The COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact on white-collar workers, as many jobs went remote in the early days of the crisis.
Companies have made the best of the shift to remote working. According to an Ericsson report, more than six in 10 employees say their companies have become more positive about remote working during the pandemic, and, furthermore, they believe these habits are here to stay.
But our offices and workers’ relationships to them have changed dramatically, and in a way that will linger long after vaccines are widely distributed and life has returned, somewhat, to normal.
Enterprise leaders should be thinking beyond the initial shift to work from home — which was mainly about workers using home WiFi to connect to existing office IT infrastructure. Leaders now need to consider how the “dematerialized enterprise” is the future of work, and the role technologies like mobile broadband, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and even virtual reality (VR) will play over the next decade.
Remote work may be the new normal, but enterprises need to create adaptable infrastructure to help them prepare for the “next normal.”
The dematerialized enterprise
Dematerialization leads to increased value and less consumption of resources, enabling enterprises to “create more with less” and remain adaptable. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated changes in the way white-collar workers do their jobs, but many of those pressures have existed for years. It also won’t be the last time the way we work evolves.
In the Future of Enterprise Report, Ericsson’s researchers found organizations that have reported the most progress in their dematerialization efforts are more environmentally sustainable than other enterprises, show higher profitability, and are more agile and innovative when it comes to adapting to a changing world. The pandemic may have accelerated the transition, but these changes were already underway. In fact, ICT (information communication technology) decision-makers largely believe dematerialized enterprises will be the norm by 2030.
Remote work is now the expectation
The current trend of remote working is only expected to accelerate. By 2030, almost 60% of white-collar work will happen outside company premises. In fact, by 2030, 43% of enterprise decision-makers strongly believe the office as we know it will cease to exist, and all workers will be remote.
As more and more enterprises dematerialize, they will incorporate additional cloud and mobile technology to be further adaptable to workers’ changing habits and needs. Companies must also be able to provide full access to processes and tools regardless of the device the employee is using, or whether they are at home or another location. More than two in three decision-makers believe that their employees will work everywhere by 2030 — not just in the office or at home — using cellular and cloud technology. Thin clients, computers that run from resources stored on a central server instead of a localized hard drive, coupled with cloud services, will enable this.
And although remote work has typically been a white-collar phenomenon, the evolution of technology — such as for remote control and surveillance of machines and vehicles — is likely to enable workers in other fields, like manufacturing and mining, to work remotely as well.
Remote tools will go beyond email
Remote employees have been working outside of the office for a year or more, and are looking for ways to make the remote experience more immersive and collaborative. Better connectivity through the low latency and high data speeds of 5G will enable new tools. In fact, six in 10 enterprises expect to use 5G devices and almost as many expect to use AR and VR devices by 2030 — an increase of more than 50% over today.
Other applications that are generating a high degree of interest include a virtual desktop that can be projected on any surface, enabling workers to turn almost any location into a workstation. And an AI assistant that could help with repetitive tasks, as well as collaborative tools like a hologram where you can see meeting participants as a 3D image are all technologies that could bring more interactivity to the remote work experience.
Another tool that will become increasingly important as offices dematerialize is AI. Sixty-eight percent of ICT decision makers believe access to powerful analytics and data mining capabilities will be of critical importance for enterprises by 2030. Being able to collect and analyze this data will help companies learn from experience, evaluate what is and isn’t working for remote employees, and stay ahead of the next big disruption in the way we work.
Sustainability is built into dematerialization
One big winner from the new way of distributed working will be the environment. Sustainability will go hand-in-hand with dematerialization — in fact, many companies have seen reductions in CO2 emissions over the past year thanks to remote working, which reduced commuting and travel. In addition, eight in 10 decision-makers expect to make significant energy savings through the move towards cloud solutions. Among the organizations that have made significant strides toward dematerialization, that expectation is even higher.
It’s all part of the way we will reach ambitious goals for carbon reduction and energy usage, striving toward global climate goals like the Paris Agreement (limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius) and the Exponential Road Map (halving global emissions by 2050).
For example, almost three in four enterprises expect their electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. And no less than 50% of surveyed enterprises are already investing in renewable energy production of their own through initiatives like rooftop solar panels.
Dematerialization is just good business
Enterprise decision makers see productivity and profitability among the key dematerialization benefits, along with sustainability. As companies plan for the future, they need to look beyond the remote working trend toward what comes next. A flexible, cloud-based infrastructure — one that enables new collaboration tools powered by AI and VR — can help companies adapt to the changing needs of workers, and a fully dematerialized way of working can help them prepare for the future of work.