As we emerge on the other side of the Covid crisis, one thing is clear: remote work is here to stay. Employers were finally awakened to the advantages of enabling work-from-anywhere for knowledge workers, which includes access to a global talent pool without the hassles of relocation; the flexibility afforded employees that directly translates to productivity and job satisfaction; and the reduced need for corporate real estate.
At the same time, full-time work-from-anywhere is not right for everyone — there’s a need to bond, have access to mentors, form friendships, and share in a workplace experience — especially if the office is a fun and collegial place to work. This is especially important for those in the earlier stages of their careers.
In short, we need hybrid workplaces, and companies need to support this new way of working. Inside the office, outside the office, employees need equal access to technology and opportunities. At a time when finding and hiring talent has become extremely difficult, and the “great resignation” looms, people can be choosy about who they work for, where they work, and how they work. It’s time for employers to step up with strategies and technologies that make work rewarding, fulfilling and exciting.
Thus, building, empowering and managing the remote workforce will be one of the greatest challenges enterprises face going forward, says Cliff Justice, US leader of enterprise innovation at KPMG. “While being virtual affords us many opportunities, there’s also the inherent challenge of striking the right balance of community and social connection that comes with an in-person workforce. Being remote puts some limitations on that and can make it challenging to identify the blind spots.”
Justice is a proponent of upskilling to address this challenge, especially as the technology facilitating remote work, such as artificial intelligence, 5G and cloud gain traction. “There’s an obvious urgency and challenge to upskill or retrain employees to be able to work in the new environment and, furthermore, to extract value from the digital tools that are reimagining work.”
There will also need to be a heightened emphasis on the attractiveness of workplaces. “Employers are going to need to make their work so compelling that they’ll reactivate people into the workforce,” says Steven Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com. “That means paying them significantly more than what they’re earning by staying home and it means providing more enjoyable, meaningful work. As people return to the workforce, they’re going to have choices as to where to work.”
As a result, Rothberg foresees “tremendous upheaval over the coming months with many employers unable to attract enough workers to keep their doors open.” These employers, who refuse to offer flexible working arrangements and competitive salaries, he predicts, will see their businesses suffer as a result. “It isn’t that people won’t want to work. It is that they won’t want to work for those employers,” he points out.
Along with fair compensation and flexible working environments, companies need to “lean into innovation as digital tools and technologies are democratized and become more accessible,” Justice says. “The rapid advancement and sophistication of AI, 5G and broadband are all creating opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses that didn’t have the access before the transition to remote work. Not only is technology becoming more advanced, it’s also becoming more readily available.”
Technologies such as AI need to be incorporated into workplaces to enrich and elevate jobs, Justice continues. “As data-driven technologies become more sophisticated and efficient, more and more everyday tasks will be automated,” he predicts. “But rather than replacing jobs, technologies like AI and GPT-3 will complement the work of employees. A working partnership between humans and their human-like AI counterparts will undoubtedly be a foundational component to evolving business models. This includes enterprise automation, an end-state for business leaders seeking to combine automation with contextual intelligence to drive greater agility, reduced risk and better customer and employee experiences from the front office to the back office. We can expect to see more of the data gathering and tasks being automated, which will free up time and resources for our human employees to be more present and drive value for the business.”