The Impact of Technology on Remote Work Trends During the Pandemic
Sana Kazilbash posted on June 26, 2020 |
Recent innovations play a critical role in worker productivity.
Working from home. (Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.)
Working from home. (Image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.)

Over the last few months, COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented level of disruption to the world and forced a vast majority of people to work from home. Fortunately, technology has helped employees remain connected and productive—to the extent that major tech companies are planning to continue the remote work trend beyond the pandemic.

Microsoft is having its workers voluntarily return to their offices in stages, while Google is extending the work-from-home agenda to 2021. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated that 50 percent of its workforce could shift permanently to remote work in the next 5-10 years. Twitter has given up on timelines altogether, notifying employees that they can choose to work from home indefinitely. OpenText Corp, the largest software company in Canada, has announced that it is permanently closing half of its offices and will have certain staff continue working remotely after the lockdown is lifted. Industry experts predict that other businesses will follow in big tech’s footsteps.

The pandemic has showed companies that working from home can have a positive effect on employee productivity. According to an internal survey conducted by Chegg, 86 percent of workers have found their productivity to be just as good or even better than when they worked in offices. Many teams have attributed the success to time saved from commuting and fewer distractions from coworkers.

Technology has played a major role in driving organizational change. Legacy IT has transitioned to cloud computing; machine learning, artificial intelligence and smart automation have evolved; and IoT has contributed to generational transformation. Advances in network connectivity, digital devices and software have enabled businesses to adapt to the shifting work landscape.

A new generation of Wi-Fi (termed Wi-Fi 6) is all set to provide increased bandwidth with up to 9.6Gbps speeds, helping multimember households balance loads between devices.

Workers are using laptops in conjunction with virtual private networks (VPNs) to securely connect to cloud services and gain access to company files. For architects and engineers who require specific tools such as Bluebeam and Autodesk, equipment is being provided by companies in order to facilitate work duties. Recent years have seen performance improvements in devices such as systems on chip (SoCs), ACPCs and 5G PCs.

Videoconferencing tools have enabled employees to stay connected and maintain workflow continuity. Collaboration software such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Cisco Webex and Slack has supported the communication needs of teams while they are physically apart.

Microsoft Teams users increased by over 70 percent in April. (Image courtesy of CRN.)
Microsoft Teams users increased by over 70 percent in April. (Image courtesy of CRN.)

The remote work trends have also led to a rise in employee monitoring software. In case disengaged workers were thinking of slacking off, tools like ActivTrak, Teramind, Hubstaff and Time Doctor are giving supervisors access to individual data, including employee screen time, computer mouse activity, shots of employee screens at any given time, and even their GPS location.

Seattle-based company Uplevel has released tools to improve the remote experience and enable managers to measure if engineers are stuck in too many meetings, assigned too many tasks, or lacking focus time. “Always On” helps bosses assess if employees are having trouble disconnecting from work, while “Isolation Identification” shows employee attendance at virtual meetings to determine their level of collaboration and connection with the team. “Throughput” evaluates changes in productivity through metrics such as median review time and Jira cycle time.

While technology has helped many people effectively work from home in the short run, it is important to address the long-term challenges of going permanently remote. Positive work culture has been repeatedly linked to improved employee engagement, and working from home runs the risk of a lonely, depressed workforce. After all, interactions in elevators and cafeterias have often sparked ideas. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, advocates building social time into virtual communications—even if it seems counterproductive.

“Some play games with colleagues. Some spend the first part of every meeting on non-work. Some have virtual happy hours, birthday parties,” Lister suggests.

These measures can help employees cope with big tech’s shift away from work environments with communal cafeterias, volleyball courts and open office plans.

Zuckerberg is optimistic about the remote work trend. “I want us to live in a country where people can have access to opportunity, no matter where they choose to live, and I think that enabling more remote work is going to be very positive on that front toward creating more broad-based economic prosperity.”

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