The Outlook for Home Working Beyond COVID-19

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By Chris Pennell
Futuresource Consulting

Futuresource’s Home Working survey asked 1,500 employees across America, France, Germany, and the U.K. about the impact COVID-19 has had on their working patterns, as well as the use of work technology in the home. The findings indicate that post-COVID-19, respondents expect the changes to working patterns to continue in some form, and their use of technology will reflect this.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent containment measures put in place, will have a long-lasting impact on working patterns. Enterprises of all sizes have had to adapt rapidly, which has often involved changes to how staff operate, working practices, and where work is carried out. Employees for their part have had to get used to working and living within the same space.

In the 12 months before the outbreak of COVID-19, 40% of survey respondents never or only occasionally worked from home. During the pandemic, this number had shrunk by a third. Post-COVID-19, only 24% expect to go back to never working from home or working from home less than once a week, with a significant proportion of employees expecting to work from home 1-2 days per week post-COVID-19, compared to those who did so before.

The sudden change in working practices meant many employees were not set-up to deal with enforced working from home. Futuresource research showed that pre-COVID-19, 44% of employees did not have access to a dedicated space at home to work from. Employees therefore have had to adapt communal areas around the home: while one in three employees have been able to use a dedicated office room/study, 64% of employees have had to set up offices in a shared space, such as the living room or kitchen.

The use of social distancing rules means it is unlikely that the return to the office will be uniform. Employers will want to focus on maintaining health and safety first, then the focus will turn to the utilization of space and integration of on-premises and remote workers. When employees do return to the office, it is more likely that many will no longer have a dedicated desk. 49% of employees working from home one or more days a week were hot-desking pre-COVID-19. When they return to the office, this number is expected to have grown to 62%.

Many employees lacked proper infrastructure to support the transition — the importance of having applications, portable devices and accessible infrastructure are just some of the challenges enterprises had to overcome. In response, enterprises have provided employees with portable devices.

The use of videoconferencing tools has also generated demand for webcams and headphones, with one in 10 employees being provided with webcams and office headsets to enable teams to meet via video conferencing tools due to COVID-19. The footprint of webcams and headsets as part of employees’ home-working set-ups will continue to expand over the next 12 months, with a quarter of employees expecting their employer to purchase one of these devices for them within this period of time.

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Video conferencing platforms such as Zoom have seen an explosion in user numbers since the introduction of lockdowns and this is reflected in employees’ usage of the different platforms. Most employees state that video conferencing adequately replaces face-to-face meetings. This represents a huge cultural change that has been massively accelerated by COVID-19.

However, many employees are frustrated by poor audio and image quality due to bandwidth issues; almost a third of employees turn off their camera on video calls because of bandwidth issues, leading to a poor audio and video experience. There are also signs that employees are starting to suffer from video conferencing fatigue, with just over 50% of respondents indicating growing tiredness with video calls.

Videoconferencing vendors are introducing new features and are integrating with devices to provide more effective and richer experiences for employees. Zoom now offers several ways to integrate its video conferencing solution with different hardware, from displays through to Zoom Rooms Hardware as a Service for customers. Last year HTC announced the public availability of Vive Sync, a virtual reality collaboration and meeting platform for the Vive headset. Enterprises are exploring ways to combine meetings with virtual reality platforms. Accenture has been working with Microsoft and AltspaceVR to develop a concept called “The Nth Floor,” a mixed reality experience that enables people to interact with each other in person, regardless of geographic separation.

The proliferation of devices and peripherals in home offices presents a growing challenge for IT departments. It raises questions on how to integrate home working set-ups into the corporate estate, without compromising enterprise services or placing restrictions on the ability of remote and on-premises teams to collaborate.

At the same time, employees will adopt increasingly flexible approaches to being in the office and will need to implement solutions that will support the development of shared knowledge, coordination of tasks and the strengthening of communication and relationships between employees.

While videoconferencing is seen as a replacement for face-to-face interactions, employers need to be aware of over-reliance and use. Introducing innovation into meetings through the blending of video conferencing and virtual or augmented reality tools could provide greater stimulation and enhance interactions.