Many companies are planning a new combination of remote and on-site working, giving rise to a hybrid work model in which employees can work from home, office, or anywhere.
Historically, organizations have been reluctant about letting their employees work from home, despite studies proving time and again that flexible and remote working increases productivity and employee satisfaction. The conventional wisdom had been that offices were critical to productivity, culture, and winning the war for talent. Needless to say, companies competed intensely for prime office space in major urban centers. In fact, most people took pride in the fact that they commuted to their gift-wrapped offices every day, regardless of the type of work they do.
The going was good… and then the global pandemic hit and everything changed.
People were forced to work from home (wfh) almost overnight and flexible work models replaced traditional ones. In fact over the last ten months or so, there has been a seismic shift in how people think about their work and workplaces. This ‘new normal’ as pundits call it, became a stark reality of 2020.
While news websites are flooded with stories around remote working in recent times, it is important to understand the ‘next normal’ and how the trend on remote and flexible work would pan out in the coming months.
In the last few weeks, at CXOToday, we spoke to some of the experts in the tech industry to get an insight on what we can expect from remote work going forward, and how technology can transform remote working experience and workplace behavior. Let us hear from the experts.
“While remote working existed in parts even before the pandemic, the last few months have taught us that it’s possible to work remotely. In a white-collar work environment, the productivity question will always be up for debate, but we have seen that it can be efficient if you have the right IT infrastructure and collaboration tools.
Having said that, in-person interactions bring in a different flavor altogether which technology can never fully replace. There are some jobs that cannot be done remotely (like retail sales) and there are some tasks that are better done face-to-face (like brainstorming or creating a vision/plan). Hence, I think the future of work will be hybrid with a mix of remote working and working from office.” – Rahul Agarwal, MD & CEO, Lenovo India
“We foresee that the future of work is hybrid working. Acceptance of remote working will of course continue. The ‘traditional office’ as we know it won’t disappear but it will take new form and shape and people will split their time between home (office) and office. In that sense, organizations will have to re-purpose or redesign the workspace and the number of people physically attending a meeting will reduce. Going forward, there will be a need to have high quality collaboration solutions for all virtual interactions and organisations will spend the right technologies like high quality video conferencing which has AI integrated in it so that meetings feel as real and in-person as possible. Companies will also shift their focus to providing employees who are working from home with the best collaboration tools that enable them to reduce distractions and improve productivity, no matter the work location. In 2021, work will no longer be defined by location or hours; instead it will focus solely on the outcome. -Ankur Goel, Managing Director, Poly India & SAARC
“Remote work has always been a part of the companies’ policy, but the current scenario has made organizations consider it as a norm rather than an exception. However, both employers and employees have a mixed reaction to it. There are certain pros & cons involved in every work culture, but what’s important is to implement it with the right set of rules and strategies. The organization must come up with plans to help employees find the right balance between work and life. There is no doubt the remote work culture, though not a new concept but a new norm is here to stay. However, it depends upon the organization how they want to segregate their workforce between digital and physical workplace, depending upon the nature of work. But it’s high time we understand and learn to look beyond the workplace to build a strong and loyal relationship.” – Shyam Verma, Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO), JK Technosoft
“Although it’s contended that for developing nations like India, work-from-home may not be very effective because of the nature of occupations which are physical in nature for a majority of our workforce, I believe, the silver lining is that the IT/BPM industry which employs 4.4 million workers and contributes to 8% of the country’s GDP, is well positioned to leverage the work-from-anywhere approach using collaboration and cloud technologies. Many organizations have announced strategic plans to transition to a target proportion of remote workers over the next 3-5 years. The recent compliance relaxations by the center for OSPs provide further flexibility to create a hybrid work-from-anywhere model based on specific client and organizational imperatives. This augurs well for an accelerated operational transformation at organizations leveraging digital frameworks that factor in location-independent delivery while ensuring security and agility. The eventual percentage of remote workers for each organization would depend upon its specific needs and context.” – Vivian Gomes, SVP & Head of Marketing, CSS Corp
“This year has been a seminal year that will accelerate the transition to alternative workplace arrangements and thereby allowing a lot of new forms of employment to also be created. At Deloitte our survey in Jan 2020 showed that less than 10% of companies had a formal work from home policy but through the year most organizations were able to transition, with different levels of effectiveness in that structure. The trick was in two aspects, firstly adoption of technology – most companies already had the tools to enable virtual working – but were not being used for the second aspect – a lack of broad cultural acceptance of virtual or remote working. That acceptance has now happened. While a significant part of 2021 will still be fraught with health concerns dominating decisions on workplace – the larger reality issue companies will need to address would be what happens once health risks reduce. Would companies be able to balance the obvious financial benefits of virtual work with the hidden costs and risks of culture, security etc. Companies will need to genuinely invest to enable employees to work from home.” – Anandorup Ghose, Partner Deloitte India
“Prior to the pandemic, many organizations were skeptical about the idea of having remote workers. The gradual adoption of digitization was changing it though. But the year 2020 played the catalyst, giving momentum to this gradual change and making it an overnight emergency transition for almost everyone. Digital tools were always there, and the flexibility to work from anywhere, anytime was always possible too. Interestingly, it took a pandemic to make it prominent and official. With remote working, what I see as a major benefit is that companies can invest well in their digital infrastructure and can now choose to have a multitude of people working for them. Also, organizations can choose to save their facility management expense too. As workspace expenses can be taking up a great chunk of the Opex, remote working can bring a great relief to the organisations,” – Vikas Bhonsle, CEO, Crayon Software
“Employees now are looking forward to a new and flexible work environment, where sitting in cubicles is a thing of the past, the new generation of employees now prefer to either work from home or cafes, giving rise to the trend of ‘anywhere operations’. The model for anywhere operations is ‘digital first, remote first’ where digital should be the default at all times. Security is still a concern but with Zero trust and edge computing taking precedence remote working will be more secure, agile, robust and flexible. Remote access security solutions will help in fighting such cyberattacks and protecting the assets of the company, employees and everyone associated with them, with the government’s backing, increased hiring under remote working criteria despite the pandemic and organizations announcing WFH facilities to its employees, 2021 will definitely see remote working becoming the new norm.” – Shibu Paul, VP-International Sales, Array Networks
“While work-from-home was initially a way to keep businesses going during the lockdown, organizations are undeniably realizing the benefits of building a remote, world-class teams, where employees can work from any part of the world. Interestingly, remote working has not been a mere trend. 2020 also saw several technological tools being launched to aid the remote working culture. Innovative video calling apps, platforms and APIs to offer a secure remote working environment, corporate virtual private networks (VPNs), Internet of Things, and AI-driven processes and tools, etc. will make remote working more efficient and secure. Given the current trend, remote working is here to stay. It will help employees reduce the time taken to travel to and from the office, live in well-connected city areas, and reduce the load on commercial hotspots around the globe. As more organizations are working towards making remote working hassle-free and more efficient, 2021 is expected to usher in some innovative changes and make remote working the norm.” – Neeraj Singh, Co-founder and CTO, Groww
“Remote working has gone from being a stop-gap arrangement in the pandemic to a work-style revolution where managers are now experimenting and discovering its efficacy. The challenge with remote working, as I see it, will not be as much the dipping productivity of the employees as it will be the mental health of the work population.
Working remotely does allow staying close to family but also takes away a social ecosystem – the office. The next-generation of workers of the economy will have to find new digital ‘water coolers’.” – Anushka Shetty, Co-founder, Plop Stories
“Working remotely has become a norm and studies have proved that it boosts productivity and costs to the company. Many organizations have already announced that their employees can work remotely until the end of 2021 and some even announced permanent remote working. This will aid a new trend of hybrid in-office and remote based companies where tools focused on remote working, services and resources will continue to grow. Unified workspace, endpoint security, cloud services will help in providing security and high productivity for remote working. As security has been one of the major concerns, with many assets now existing outside of the traditional security perimeter to the substantially increased cyberattacks, remote working will continue to be a challenge. But, with the evolving trend of ‘Cybersecurity Mesh’ that essentially allows for the security perimeter to be defined around the identity of a person or thing, security will be less of a worry. It enables a more modular, responsive security approach by centralizing policy orchestration and distributing policy enforcement. – Gurpreet Singh, MD at Arrow PC Network Pvt. Ltd (Titanium Partner – Dell Technologies)
“The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the way we work and perceive the work around us. With increase in remote work trend, we are seeing digital and emerging technologies adoption on steroids by organizations globally. We’ve seen in recent times how the traditional business models have struggled to survive or have been disrupted massively. The potential of technologies like cloud, analytics and AI is unequivocal and in fact transformation can be hard and digital ones even harder if we aren’t bold to question the status quo. The remote work culture is here to stay and 2021 is a reboot moment for all of us. We either ride the wave or get drowned – it’s all about the choice we make.” – Sachin Arora, Partner and Head –Analytics, AI & Big Data, KPMG in India
“The pandemic has taught us several lessons. One such significant lesson is how people can work remotely and yet deliver superior performance working independently or within teams. Several enterprises struggled in the initial phases of the lockdown with the high technology dependence and related investments, technology trainings for employees to work better and related change management issues that remote working forced us upon. But in the end, people did eventually deliver and accepted that this is going to be the norm. 2021 will see hybrid working models with several employees now preferring remote work citing better productivity and flexibility. Enterprises will invest in building remote-friendly cultures as they continue to heavily rely on technology for enabling productive work and better employee experience. There will be increasing focus on significantly strengthening cyber-security and compliance practices to protect business. Managers will continue to focus on working with peers and teams to identify what is and what isn’t working and make continuous improvements to deliver superior employee engagement. Work from anywhere will be here to stay.” –Srividya Kannan, Founder, Director – Avaali Solutions Pvt Ltd
The key takeaways:
To sum up, the accelerating remote work culture born during COVID-19 is bound to further propel the growth of flexible workspace, especially since several employers are looking at remote working as a long-term practice.
- What comes out clear from these conversations is that while flexible and remote work will (in most parts) has already become a norm for Businesses in 2021 and it is here to stay, many companies are planning a new combination of remote and on-site working, giving rise to a hybrid work model in which employees can work from home, office, or anywhere, As a recent Cisco study, also reveals that 90% of office workers in India would prefer a hybrid work model in 2021. Employees want greater ownership in defining how and when they use office space, with a combination of office-based and remote work.
- Technology is an important driver of this new hybrid or flexible workplace. Businesses need to invest in new technologies (video and collaboration tools) and redesign their office spaces so as to help employees work with increased focus and efficiency which in turn can restore a greater work-life balance.
- CIOs and internal IT staff will have to work overtime to keep employees secure, connected and productive. At the same time the need for external support has become equally or even more important.
- Perhaps the biggest lesson of 2020 for businesses is that for some, work is not a place. Work is an outcome and this would be an interesting space to watch out for in 2021.