CloudResearch & Whitepapers

How to Prepare the Workforce for a Hybrid Future?


The rush to remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic spurred business investments in technologies to enable a remote workforce and keep businesses operating during the crisis. Now that companies are rethinking of a hybrid workforce, its interesting to understand what the future holds for the enterprise. To have a better understanding of the future workplace trends and challenges, Spiceworks Ziff Davis (SWZD) surveyed 414 IT professionals globally and brings out some interesting aspects on the future workplace.

In a July 2020 SWZD study, the firm recorded that 16% of the workforce was remote before COVID-19 and that 61% of the overall workforce went remote at the height of the public health crisis. The latest research indicates that once it’s eventually safe for workers to go back into the office, 25% of the workforce will be remote. In other words, a quarter of the workforce working partially or completely remote (6%) from home means this is far from a passing trend: It’s here to stay in a meaningful way.

The reality is that most remote employees will operate under a hybrid work model — either because of personal preference or due to the expectation of occasional in-office work. Among the 19% of the workforce that will adopt the hybrid work model, moving to remote locations might make sense, but they would likely want to remain within reasonable commuting distance.
However, there are certain considerations to prepare the workforce for a hybrid future.

The disparity between supply and demand for remote work can be attributed partially to the belief among management that remote workers aren’t as productive, although 70% of IT professionals think remote workers are equally or more productive than onsite workers in a similar role. While most individual contributors (59%) are in favor of remote work, management is less supportive, especially at the executive level (32%).

Challenges in Remote Work Adoption and Execution

It comes as a surprise that only 11% of companies supporting remote workers hired additional IT staff during the pandemic, given the challenges that can arise in organizations adopting a flexible work policy. This bears no weight on the level of work it takes to go remote: 55% of IT professionals say it’s more difficult to support remote workers than those in the office, and 73% say a shift to remote work at their company created additional work for IT.

Insufficient infrastructure is another common challenge among organizations considering a flexible work policy. In 30% of businesses, legacy technology hinders remote work, and poor home internet connectivity limits employees in 55% of all companies and 69% of companies based in rural areas.

Our data also reveals that a stigma exists around remote work among 42% of companies in rural areas, compared to only 29% of organizations in urban areas. As a result, employees working for companies headquartered in rural areas will be much less likely to work remotely after the pandemic ends (12% compared to ~30% in suburban and rural areas).

The ability or lack thereof to easily cut back on office space also factors into whether businesses will implement a flexible work policy. In companies that primarily rent office space, an estimated 41% of employees will go remote after the pandemic (either fully or hybrid), compared to only 17% of workers within companies that primarily own their office space.

Remote Work Technology Opportunities 

It’s clear that the immediate, often-mandated shift to remote work in 2020 fundamentally altered the way we look at the modern workplace. A previous SWZD study suggests at the height of the pandemic, 61% of the overall workforce went remote. And with a newly remote workforce comes new needs and technologies to support them — 55% of companies increased tech spending during the pandemic.

Among companies with flexible work policies, security solutions to support remote workers are poised for the most adoption growth, with an additional 16% planning to adopt them within two years. On the other side of the same security-coin, 33% of companies supporting remote workers plan to adopt tools to monitor employees, which are controversial due to concerns over trust and privacy.

While 40% of companies planning to use remote monitoring software will track employee productivity or time on task, only 21% of IT professionals believe these tools can effectively measure worker productivity.

By 2023, one-third of companies with flexible work policies also plan to adopt hotel desk / hot desk booking systems, which assist hybrid-remote employees in reserving shared office seating and meeting rooms.

“Throughout the pandemic, technology has empowered employees to stay productive and connected, even amid lockdowns and stay-at-home orders,” said Peter Tsai, Head of Technology Insights, SWZD. “From video conferencing, to cloud-based collaboration solutions, to voice over IP, we’re at a point now where technology is mature and reliable enough to support a truly global, remote workforce. In fact, our research indicates 84% of IT professionals believe the technology exists to allow remote workers to be as productive as in-office workers.”

Areas for Improvement

While some aspects of business response to COVID-19 went well, there are several areas where leadership could have done better. In terms of providing clear guidance to employees, many businesses had shortcomings.

Among businesses that allowed remote work, less than 46% had a clear policy on who could work remotely or not and 32% clearly communicated long term remote work plans. Again only 16% employed someone whose primary role is to enable remote work and less than 12% reimburse workers for internet connectivity.

As the pandemic has continued, nearly every company has faced a great deal of pain. According to our data, the departments most impacted by the COVID-19 downturn included supply chain, operations, and sales. Countless news stories corroborated this finding as they reported on a global recession, shortages on everything from computer chips to toilet paper to lumber, and organizations scrambling to stay afloat during lean times.

But as we plan to eventually emerge from the pandemic, some good has come out of the hardship we faced in 2020 and continue to deal with. Many organizations and the global workforce have seen benefits come out of lockdown.

For example, among survey respondents in the study:

  • 57% said COVID-19 resulted in improved workplace flexibility
  • 42% said the pandemic accelerated innovation or digital transformation
  • 34% said the pandemic strengthened communication and collaboration
  • 28% of companies that allow it said morale improved due to remote work
In summary, the study concludes that while many workers will return to the office once it’s safe to do so, there won’t be a return to business as usual. With so many employees working remotely while maintaining high productivity levels, and more than a quarter of the workforce expecting to remain remote permanently, the workplace of the future will continue to offer workers far more flexibility than it did before the pandemic.
This global shift has been enabled by technology, with a focus on IT infrastructure, security networks and a fast internet connection. Additionally, technology is enabling workers to stay connected without the need to commute to the office every day or travel as frequently, improving work-life balance for millions around the world.

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