The COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring heartbreak and tragedy for many individuals and families while placing incredible financial and emotional strain on others. The hope is that as some communities near or experience a peak, we can continue to suppress numbers in other places through smart policies that will allow us to preserve lives as we search for treatments and ultimately a vaccine.
At the same time, the world is beginning to turn its attention how to responsibly open communities and businesses to some semblance of normal. With the realization that things will likely not be fully returned to normal for a very long time – if ever – I thought it worthwhile to ask a number of women technologists that have been part of this column in the past what they envision for the future, and how tech will play a role.
Interestingly, what I envisioned as a rundown of trends and technologies instead resolved around one dominant theme. While infrequent mentions of contactless technologies like cameras and sensors made an appearance, and some women mentioned trends in content, the prevailing forecast for the technology industry is a growing embrace of telework or remote workplaces.
Remote Working Is the Next Normal
Work from home trends have ebbed and flowed over the past years, while overall marching towards a more mainstream embrace. But with people under lockdown around the world, the number of workers having to telecommute suddenly skyrocketed. TIBCO Chief Information Officer Sharon Mandell makes the point, saying that her company “went from a 20% remote workforce to over 85% almost overnight.”
That shift shows no signs of reversing in the long term. In fact, a new Gartner survey found that 74% of CFOs have already reported they intend to make the shift to remote work for some employees a permanent one.
That’s because from increased productivity and higher employee retention to reducing environmental impact, the benefits of this way of working are clear. And now, this crash course on remote working has helped companies deploy technologies, develop policies, learn best practices, and break down taboos to lay the foundation for long term change.
Hayden Brown, CEO and President of UpWork says that while the shift was already happening before the outbreak, she is now starting to see more businesses move toward finding and hiring talent based on proven quality, experience, and skill. She believes “COVID-19 has only accelerated this reduced concern for the physical constraints of location.”
To fully realize the benefits of remote teams, Feed.fm founder Lauren Pafpuf says employers must drop the traditional “butts in seats” mentality. Otherwise, friction and resistance to change will continue to hold back optimal productivity.
The Technologies Enabling This Trend
The technologies that can help alleviate this friction and allow employers to become confident in remote workers are legion. Collaborative tech like Slack, Zoom, and Google Suites had already gained adherents before the pandemic for their ability to facilitate virtual connections. Now, they are everyday tools for the world’s remote workforce.
Shannon Sbar, Vice President, IT Channels, North America for Schneider Electric said her company had seen video conference increase in significance, but that the pandemic has helped demonstrate its value to skeptics. Looking ahead, she expects the platforms to become even more secure and easier to use as they become more mainstream.
Beyond workplace tools, the pandemic and resulting remote workforce also show the importance of supporting technologies. Rani Johnson, Chief Information Officer of Solar Winds, says that in the near term we should expect an “increase in transitions to hybrid IT realities” necessitated by remote working trends.
She believes more companies will gravitate towards the cloud and that the transformation to digital we’re seeing happen in real time means the cost of failing to adapt will become higher than the cost of implementation.
Alongside the growth of AI and machine learning capabilities in support of IT service and database management, we’ll also see the growth of remote monitoring platforms and predictive maintenance tools. Schneider Electric’s Sbar says that early adoption of these services has already been strong, but as it grows managers will be better able to maintain their respective processes, identify when repairs are needed, and then oversee those repairs without needing to be onsite.
This need for investment in network and application monitoring was reinforced by a recent 451 Research report that found 41% of tech leaders are feeling the strain of increased traffic on their IT resources. Risk is also a concern, as 40% of audit leaders ranked IT security as their first COVID-19 related business concern in a new Gartner survey.
The female technologists surveyed here echoed those themes, with many saying that remote working will expose new threats and cybersecurity must evolve quickly to address them. They believe we will soon see enhanced individual, business, and network cybersecurity products as a result.
Business and Talent Shifts
As remote work cements its role in the workplace of both today and tomorrow, it will require changes beyond just new technologies. TIBCO’s Mandell believes that required remote work situations show the need for trust and goodwill between employees and companies. The pandemic has helped everyone to understand that relationships are the key to the enterprise and its productivity, not a centuries old reliance on a central, common physical space.
Similarly, Elizabeth Cibor, Senior Director, Global Marketing – Lifestyle Automotive at HARMAN says that shelter-in-place rules have shattered the myth that working from home is easier than working from an office. Now that everyone has experienced its challenges, she hopes we can collectively redefine what work-life balance means.
She expects our shared experience will contribute to a greater understanding of both the limitations and benefits of distributed work in the future. Ideally, Cibor says, “I hope we’ll see greater acceptance of flexible schedules to accommodate life outside of work and that children and family won’t remain invisible in business settings.”
Beyond these cultural shifts, others point to a need for refocusing on talent needs. UpWorks’ Brown predicts that as companies adopt these technologies, there will be an uptick in sustained demand for technical talent and the teams that can best deploy and service these technologies. This was reinforced by TIBCO’s Mandell who pointed out her company has had to make significant investments in time and resources to handle the change management aspects of the transition and then make people comfortable with new required technologies.
Brown also thinks hiring teams will expand their emphasis on talent over location in order to deliver more flexible models that can best accomplish critical initiatives.
Quickly, on Distance Learning
The area outside of remote working where I received the most feedback was in child-related technologies.
Stephanie Dua, Cofounder and President of HOMER pointed out that until recently, technology was something that we “feared and felt kept our kids from interacting with the outside world.” But now that it’s become their only portal to the outside world – learning with teachers, connecting with friends and loved ones, being inspired with virtual dance and yoga – she believes we have a new appreciation for the role of technology in our kids’ lives.
In her words, the conversation is no longer “is technology good or bad,” but rather about understanding the types of technologies and their appropriate use. She believes technology has two “superpowers” for early learning: the ability to personalize an experience to a child’s ability and way of learning, and universal access to proven learning resources. While Dua admits the last point depends on closing the digital divide, she holds out hope for the ability of technology to expand our children’s minds in the decades to come.
What is undeniable for both the workplace and the schoolroom is that just as the disease has changed our thoughts on society, the role of government, and even financial safety nets – it has also changed our view of technology. Trends that were growing pre-virus have accelerated and likely become part of the new normal. Others that we resisted (screen time for kids!), have now become a lifeline under stay-at-home rules.
The views of the author of this article do not necessarily represent the views of Gradifi. We make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained here. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax or financial advisors to understand the tax, financial and legal consequences of any strategies mentioned in this article.