education industry has also been hugely impacted by the Covid-19 outbreak, with schools having to close temporarily. Educators took to home-based learning initiatives, taking their classes to online learning platforms and through video conferencing solutions.
Whether remote consultations with a doctor, video banking, or even online learning, it is clear that video has become mainstream, and in some cases, a critical part of business-as-usual as organizations adapt to a whole new way of doing business.
4. Complete transformation of commercial office space – With hybrid working splitting up office and home workers, we are going to see an interesting change with commercial office spaces. At the very least, lights will continue to remain on in the office. Offices will become a central gathering point for employees to meet, while majority of the work will continue to be done remotely.
While some organizations are looking to reduce headcount on site and reduce real estate costs, many are not ready to make the decision in reducing commercial space.
Instead, employers and businesses will need to look beyond the traditional concept of the central office, and create work spaces that are collaborative and technology-enabled across multiple locations, that accommodate the work style of every employee, and over the long run, to also facilitate business being done from anywhere, instead of being tied down to any one location.
Touchless functionality and technology needs to be integrated into the office space to mitigate the risks of such incidents happening.
5. Better connectivity, better collaboration – 2021 will be the year that 5G finally comes into the mainstream, mostly because COVID-19 has made it painfully clear that faster connectivity was imperative for work to continue, whether in the office, at home, or in between.
5G’s key advantages are many, but the most important are low latency, and much higher throughput. This will change how the workforce approach their day to day, especially as latency is particularly important to video and voice applications; tethering your laptop to your mobile’s 5G connection lets you connect from virtually anywhere a signal is available, and to more effectively collaborate with your team, remotely, as if you were there in person.
Based on my conversations with industry experts and customers, the hybrid working model will be the default for many years to come. Selecting the right technology, tools and the right platforms to achieve this will be a critical component of an organization’s success.