What a year it has been – and for many reasons, it’s one we would mostly rather forget. We’ve now had eight months, of restrictions, changed ways of working, social distancing and worry. Although the future looks brighter, it is still unclear when things will start to feel like normal.
But it’s not all been bad news. Many of us have got used to remote working, or a mix of doing our jobs at home and in the workplace, and see the benefits that technology can bring.
The possible ways we could all work in the future were hotly discussed at our virtual Round Table event, at which business leaders from organisations of all sizes discussed the potential-long-term impacts of the pandemic. Here are some predictions that we can see coming true in 2021 and beyond.
“Work from home” will become “work from anywhere”
Lots of businesses still have all or the majority of teams working at home and it’s fair to say that even when social distancing and travel restrictions are not in effect, remote working will probably be permanent.
Back in March, we were forced to quickly bring in new technologies to allow staff to work at home. The demand for cloud-based video conferencing like Teams rapidly increased as the only way for workers to connect and it is likely that nearly all businesses will continue to use this, particularly as we’re still advised to work from home if we can.
Looking into 2021, it’s not hard to see why employers may choose to stick with remote working. Most tasks can be accomplished remotely without significant drop in productivity or quality and employees really appreciate the flexibility, especially those with long commute times. When restrictions ease, this could mean staff being able to work from anywhere in the world – not just from home.
Online training and employee onboarding will also stick around and become a major part of staff development as we move forward. Webinars and online courses have been beneficial to staff looking to develop their skills while on furlough.
We’re already seeing AR/VR tools being increasingly used in training activities and this will only grow in the future. Examples of this might be teaching sales, customer service, and leadership skills through interactive avatars in virtual reality.
Increasingly, what you do will matter farm more than where you do it from.
A blended way of working
It seems most likely that teams will eventually split time between remote and in-office work.
Companies understand that employees don’t want to commute but have to balance that with the need to provide a meeting place where workers can collaborate – or work from if they don’t have a suitable option at home.
Right now, and even after Covid is no longer a threat, remote collaboration tools will be important for efficiency and allowing meetings of all sizes to take place.
Interactive displays around the office can help to improve working practices by connecting with Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Better yet, someone in the office can host a meeting while participants dial-in remotely, and all parties can collaborate on screen.
When it’s rolled out next year, 5G will be of particular interest to the many businesses which have fully or partially switched to remote working. Enhanced mobile broadband will improve communications between remote and office workers through more seamless video conferencing. With high-capacity connectivity even in the busiest areas, businesses will benefit from faster secure connections for document collaboration, high-speed downloads and more.
Going back to the office
Lots of people will have missed the social element of being in the workplace, like having a morning meeting then going out for lunch nearby. Companies keen to get back to work (when restrictions allow) could incorporate technologies like wearable devices and sensors, to connect with employees while maintaining social distancing. People are already using apps to assign meeting room availability, and designated work zones to reduce employee contact.
With employers forced to deploy new tools to help teams work together from home, businesses may be more inclined to upgrade other technology in the workplace. Most will want to ensure that meetings, training sessions and collaborative working are as efficient and effective as possible.
Inevitably, there will be staff that are not happy about returning to the office, so businesses are going to have to make changes to the way they keep the office safe. Temperature screening and cleaning tools such as touchless UV light systems are becoming increasingly popular since they’re easy to use and can reduce the spread of infection.
Now that companies have worked hard to overcome many of the tech-related issues which were first realised at the start of the pandemic, focus can now be on improving working practices. We expect employees will demand greater flexibility so companies must implement the right tools and platforms if they want to enable this.