In Silicon Valley, the work from home (WFH) phenomenon started quite a few years ago, mostly as a way for employees to avoid horrific traffic conditions. Some digital-native companies like GitLab were born with the concept that every employee would exclusively work from home. The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting work-from-home mandates introduced this concept to every single office worker across North America (if not most countries around the world).
For many digital-native Silicon Valley-based businesses, these WFH mandates had little impact on employee productivity or daily work routine because they had the infrastructure, tools and culture to support this big change. In contrast, the pandemic forced more traditional organizations whose employees primarily worked in the office to quickly ensure their workforce was equipped to work remotely (e.g., purchase laptops and address connectivity issues).
As employees settled into working from home amid a pandemic, businesses experienced an increase in workforce productivity. A recent survey found that about 63% of employees are more productive while working from home than they were in the office. Similarly, since the pandemic-imposed WFH mandates, I have experienced a dramatic increase in employee productivity with my own team. That said, this increase in productivity also presents the risk of employee burnout. Many employees canceled vacations they were looking forward to because of travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic. With canceled plans comes canceled PTO and more focus on work. According to a Korn Ferry survey of 7,000 American professionals, “by early May, 73% of American professionals were feeling burned-out, according to one survey of 7,000 professionals. The top reasons cited are no surprise: no separation between work and home, unmanageable workloads, and worries over job security.”
With all of this said, what will the future workforce look like?
The Hybrid Workforce Of The Future
Geography is no longer a primary factor for employment; employers are more concerned about workers getting the job done instead of where the work is completed. While some people are comfortable interacting with their peers remotely, there are many who simply miss the human touch. For those who thrive on in-person interaction, working from home is a burden and can negatively impact their overall performance.
While I support a fully remote workforce, I also believe there is an aspect of collaboration that is lost when people are not in the same physical room. I predict that the future workplace will be one where employees will work largely remotely, while coming into the “office” for specific collaboration events. Even prior to Covid-19, some businesses, such as Oracle, had already started planning for “hoteling.” I believe this phenomenon will be accelerated across the industry as the vast majority of employees primarily work from home. Teams will be offered in-office space for collaboration when needed.
With the burnout statistics and the need for face-to-face collaboration on key projects, I do not believe we are headed to a purely virtual and remote workforce, but a hybrid of in-office and remote work, because the majority of the population will need an environment that is designed to maximize creativity and concentration. This is placing a burden on IT to ensure it has a tech stack that encourages and creates a productive hybrid workforce.
IT’s Role In Powering The Hybrid Workforce
Since the start of Covid-19, there’s been a 35% increase in IT incident tickets per day, so it is expected that the CIO is taking a front-row seat on defining the hybrid workplace strategy. This is particularly challenging because for years, IT has provided employee assistance leveraging humans, whether it be a help desk or an IT walk-up desk (similarly for HR). As employees worked primarily from the office, it was very common to “shoulder tap” a neighbor when help was needed or walk up to the IT team on the second floor. All of those concepts have been thrown out the window as employees now find themselves isolated in a room in their home.
So where are people to go when they need help? The likely “official” answer is the intranet, or the employee self-service portal. However, on average only 8.9% of issues are resolved via self-service platforms, and instead employees call or email the service desk for help.Further, recent research shows that self-help portals not only provide the lowest employee satisfaction score, but also create the largest employee productivity loss. In order to scale, IT now needs to rethink its self-service strategy and provide frictionless support to employees both to work from anywhere, at any time and when launching new digital technologies. This will only get more important for IT teams when enabling the hybrid workforce as digital transformation efforts accelerate and businesses leverage technology to support employee wellness, power workforce productivity and generate higher employee satisfaction.
CIOs must consider the following questions when planning for the hybrid workforce:
1. Is IT in a position to support the technological growth and complexity required to power a hybrid workforce?
2. How are technology stacks evolving to survive and thrive going forward?
3. What is your plan for automation? (Here’s a hint: If automation isn’t on your agenda, make note of it now.)
The future of the workforce lies within a space where workers and leaders can safely come together when necessary while still maintaining collaborative contact through most business days. By keeping all those affected in mind — business leaders, executives, employees and employees’ families — it’s safe to say that a hybrid workforce is inevitable. But to ensure its success, the right technology solutions must be in place to fuel social, collaborative and business interactions no matter where employees are located.