COVID-19 Will Forever Change Our Ways of Working

Simon Piff, IDC’s Asia/Pacific Vice President of Security Practice, shares his thoughts on how COVID-19 will forever change our ways of working post-COVID-19.

Work from Wherever as the New Norm

By now, Work from Wherever (WFW) has become the world’s new normal. Geographies, where work from home set-ups have recently become a legal mandate, are observing this practice. We’re seeing kids on distance learning while adults stake out corners of the house to set up their makeshift offices, spending eight or more hours a day staring at whatever screen is available. The COVID-19 pandemic vastly accelerated this novel concept of working. As we look to the future, it merits asking: are some of us finding we are more productive by not being in the office? And if that is the case, why would we return? Is this our brave new working world post-COVID-19?

Clearly, not all functions can be carried out remotely. For those that can, the increased efficiency of not having to travel, even across an office from meeting to meeting, is resulting in more collaborative discussions within a finite space of time. The ability to switch rooms and meetings, literally at the touch of a button or a click of a mouse, is proving to be a bonus to employers, and to employees who can manage their time well. And yes, the world is realizing that some meetings really could’ve just been emails.

Assuming these new habits around working due to COVID-19 are here to stay, what are some of the challenges we are seeing? To ensure seamless and efficient continuity of this new work style, change must happen at the organizational level.

Changing Collaboration at IDC

IDC did a recent flash poll of WFW practices among its own employees in AP (excluding Japan). Unsurprisingly, the use of digital collaboration technology went through the roof. While within IDC it was a somewhat painless transition (the organization has a highly motivated and mobile workforce, WFW is not a new concept for many), there are still some drawbacks. The lack of human interaction and the two-dimensional nature of video calls meant some employees felt they were missing social nuances delivered by body language – which, by any means, is not a showstopper. Luckily, IDC got to prepare. Externally, other organizations have identified their concerns and challenges regarding WFH in a broader outreach study recently undertaken.

External Challenges
  • Organizations polled are mainly concerned with the drop in productivity. IDC has heard this before as part of our Future of Work research. This is tied closely to Work Culture and the propensity of management for sufficient employee motivation.
  • The second concern is the inability to resolve some business issues when working remotely. The variety of industries that responded made it complicated to address. Remote fixing will be a challenge if a piece of equipment or product needs repair. That is, at least until suitable robots are designed and built. Decision-making, communication, ideation, and education can all be done remotely. But, people and processes need adequate time to adapt to this new normal. The distributed world of COVID-19 challenged the traditional model of working in a centralized manner. Specific business needs must be carefully studied in order to fully understand and address the issues faced.
  • Concerns around privacy and cybersecurity appeared third in the list of challenges. This was a predictable outcome. IDC has been tracking the security maturity of organizations across the region for a number of years. The areas for improvement remain the same. Perhaps as more businesses settle into the current situation, it will be easier to allocate funds in order to address security concerns on working remotely that have been around even before COVID-19.

Coping with this new normal appears to be underway in many parts across the region. The abovementioned (albeit somewhat late) security investments are at the top of the list, as well as deeper exploration as to what 5G can offer since most organizations are seeing a rapid increase in the use of virtual workspaces, remote training, and video conferencing.

Guidance from IDC

When the pandemic is finally under control, we will find work and how people work to be permanently changed. For those still contemplating how to address this, IDC offers some guidance:

  • Invest in IT/cybersecurity to build digital trust for customers, employees, and partners
  • Explore industry application scenarios for 5G and IoT
  • Create a new remote office and enterprise collaboration system
  • Improve efficiency and reduce costs by optimizing operations
  • Explore new business models and business growth areas (via digital)

Ultimately, digital resiliency will be the new strategy moving ahead. This comes along with the mindset that massive disruptions that are happening now may, in fact, happen again. Alongside that, digital innovation remains to be the leading strategy for digitally-determined organizations. So merging this with the need for resilience, the following should continue regardless of the crisis being faced:

  • Customer-centric processes to create extraordinary customer experiences
  • Mining the value of information and data to achieve insights at scale
  • Competitive digital culture and organization
  • Improvements to the working environment to attract and retain talent
  • Strengthened software capabilities to achieve digital innovation at scale
Working Tomorrow

Video conferencing is clearly mainstream now. With the lack of human interaction and large-scale forced proof of concept, video is replacing audio-only conferencing in a bid to satisfy employee need for human interaction. Looking ahead, this will change many things. For example, we are now easily able to identify “contributors” and “absorbers” in video conferences as their image appears whenever the contributors talk. So do the absorbers need to be in the meeting, or will a recording suffice for them in the future?

And what of social mores and graces? The occasional barking dog or chirping bird no longer merit mentions, while visits from bored offspring have become welcome distractions. We are becoming more forgiving of casually-dressed colleagues and less-than-corporate backgrounds, with reports of unshaven chaps in their T-shirts and shorts in chaotic environments, or colleagues who absentmindedly do otherwise-private activities onscreen. Will HR have to legislate what can and cannot be worn in a video call, from your own home? New questions around work culture will emerge and over time, new resulting standards will be determined.

Some industry applications like healthcare have already seen a massive ramp-up in telehealth interactions. Should this persist, the boon for home-based care will be felt for years to come.

Embracing Digital Workers

Human-machine collaboration is also likely to see increased interest. It will be observed particularly in areas of remote maintenance and other areas where some physical presence is required. There is already evidence of this in industries like shipping, resources, and some aspects of manufacturing. Expect more use cases from other verticals in the near and distant future where robots could be useful and economical extensions of live persons.

On the topic of security, this situation has been a huge wake-up call for organizations that have previously under-invested in a range of security technologies that support remote access in the past. The smart money in security will be on technologies that support this, now and in the future. Creating a clear plan on how remote IT support works should also be an important part of the conversation.

The Next Normal

Finally, this brings us back to where it all started: working from home/wherever. Should the feared drop in productivity arise, and if management is unable to attract and retain sufficiently self-motivated staff, then introspection is the best first step. Returning to the old normal will be a step backward for those seeing increased productivity working from home. Organizations will need to consider provisioning these individuals with tools needed to support their productivity borne of new work styles.

Does this mean employers must invest in new, home-based office equipment? (Note from Simon: my trusty old home printer is perfectly adequate for the 2 or 3 pages I print a month, but a nice color report on two sides…not happening with my current equipment. Neither do I have the luxury of a football field-sized monitor at home, nor do I have space, but a second monitor would be extremely helpful. IDC does already provide a perk for this, so I am not whining to my boss here. An ergonomic chair would also be welcome!)

The other potential casualty is the roaming executive. With airlines, the first to ground fleets as the virus spread; as travel restrictions came into place and isolation of travelers mandated, the return to a day or two a week for senior execs in airport lounges and the warm embrace of your favorite airline may well be a cause of evaluation. Choosing between an essentially free video call or the multi-thousand dollar business trip for a customer meeting will be a decision studied more closely by both employers and employees.

In Summary

Workplace transformation is currently being tipped on its head. When the pandemic finally recedes, the new normal will be a more secure, productive, collaborative environment supported remotely by both humans and robots. The face-to-face meeting will be seen as a treat. Not abused incessantly but used only when social interaction adds more value as well as satisfies the social animal hidden beneath all the suits (or shorts, as it appears to be right now). Without a doubt, COVID-19 will leave all of us forever changed. IDC will remain at the forefront of chronicling this change and helping organizations in the region and across the world acclimatize to these new ways of working post-COVID-19.

Read up more on his LinkedIn blog here. For more COVID-19 research written by IDC’s analysts, you can check out our microsite.

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