The research identifies recent insights on remote working and trends accelerated by COVID-19. It provides an analysis of critical impacts and challenges faced by companies and remote workers, regarding the deployment of emerging technologies. Artificial Intelligence (AI) including machine learning and automation technologies are expected to resolve some current issues in remote working, which are the emerging trends of the digital workplace in the two to five years.
Impacts and Challenges of Emerging Technologies on Remote Working
- Remote working has accelerated the trend of reducing office infrastructures, such as database servers and storage systems, and saving the office space dedicated to IT hardware. As more employees are expected to work from home, the demand for office space is expected to further decline in the future.
- Telework technologies, such as video-conferencing facilities, real-time communications apps, and high-speed broadband (WiFi 6), enable remote working to be as productive as or better than working in the office. During the time of COVID-19, emerging technologies boost the demand for co-working spaces where remote workers gather for small group meetings. More importantly, telework technologies protect public health and ensure business success.
- According to a survey by Buffer, in 2019, 99% of remote employees indicated that they are willing to work remotely for at least some time in the future. 37% of remote workers were willing to take a pay cut of 10% for working remotely. Despite the global trend of remote working, companies have been slow to adapt their policies to the changing mode of work; this has caused management issues, such as low employee morale associated with performance monitoring and tracking tools. These issues result from concerns over remote workers, such as lack of trust, low productivity, and the opportunity cost of investing in new technologies.
- According to a recent survey by Lenovo, 82% of employees believe that their employers struggle to keep up with technological advancement. The main barriers are the difficulty of training employees, budget prioritization, and inadequate understanding of employees’ needs by IT decision-makers. 71% of the employees in the survey believed that the overreliance on technologies has caused increased physical discomfort, such as eye strain, and 72% of employees at least somewhat worried about their personal data security due to increased use of technologies. Challenges related to internet connectivity and video conferencing are highlighted in the survey by Lenovo and another study by Riverbed.
- Emerging technologies, such as augmented reality and social online meetings, are expected to further mitigate the inadequate remote working solutions, such as video conferencing facilities, by bringing virtual collaboration closer to face-to-face interaction; enhanced virtual, remote working is conducive to innovation.
- Although technologies enable effective and efficient remote working, the long-term challenge of a lonely, depressed workforce remains. Daily social interactions and team-building events are essential for remote workers; social time is expected to be built into virtual communications.
AI and Automation are Pivotal to Productivity and Quality
- As to the performance monitoring of remote workers, AI and machine learning technologies play a pivotal role to ensure productivity and work quality, as distraction often has an adverse impact on performance. More advanced solutions leverage information from survey-based tools to generate reports that reflect the strengths and weaknesses of remote workers.
- Digital assistants, a voice-controlled AI solution, are embedded in smartphones or standalone mobile devices, such as smart speakers. Digital assistants are expected to gain traction in the space of remote working, as they are suitable for home use where people are engaged in activities other than work. By giving voice instructions, smart devices perform tasks on behalf of humans, such as sending emails and hosting conference calls.
- Remote workers tend to suffer from high levels of work stress, as 41% of remote workers reported stress issues in comparison to only 25% of office workers who had such a problem. AI-powered robot coaches, such as Woebot, alleviate stress issues by using daily conversations to track workers’ moods and help them manage mental health. These solutions have started to gain an increasing level of acceptance by employers or managers.
- The root cause of inefficient remote working is that employees tend to feel disengaged when they switch among various apps and platforms, such as Google and Microsoft collaboration tools. Project management solutions, such as Smartsheet, solves this problem by integrating various collaborative tools and optimize automated workflows.
- AI solutions, such as Elin, use natural language processes and sentiment analyses to improve employee morale and engagement. AI and machine learning technologies imitate the social interaction of an office environment by encouraging conversations among remote workers.
- Integrated cloud office solutions are the cornerstone of remote working, which combines personal productivity, collaboration and communication tools into one package. Technology vendors in this space are upgrading cloud services with new mobile, AI and content delivery features. As a central repository, mobile applications grant remote workers one-stop access to essential collaboration tools and documents.
- With the trend of bring-your-own-thing (BYOT), employees start to use a range of mobile and smart devices for remote working, such as fitness bands, voice/digital assistants, and VR headsets. In the future, more sophisticated personal devices, such as robots and drones, are used for work, as telerobotics enhances human’s ability to operate machines remotely. As illustrated in the chart above, the majority of emerging technologies, such as robotic process automation, virtual assistants, and employee productivity monitoring applications, require at least two to five years to reach the plateau of productivity.
- Automation transforms the workplace by retaining workers for tasks that entail emotional intelligence, such as product design, problem-solving, and data analysis. Employers of the future require employees to possess strong learning skills and adapt to fast-changing technologies.
- With the trend of automation, artificial intelligence transforms manufacturing and administrative processes that typically involve a significant amount of repetitive, manual tasks. With the increasing adoption of robots and automated systems in the workplace, job roles are expected to be redefined and employers should train staff on the best ways to work with machines.
The research reviewed a series of ICT industry research, surveys by technology vendors, and news releases by reputable news and broadcasting agencies. An example of ICT research experts is Gartner; examples of technology vendors are Riverbed and Lenovo; examples of news and broadcasting agencies are Forbes and CNBC.