This is the final blog in a series exploring how the world has rapidly transitioned to a remote working environment, the technological opportunities which this has created, and the social and psychological issues which need to be addressed. Read the introductory article here, the first blog here and the second blog here.
If the Covid19 pandemic follows the same epidemiology of the Spanish Flu, then it is likely that the world will suffer three significant waves of infection over the course of two years. We are fortunate in that our medical skills have come a long way since 1918, but even so, the pandemic could result in several more millions of deaths, particularly in places like South America, Sub Saharan Africa and the Indian Subcontinent unless a vaccine can be created and widely distributed.
The original Nightingale Hospitals
With such a grim spectre still before us, the developed countries will likely be in some form of lockdown throughout much of 2021. How companies adapt and deploy technologies in the next two years will undoubtedly lay the foundation for the way we work for the next generation. But beyond the technology, it is the ability of the staff to adapt which will surely make or break an organisation’s ability to survive.
Key to achieving long term sustainability is using technology to support a feeling of community and to overcome issues of isolation. At the same time, it needs to maintain productivity whilst promoting mental wellbeing.
Many companies are already seeing massive growth by virtue of providing a sense of connection to the outside world through their technology. A perfect example is Peloton, the home exercise bike and fitness system which enables a sense of community as well as a degree of external accountability through video connected exercise classes. Other technology based companies are also thriving such as Deliveroo and Just Eat, which provide takeaway food home delivery services. Zoom video conferencing has seen one of the largest growths of any company during the epidemic, with many companies and individuals taking advantage of its easy to use interface and high quality video despite concerns regarding its security during its early uptake.
Moving forward, technologies such as virtual reality (VR), which provides a more immersive experience, is likely to play an increasing role in communication. Tech startups such as BoardroomVR are enabling directors to meet in a virtual boardroom setting, removing some of the social impediments of systems like Zoom. Such initiatives will undoubtedly be adopted for other workers to ensure that they remain connected to their colleagues.
The growing use of 5G communication will also mean that workers are not limited to physically connected home broadband, but have a greater opportunity to work from more remote locations. Projects such as the UK Governments 5G Urban Connected Community aim to improve the quality of urban life and support local economic development. Initiatives such as 5G RuralFirst aim to bring broadband connectivity to the more remote regions. This will offer more opportunity for workers in rural communities to reap the rewards of working from home. Additionally, 5G enables broadband connectivity whilst on the move, so home working can also mean train working or mobile home working. Expect to see remote caravan sites becoming temporary offices in the future.
The fact that so many jobs can be effectively conducted in a virtual environment will lead many organisations to question their need for physical office space, particularly when face to face meetings are limited due to Covid19 restrictions. As such, more and more companies will likely be looking to reduce overhead costs through the abandonment of permanent office facilities, particularly in the expensive city centres. Instead, we will likely see the spectacular rise of office-on-demand organisations such as WeWork and Regus in the short to medium term. It is also likely that hotel conference facilities and meeting rooms will become highly desirable as more companies seek out alternative temporary meeting and working space. Provided that the working environment has adequate broadband connectivity, almost any meeting room can be considered suitable for remote working. Just remember that the employer always retains responsibility for the health and safety welfare of their employees no matter where they set up shop.
In the long term, analysts believe that more ‘distributed urbanisation’ will result in better offices located within easy reach of the workforce, rather than the mass commuting which has characterised the office life of many in recent decades.
At The End Of The Day
Some commentators would argue that the dream of the telecommuter has finally arrived, midwifed into the mainstream by the terrible pandemic. Other people may consider the dream an awful nightmare as they negotiate abusive spouses, overcrowded flatshares and the mental welfare issues of themselves and their employees.
Whichever way you look at it, the world of work in 2020 has shifted irreversibly to a remote working model made possible by the combination of modern computers and high-speed connectivity. Whilst the economic impact of the pandemic may well be the worst ever seen by modern society, the fact that so many people have been able to continue to work whilst isolating from the virus is a testament to the amazing technology so many of us now take for granted.
At the end of the day, remote working for a significant number of people is here to stay, and those organisations unable to adapt to this new normal are likely to see 2020 etched into their gravestones.