Almost overnight, COVID-19 forced millions of employees worldwide to begin working from home. This shift dramatically changed how businesses approach when and where employees can work, which also raises challenges around how to maintain office culture in a remote environment.
One thing is clear: the enforced changes brought about by the pandemic opened the eyes of employees and business leaders alike to new ways of working. Organizations across the globe have been presented with unique opportunities to challenge convention, adopt innovative technologies, and create change more boldly than they ever have before. Remote work has changed our lives in more ways than previously imaginable, and it’s here to stay. According to Gartner, 74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently  while industry analyst firm Nemertes reports that 91% of global organizations now support WFH, up from 63% prior to the outbreak. 
We have the opportunity to shape a new future by redefining what “work” really means – it isn’t a place, but a purpose that is powered by collaboration and workflows. Communication technologies have never been as vital as they are now, centered around driving productivity across all facets. The “next normal” of work is hybrid working, a blend of office and remote work. It will empower employees to seek out purposeful workspaces customized for different needs:
- The “office” environment will provide the place for innovation, problem-solving and serendipitous interactions as well as for building connection, trust and culture
- The “home” environment will be geared toward individual work projects as well as coordination, planning and reviews
- The “third space” environment—be that a cabin, the backyard or a simple walk with the dog—will offer necessary moments of reflection, creativity, inspiration and restoration
The strategic use of communication and collaboration technology has the ability to create consistent experiences for every worker, whether they’re at home, in a company office or in their preferred third space. Here are the ways in which technology can help deliver on a future of work unencumbered by location.
Professional Home Set-ups
The move to home working showed us that the majority of employees could work at home for prolonged periods. But in the long-term, the home office needs to become fit for purpose.
- It’s not enough to use DIY set-ups or provide a laptop with the expectation that employees will be productive. We need to bring enterprise-grade technology into the home, starting with professional headsets with active noise cancelling and Ultra HD video conferencing cameras to enable crystal clear communication.
- Along with enterprise-grade technology for the hybrid work environment, businesses need to introduce new guidelines to help limit burn-out from extended hours in front of a screen and video fatigue, enabling employees to maintain a fresh perspective at work.
Built-in Native Experiences
As employee work patterns evolve, strategic use of technology can help create spaces that are human-first and centered on empowering ideation.
- Video conferencing bars with built-in native software experiences that are compatible with leading cloud video services will play a starring role in the development of collaboration spaces both in and out of the office.
- Integrating cloud-based services directly into hardware will help offer workers flexibility as well as a consistent user experience no matter where they are or when they meet. This level of integration and choice results in one seamless experience that is easy to adopt by organizations worldwide.
Low-Touch and Voice Control
Low-touch and voice-based technologies will help limit contact with shared screens and surfaces.
- The meeting rooms of the future will minimize physical contact and touching of buttons. Rather, intelligent voice-based AI technology, user recognition and smart integration capabilities will allow workers to connect wirelessly to meetings via video bars and consoles while still creating a meaningful experience that mimics that of being in-person.
- Video conferencing hardware that integrates with any platform will allow employees to join the meeting from their personal laptop or smartphone without fussing with extraneous cords.
New Levels of Immersion
The rise of AI in video conferencing solutions will increase, bringing richer ways to collaborate while simultaneously addressing video conference fatigue. According to a 2014 study in the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, over 85% of communication is lost due to the lack of body language because we often don’t pick up on non-verbal cues appropriately via video. 
- AI tracking features that intelligently follow speakers as they move around the room and split screen functionalities will be used to bridge this gap.
- Systems will also be able to intelligently monitor what’s happening in a meeting and within its wider environment, blocking out excess background noise, so employees can focus on having efficient and productive meetings.
Remote Work Is The Catalyst
During difficult times, it’s often hard to see silver linings. Although COVID-19 has posed many challenges on a global scale, it has also brought on a slew of changes, including the rapid advancement of digital transformation, the emergence of new winners and old industries that have been reborn out of necessity to survive.
The forced move to remote work is the catalyst to radically accelerating hybrid working—and it presents an opportunity to create productive environments that accommodate the workstyles of every employee in the “next normal.” Technology has already proven its stake during the pandemic – International Workplace Group reports that over 85% of businesses believe greater location flexibility has led to an increase in productivity. 
The blueprint for this new way of working will enable employees to enjoy the freedom of flexibility, while businesses will thrive through more motivated, collaborative, inspired and productive teams. Technology will serve as the north star that will propel hybrid working forward through its ability to power new workflows between people and places while enabling seamless communication and collaboration.
 Gartner CFO Survey Reveals 74% Intend to Shift Some Employees to Remote Work Permanently. (2020, April 3) Gartner, Inc. https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-04-03-gartner-cfo-surey-reveals-74-percent-of-organizations-to-shift-some-employees-to-remote-work-permanently2
 Lazar, I. (2020, April 17). Why Work-from-Home Requires Team Collaboration. Nemertes, https://nemertes.com/why-work-from-home-requires-team-collaboration/
 Schoenenberg, K., Raake, A., & Koeppe, J. (2014). Why are you so slow? – Misattribution of transmission delay to attributes of the conversation partner at the far-end. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 72(5), 477-487. doi:10.1016/j.ijhcs.2014.02.004
 Global research shows that flexible working is now a deal breaker in the war for talent. (2019, March 13), International Workplace Group, https://www.iwgplc.com/MediaCentre/PressRelease/flexible-working-is-now-a-deal-breaker-in-the-war-for-talent