What Does the Future Workplace Look Like?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the idea of the future workplace. Instead of working mainly out of offices, businesses are working out of their employees’ homes. Alternatively, they are implementing a hybrid setup of business premises and workers’ home workspaces. This is done for business continuity and for the safety and health of the workforce.

IDC research director for the Future of Work Amy Loomis wrote about this in the IDC blog. “As organizations negotiate diverse experiences caused by the global pandemic, they often ask what changes will be temporary and which will be enduring for their work environments. Twitter, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others have publicly declared their intent to rebalance the ratios of in-office and remote workers.”

“At IDC, we’ve received many inquiries seeking to determine the ideal balance of remote and on-premise workers. For example, one non-profit client had gone from 5% to 95% of its employees working remotely. And while they don’t anticipate that this will be the status quo for the long term, there is no doubt a much larger percentage of their employees will work remotely moving forward,” he added.

Overview of the Future of Work

IDC defines the Future of Work as the applications of new talent management practices along with 3rd platform technologies and Innovation Accelerators. These will fundamentally change the concept of work and how it is done.

Loomis wrote that “in the face of current health and economic challenges, IDC has laid out a 5-stage Enterprise Recovery model”. He added that it will help buyers and vendors alike better strategize a path forward. Those five stages of enterprise recovery cover Business Continuity, Cost Optimization, Business Resilience, Targeted Investments, and Future Enterprise and the technology alignment to promote hybrid work approaches.

This recovery outline, Loomis said, “is not meant to have a specific timeline so much as a sequence of stages which mark progress or setbacks toward overcoming challenging times.  For most organizations, the hybrid work-from-home model will be the norm for many months to come—if not permanently.”

In 2020, IDC conducted a survey called “COVID-19 Response in Western Europe Brings the Future of the Workplace Closer”. It provided direct feedback from organizations in Western Europe on the measures they put in place to enable staff to work from home during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Furthermore, it specified as to what extent these measures are expected to be maintained in the long term.

Reimagining the Future Workplace

The lockdowns accelerated many of the trends analyzed by IDC under the “future of work” practice. Specifically, they have forced companies to facilitate a hybrid office workplace model. The goal is to enable a large percentage of workers to operate remotely. In this transition, companies encountered many challenges. This includes inadequate and insecure home internet connections and staff training issues for rapidly introduced home-working solutions.

The surveyed companies clearly intend to maintain a hybrid model, and the survey results showed:

  • Over 60% of Western European organizations will keep in place at least some of the newly implemented work-from-home policies.
  • Over 40% of them will reduce their office floor space as a consequence.
Smart Solutions for the Future Workplace

Office managers face the tough task of allowing a safe return to the office. IDC’s Market Note “COVID-19: Can Smart Workplace Solutions Enable a Safe Return to the Office?” offers a glimpse of how large enterprises have gone about their return to the office in Italy and Spain. These are the first two countries in Western Europe to lift the lockdown. Based on these survey reports, IDC sees three interesting groups of solutions that address a different set of challenges each:

  • Staff attendance management solutions are helping companies to control which employees access premises. They map how they move throughout the organization. This area has received huge attention following recent news on Android-Apple device interoperability for health applications.
  • Social distancing solutions are helping staff to maintain productivity and interaction with colleagues. Moreover, it aids in complying with the many recommendations of health organizations.
  • Housekeeping solutions include a wide variety of products currently in high demand that can help to better manage communal areas in offices. In particular, it includes UV lighting and touchless technology.
New Behaviors and Trends for the Future of Work

As for the ASEAN, IDC released a report on July 16, 2020. It noted that organizations’ behavior and the way they adopt technology has been changing in ASEAN, especially during the pandemic. That report noted that “these changes will continue moving forward as well, leading to a shift in the transformation strategies and future of work initiatives.”

Many ASEAN-based organizations are trying to be adaptive in these challenging times, and they are changing the way businesses operate in ASEAN.  50% of the organizations in Asia-Pacific, including ASEAN, are expected to expand/add remote working to their HR policy. The new operating models will be digitally enabled with increased usage of IoT and other innovation accelerators. In addition, there is an emphasis on automation, contactless solutions, video-based collaboration, etc. Organizations are focused on addressing the current challenges they are facing. With this, technology will play a key role in addressing those on the road to recovery.

Modern Environments and Practices in the Future Workplace

Organizations have been adopting secure and modern working environments with increased collaboration between human workers and digital workers. The IDC had forecast that by 2021, the contribution of digital coworkers in APEJ (including ASEAN) will increase to 30%. Organizations will be leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), and intelligent process automation (IPA). These technologies will lead to a shift in the talent management strategies of organizations. The objective is to attract and retain the best talent by offering more creative and productive work. This would entail the application of automation, augmentation, and AI to enhance employee capability and productivity.

Meanwhile, IDC associate consultant Mario Lombardo said “we firmly believe that, in spite of recent developments, the office will continue to play a fundamental role in organizations’ futures. Physical space can have a tremendous impact in inspiring staff and enabling companies to imprint their unique corporate values. It generates ‘human collisions’ and company-wide collaboration in a unique way that is still hard to replicate in a digital workplace. As these aspects will continue to be fundamental for organizations going forward, it’s important to aim for balanced approaches that continue to value the physical experience.”