Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work-from-home (WFH) trend has simply exploded this year and shows little sign of slowing down in the months and years ahead.
In fact, with no end in sight for the novel coronavirus, it's estimated that the portion of the US workforce working from home is still hovering around the 30% level eight months into the pandemic, up from just 6% of employees before last March. Although that figure is down from estimates of more than 50% during the height of the pandemic-induced mass lockdowns in the spring, it's still five times higher than before.
Moreover, dozens of major US and international companies have already announced that their employees can work remotely long-term. That ever-growing list includes Google, Facebook, Uber, Twitter, REI, Siemens, Novartis, Otis, VMware and Slack.
A study presented by Kantar Research at Light Reading's Cable Next-Gen Business Services digital symposium earlier this month bears out that point as well. The study found that many companies that either initiated or expanded their WFH policies in the spring don't plan to bring their remote employees back to the formal workplace any time soon. Indeed, more than one third of those companies (37%) reported that they will keep their workers at home even after the pandemic subsides.
Not surprisingly, the results vary greatly by business sector. While more than half (56%) of manufacturers and 46% of retailers indicated they will maintain their increased WFH presence, 32% of services firms and just 17% of entertainment companies said they will do the same.
Nevertheless, the trend is clear across all vertical sectors. In the "new normal" environment that emerges after the pandemic, substantially more people will still be working from home than ever have since the start of the Industrial Revolution two centuries ago.
This drive towards more remote working makes economic sense for many businesses. In fact, ASSIA estimates that large companies can save up to $70,000 a year per employee through a combination of lower office costs, reduced labor expenses and worker productivity gains. Even small-to-medium-sized businesses save up to $10,000 a year per employee through more remote working arrangements.
The big problem, however, is that the ability of these remote employees to work effectively from home is far from guaranteed because the residential connectivity infrastructure is generally not ready for remote work just yet. Indeed, a recent study found that more than one half, or 53%, of remote workers reported experiencing connectivity problems at least once a month. And nearly one sixth, or 16%, of remote workers reported experiencing such problems on a daily basis.
In other words, the residential connectivity infrastructure is generally not ready for prime time yet.
What this means is that service providers must make serious efforts to upgrade their residential broadband networks to business-class levels so that remote workers can carry out their professional duties. If the employees' network bandwidth, speeds, latency and security at home are poor or even just lackluster, their performance will suffer, hurting their companies.
Recognizing this problem, many service providers have started upgrading their residential broadband networks for commercial-class service. Among the nation's largest cable providers, for instance, Comcast, Charter, Cox and Altice USA have all rolled out or are gearing up to offer new WFH solutions for businesses with remote employees. Other service providers will undoubtedly follow their lead.
But that's just the start of the solution. Besides upgraded broadband networks, what's needed are comprehensive new solutions to help both companies and their remote employees manage and monitor home connectivity, business software, home devices and worker productivity.
Ideally, these new home connectivity and management platforms should feature such capabilities as: remote productivity monitoring dashboards; individual, team and companywide views; and remote service and equipment upgrade options. They should also offer pre-integration with company virtual private networks (VPNs), cybersecurity, IT support and teleconferencing solutions, among other things.
Such WFH management platforms will only become more critical to businesses and their employees once the pandemic finally subsides and the much-anticipated "new normal" environment settles in. Because, with estimates that at least 16% of the overall population will need some form of enhanced WFH connectivity solution post-pandemic, the working world will clearly not go back to where it was before.
This blog is sponsored by ASSIA.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading