The new reality of social distancing introduced to slow down the spread of COVID-19 has seen many more people working from home and attending virtual events. I have done both of these, as well as attend physical events, for over 17 years, so understand the challenges they introduce. The question people are asking is will this new reality change the way people work long-term and how business is conducted going forward.
Working from home will become more common
While it is true to say that the current homeworking arrangements are not a true reflection of what homeworking is like in more normal times, it is giving people an insight into its potential business value. The ability to work from anywhere at any time was the mantra of Citrix under Mark Templeton’s long tenure as CEO. Templeton was a visionary in how work could be classified and how it connected to our personal and family lives. However, the technology to deliver a good user experience using early virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and desktop-as-a-service did not match the vision, and the use of these technologies became marginalized to specific use cases and industries. Today, the technology has advanced and now encompasses a greater degree of choice and improved user experience. Omdia’s market forecast for virtualized desktops shows that by 2023, it will grow at a CAGR of over 12% and will be worth $11bn. That was before COVID-19; we expect this to change as the wider remote-working market demonstrates it value.
The extended use of homeworking in a post-COVID-19 world depends on some key learnings that organizations take from the experience:
Firstly, does the technology enable normal business activity to be performed? The answer to this is yes. The technology, even under the increased stress of the majority of a county’s population confined to the home, with many other users online consuming bandwidth, is delivering for me the same experience as before the lockdown.
Secondly, are employees maintaining productivity? Again, the answer appears, from a sample of family and friends, to be yes. Employees are recognizing that work patterns can be flexible, and with only so many box sets one person can watch, work is also a good distraction from lockdown confinement.
Finally, is management coping with remote employee management? This is less clear from my small sample. The approach taken by most managers was to use the metric of if an employee is physically at their workstation, then they will be being productive. This thinking is flawed as it assumes the employee is performing work-related activities. The key observation is that as employees recognize that productivity is not directly linked to time at a computer, in some but not all cases, then the concept of measuring contribution in other ways will reshape what productivity is for different roles.
Omdia’s conclusion is that new metrics for measuring an employee’s contribution need to be developed, and those that have done this can see physical presence is not an indicator. The net result post COVID-19 will, in Omdia’s opinion, be that more employees will want to work part of the time from home. This shift will be a slow adoption of a new approach for employers, but once the management practices are more clearly defined, this home (or remote) working will open up a large pool of talent and enable organizations to grow more sustainably.
The role of VDI and workspaces will be critical to this new model being successful, and as HR practices are modified and new roles introduced.
Software Market Forecasts: Infrastructure, 2018–23 (September 2019)
Market Landscape: Desktop as a Service, INT003-000360 (June 2019)
Developing an End User Computing Strategy, INT003-000359 (June 2019)
Roy Illsley, Chief Analyst, Enterprise IT