What's the Future of Work? A Hybrid Workforce
More employees will work remotely and only come into the office for projects. Here's how to prepare your company for the WFH revolution.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A few months ago, taking a train to work, entering a crowded elevator, and sitting down in an open workspace right next to several colleagues were everyday activities no one thought twice about. But COVID-19 changed that. For employers and employees, the workplace experience may never be the same — and businesses need to evolve to meet the needs of this post-pandemic world.
What does that look like? The answer is simple: create a new model of hybrid working where employees work remotely and only come into the office to collaborate on projects. The office becomes a business center, which may involve a shift in the role of a company's headquarters.
Related: Managing A Hybrid Workforce
Hybrid work is the new normal
Today, many companies are already starting to think about what that looks like, and some like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Shopify have even implemented permanent, extended or indefinite work from home (WFH) policies. It is clear this shift is here to stay. According to recent research from Gartner, 82 percent of company leaders are planning to let employees work remotely, at least some of the time. And a new global Lenovo study finds that employees expect a similar swing in employer mentality, with 52 percent of respondents noting they believe they'll continue to WFH more than they did pre-COVID-19 – even after social distancing measures lift.
As employers realize that this distributed workforce is not going anywhere, the shift to the office as a business center will only continue to grow. This will make the need for a solid IT foundation, inclusive of dependable employee personal devices, strong cybersecurity software (and education), and remote IT support even more integral than it once was.
In looking at the role of technology and how it has evolved during this pandemic, we can take a step back to when COVID-19 first started to impact businesses globally. The number of remote employees increased at a pace more rapid than anyone expected or was even prepared to handle. As a result, the usage of collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom skyrocketed, with Teams seeing an increase as much as 70 percent and Zoom surpassing 300 million daily meeting users in the midst of the pandemic in April 2020. In this process, as employees and consumers alike started leaning on video to spend time with coworkers — whether for meetings or company "happy hours" — these tools evolved their functionalities to make the user experience more seamless.
Fast forward to today. Many employers have started to realize that their employees have been just as productive from home as they would have been in the office. In fact, our research shows that almost two-thirds of the global workforce surveyed feel they are more productive working from home than in the office. So, the question then becomes why bring them back to the office — why not instead save on real estate costs and invest in stronger technology to equip a hybrid workforce?
Related: How to Transition Your Team to Remote Work
Prepping for a WFH future
With that mindset, technology will only continue to evolve to meet employee and employer needs. Beyond collaboration software, the other tools that remain central for employee productivity in our hybrid work environment include personal laptops, noise-canceling headsets and monitors.
In the office, that may mean creating a "touchless environment" where employees have their own personal collaboration technology to minimize physical contact. Or it may mean creating smaller phone booths and huddle spaces as a move away from the open floorplan, which could be equipped with standalone video software making it easy to collaborate from one room to the next. On the go, it may be arming employees with a foldable PC that makes it easier and more convenient to transition from the office to a coffee shop to home or anywhere in between. And at home, it may require employers to invest in products employees need for their "home office," such as standing desks or ergonomic chairs.
For IT departments, this makes it integral to invest in the infrastructure that enables IT to manage a large remote workforce. This can include increasing cloud storage for more remote storage, doubling down on security solutions to manage the increase in cyber threats and implementing remote IT solutions to help troubleshoot employee tech issues from afar.
Related: How Companies are Offering Perks to Their Remote Workforce
While the new "business center" model may not be a fit for all organizations, one thing we know is that office as we know it will be different in the coming years. Work from anywhere will become a norm, company real estate footprints may shrink and employees will expect much more of their employers than ever before.