Have We Reached the Inflection Point for Remote Work?

July 31, 2020
Have We Reached the Inflection Point for Remote Work?

After considering how well organizations have done with work from home over the past few months, business leaders and CIOs are wondering if we have reached an inflection point.

Fortune Magazine's Senior Editor at Large, Geoff Colvin, recently suggested “remote work will become mainstream, if only because so many people will have an online meeting app and know how to use it.”

Meanwhile, CEOs are looking to assemble world class workforces for their organizations. And CFOs are looking to cut real estate costs. These factors, in combination with a more digital-savvy workforce and higher executive comfort level, may help to drive further change to the model of how we work.

Boomi recently convened a group of experts to get more insights on the future of work:

  • Melissa Swift, Global Leader, Digital Transformation Advisory, Korn Ferry
  • Mark Bradley, Principal, EY, People Advisory Services
  • Karen Caveney, Chief HR Technologist, Dell Technologies
  • Joanna Young, Former CIO Michigan State University and Digital Advisor

My last post covered what these experts had to say about the relative success of mass work from home. Here, they discuss whether this will continue long-term.

I'll also provide access to the full webinar recording, which includes the panel's thoughts on other significant transformations to the way we work.

Mark Bradley

I am not a futurist — those folks are lot smarter than me. But I wouldn't say [this] absolutely is an inflection point.

The necessity [of working from home] was jarring. A lot of organizations still had an old-school culture related to in-office work.

But no matter where you fell on that spectrum — whether you were where Dell was with 65 percent remote workers, or EY, where I think we're a pretty nomadic workforce as we tend to work with our clients at their site — it was jarring. I don't think any of us had prepared for not being with people: not being with our clients, not being with our teams. No matter where we were, we worked in physical environments.

The organizations that saw remote work with that negative connotation had to figure out a way to get it done. Now, we are four months into this environment, and we don't know what the end date is.

I think we're seeing a shift in expectations at the worker level based on the level of flexibility that work from home has provided them. [This] is going to start getting codified in the personal expectations of the employment relationship: Will I be afforded the ability on days that I need it or want it, to work in a place that is as flexible as possible and weave in the personal needs that I have, like taking my child somewhere, or getting a doctor's appointment done, or getting a workout done?

So, I do think it has caused a shift, but how dramatic a shift remains to be seen.

Melissa Swift

I really liked Mark’s point, that employees lead change. I think employers probably will have the instinct to say okay, everyone back into the office. Although, to be fair, we're seeing a wide range of opinions on that. A lot of employers are also saying, let's figure out how to extend this.

There are a lot of variations, but I don't think employees are going to have that totally seamless "okay, I'm back in."  A lot of organizations have opened offices at limited capacity, but they're empty because folks aren't coming in. I think that will drive a pretty profound change.

Joanna Young

From an IT workforce perspective, I think we're still too early to make predictions about specific percentages. I think what we can feel comfortable predicting is that it's going to be a mixed, or hybrid, approach. The trend was already going towards flexible work arrangements.

Certainly, millennials were already looking for employers that have a flexible work arrangement, and this has really accelerated that trend. As analysts have pointed out, people are looking for that flexibility. So I think that it's incumbent upon companies to be thinking and saying that it is going to be a hybrid situation.

This will range from people whose roles require in-person and in-place work all the way to people who can be 100 percent never in the office. That's going to bring complexity at scale across talent management policies and practices, putting pressure on everything from onboarding to performance management. And obviously that trickles down into the technology that supports that, from the classic HR systems to collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams or Jira.

So if you look across processes, people, and technology, there is no aspect of this hybrid flexible new work that we find ourselves in that isn't affected, and leaders need to be highly cognizant of that. And they need to be planning to invest appropriately.

Karen Caveney

We are seeing this trend of digital remote work happening across the technologies.

In our last all-hands [meeting] for HR, our chief HR officer said that he suspects he will spend the rest of his career as a remoter worker, which I think is big and a huge game changer. And I think that speaks to the direction that we're seeing that the trends going, and all the impact it can have in positive ways on eco-footprint.

If you've wanted to live somewhere else, now is the time to think about that. We can do our work wherever we want to be. I'm not planning on moving, but it's nice to know that that's an option for me, allowing me to do what I love to do in a place that I love.

Our team has also been spending a lot of time thinking about work that has to happen on premises, because Dell still makes things. It's a brain trust of the right folks in HR, facilities, finance, and security connecting to shape what we're calling our return-to-site strategy. It is not return-to-work, because everybody has been working this whole time. Everyone's been productive this whole time. But how do we bring people back to the work site?

[The team] put together a plan with three different three phases of workers coming back. Of course, our essential workers have been there the whole time in very careful, cautious ways. But as we bring more folks back, we have gates to cross in terms of local laws, health reports, and other things to bring us to that right space.

Conference rooms are going to be closed, or only one or two people are going to be allowed in. Our workspaces are going to change. Masks are going to be required. We're going to allow for those health checks.

Some Parting Thoughts

I hope that this post has proved valuable to you and sparked more thought about work options going forward. If you'd like to hear more of what our panelists had to share, you can listen to the webinar recording on-demand.

To learn more about the future of work, please read our brief, "Transforming the Nature of Work for the New Normal: The Case for Digital-First Workforce Transformation."

About the Author

Myles Suer is Boomi's global enterprise marketing manager.