The Workplace of the Future: Four Waves of Remote Working

Photo credit: iStockphoto/rclassenlayouts

Every year, think tanks, businesses academics and analysts give their view on the technology trends that they believe will most impact the future workplace — and how those technologies are shaping business technology investment. Over the years, the pressures driving toward remote working have been building, but no one could have predicted the seismic shift caused by COVID-19. Entire functions of many global organizations are now working remotely, and this looks set to permanently alter the way people think about the world of work.

Remote working is no longer a benefit, luxury or convenience. It’s also more than a current make-do for organizations looking to conduct business as usual. In conjunction with Boston Consulting Group, we published the Return to Business as Unusual: Workplace of the future white paper to advise on the mission critical tech building blocks that business leaders need to support this unprecedented wave of remote working. This article explains how our workplace has been changing, and will be changed by the remote working model, as well as how senior leadership in an organization can manage through the trend to create a competitive edge.

COVID-19 caused a seismic shift

Before coronavirus hit, remote working had been steadily increasing, yet most organizations have largely stayed true to the idea of the office workplace. One reason for this is that many were built in the last century, and the leadership of today’s corporate world is still primarily defined by the baby boomer generation — a group that entered the workforce before mobile phones, personal computers and the internet even existed. For them, the office is where work is done, and the very concept of remote working may raise concerns over productivity and motivation.

This is why many organizations have not enabled remote working as part of their business as usual before now. Those organizations that were still largely built around an office-based model are the ones that have had to scramble the hardest over recent months in the drive to set up remote working capabilities.

The four waves of remote working

Source: Return to business as unusual: Workplace of the future. P.2; Copyright: Verizon Business, Boston Consulting Group

What’s interesting is that, over recent years, we’ve already seen “traditional” ways of working being pressured from various directions, including the impact of the sharing economy on lifestyle, the gradual decline in commute efficiency, the fight for millennial talent and the impact of the climate crisis on air travel. This is perhaps why many jobs were already starting to be enabled remotely, from contact centers to customer service, computer programming to sales, data entry to medical billing, coding to design.

These pressures didn’t all happen simultaneously, either locally or globally.  These led to waves of progression in remote working. The first wave was driven by cost pressure. The second was born out of experience from the first wave that it was easier to attract and retain young talent who had a different set of life priorities than their more senior colleagues, or that business benefited from tapping the supply chains of the shared economy.

COVID-19 adds two more waves

COVID-19 has brought about a globally synchronized third wave that is allowing businesses to stay functional during government lockdowns and social distancing measures. The virus is creating more intense pressure to work remotely on management and the entire workforce simultaneously. Boston Consulting Group sees this as ushering in a greater comfort in remote working that will reshape our future workplaces and make flexible work arrangements increasingly the norm.

What is becoming clear is that in the post-COVID-19 new normal — the fourth wave of remote working — organizations wishing to drive sustainable competitive advantage will have to resolve a set of challenges across both technologies and people. Underlying this wave is the accelerating deployment across key industries of a set of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and spatial sensing and mapping. The people component in the equation must piece together talent attraction and retention, and the effectiveness of employee engagement and partner engagement in a cohesive manner.

For example, remote workers will need access to experts, call center operators will need an environment where security and data privacy issues are well addressed, and teachers will need to monitor tests and exams. It’s critical to start with the user’s needs and create a user experience that threads back through the supporting technologies to create a user-friendly and highly functional working environment.

It's up to senior leaders to manage through this inflection point to ensure the business continues uninterrupted while capturing sustainable competitive advantage.

Sampath Sowmyanarayan, president for global enterprise at Verizon Business, authored this article. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of HR&DigitalTrends. Photo credit: iStockphoto/rclassenlayouts