If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that you can’t predict the future. After a year so full of plot twists and derailed plans, it’s no wonder why you might ask yourself, ‘Why would anyone try to make predictions about what the year 2021 has in store for us?’ But this year has catalyzed a chain reaction of momentous changes in society and, therefore, the world of work – something that Poly knows a thing or two about.
To address changes in the workplace, we put a call out to four Poly experts from different corners of the world to share their perspectives on how COVID-19 will continue to shape our present in a mostly pre-vaccine world, and what they expect will remain transformed well beyond the grips of the pandemic. Below are the responses from Carl Wiese, Chief Revenue Officer at Poly in North America, Vin La Rocca, Senior Vice President for North America, Pierre-Jean Châlon, Senior Vice President for Asia Pacific, and Paul Clark, Senior Vice President for EMEA.
TREND 1: HYBRID WORKING IS HERE TO STAY
“There is no question about whether hybrid working – and everything that comes with it such as the flexibility of work practices, workspaces, and corporate cultures will continue to be embraced with open arms in 2021,” explained Clark. Whether you work from a home office, an office building, or somewhere else, the challenge of keeping everyone connected was put to the test around the world this past year.
Châlon, shares, “Remote working has long been thought of as the ‘Wild West’ of workstyles in some parts of the world.” A model that only start-ups and small organizations adopted out of necessity due to the lack of a physical office. In the Asia Pacific region, this has held true primarily due to traditional Asian views that work must be done in an office. 2020 has normalized remote working and business leaders are now accepting that most people can do their work from anywhere. Châlon notes that “in Singapore, employees and employers alike are happy about remote working arrangements, and more recently, a growing number of banks have made flexible arrangements a permanent fixture for their staff and we’ll likely see more organizations across different industries following suit.”
TREND 2: TRANSFORMATION OF ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE AND OFFICE SPACES
The considerable amount of effort applied by many HR departments toward building a ‘people-first’ culture in 2020 has been paving way for the future of work. To do this, they must address changes in the workplace and rethink how they attract talent. Wiese explains, “Corporate perks will change – enticements to attract top talent will move from things like on-site gyms, daycare, and lunchrooms with free food to perks that are more relevant in a COVID to post-COVID work environment. Perks will look more like digital health and wellbeing services, such as subscriptions to apps for meditation, fitness, therapy, and more.”
When it comes to talent acquisition and training, La Rocca adds, “Acquiring, onboarding and educating employees are now done virtually with no geographical boundaries. The best firms will ensure their employees start on day one with the best remote working experience. While recruiting, smart use of technology will allow companies to come across as more vibrant and therefore will have an advantage when trying to attract the best of the best.
From a management perspective, Châlon puts forward the notion that the shift toward hybrid working will introduce greater autonomy for people and change the way teams are led. He believes, “The key to a successful hybrid workforce (or any relationship) is trust. Business leaders and managers need to empower their teams with trust and confidence that they will be able to get things done with minimal oversight.” When it comes to workspaces, Châlon predicts, “Offices will shift from being the ‘default’ location of work to centralized workspaces geared towards collaboration.” These workspaces will need to be designed with integrated touchless functionality and technology to cater to the increasing concerns around public safety and health. “From sensors that track people density hotspots to air filtering technologies – these new additions will go a long way in helping workers feel more comfortable when returning to work,” added Châlon.
To reinforce Châlon’s outlook on workspaces, Wiese adds, “organizations will focus on creating purposeful workspaces, being thoughtful about the design and use of different workspaces. Focusing on the reimagination of office design for innovation, collaboration, connection, and trust.” With so many working from home, employers must ensure employees’ home offices are conducive to individual work activities and virtual team coordination and collaboration.
Additionally, as companies continue to invest more in their employees’ home offices in 2021, they will need to rethink how they use surplus office space and face the challenge of predicting how much office space they will need post-COVID. According to Wiese, we can expect organizations to repurpose that extra space to create inventive environments, “whether it’s designing the lobby more like that of a hotel which doubles as a meeting space, a workplace featuring café-like gathering spaces, or an office designed with different ‘zones’ geared to different work activities.”
TREND 3: VIDEO IS THE WAY FORWARD
For as far as you can look back, there has always been a degree of reliance on international travel for business. All this has changed with the onset of COVID-19 as nations limited travel – shifting the pendulum from ‘location’ to ‘people’ as businesses made use of technology to overcome distance. As a result, we’ve witnessed a boom in the adoption of video, audio, and software services that will continue into next year. And according to Clark, “even if we are able to return to ‘normal’, business travel will not be exactly as it was before.”
Today, video conferencing is the solution of choice for workforces looking for a richer way to engage and collaborate with internal and external stakeholders. Faster internet connectivity, improved video compression technology, and the roll-out of 5G have also made high-definition video a viable alternative to meeting in-person as it offers an immersive remote collaboration experience. These advancements were necessary as meeting via video became the norm for significant proportions of the global workforce in industries that previously had not used video in their operations. “More than ever, healthcare providers are turning to telehealth services powered by video conferencing technologies to meet the medical consultation needs of their patients and educators took to home-based teaching” explained Châlon. Simply put, video has not just served as a temporary fix. Rather, it has unlocked more opportunities for these industries. Châlon predicts that the video adoption momentum will continue in 2021 and, “organizations should look to enabling their workforce with the right tools and training to take advantage of these video platforms to improve employee and customer experiences.”
La Rocca agrees that the increased use of video will not stop at private industry – he foresees the trend of meeting and working over video continuing to grow in the North American public sector. “Government entities, healthcare providers, and educational institutions see the advantages of flexible work to ensure their constituents receive richer experiences and greater expertise through leveraging a better video experience.”
Lastly and importantly, although video can surely help us all get work done collaboratively, some things can be lost in a remote working environment. These are those serendipitous, unplanned collisions that spark new ideas and build interpersonal connections. Wiese believes that organizations will need to “proactively engineer moments of serendipity into remote work life” and find new ways to ‘plan for chance.’
TREND 4: PROSUMER AT THE CENTER
With people moving between the office and home, business continuity and individual preferences will finally be put at par when organizations are making purchasing decisions. Technology is increasingly being used across personal and professional life – resulting in an acute demand for individual preferences for comfort, features, and aesthetics. This individualization of technology will make the consumer more powerful and the industry will innovate around this demand. UC devices and software will become even easier to use and work-from-home kits will put home decors at the center of innovation. However, as Clark explains, “This doesn’t mean that we will diverge from crafting the secure enterprise technology Poly is known for. Work-from-home kits will be enterprise-grade and technology for office buildings will see a similar rise in demand for individualization. More devices will talk to each other and software will be created for cross-industry compatibility.”
As user’s aesthetic preferences permeate the device market, Châlon predicts that the user’s experience while working from home will matter more than ever – leading to a plethora of product features and service options. “With much of the workforce using video conferencing, we can expect greater demand for improvements and features that will increase their work productivity and efficiency.” On the user’s end of the call, Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) features for blocking out distracting background noise should already be the standard for headsets. Meanwhile, technologies like Poly Acoustic Fence provide the ability to improve the audio quality for the far-end of the call by preventing external noise (like your children yelling in the background) from bleeding into the call. “Let’s face it, this feature alone is likely worth its weight in gold for employees working from home alongside their families,” added Châlon.
Smart, user-centric software will also increase as issues such as ‘video fatigue,’ burnout, and isolation point to the importance of helping the workforce proactively tend to their mental health. Châlon asserts that “video conferencing solutions will need features such as timers and alarms to rouse the user from prolonged video meetings, remind them to schedule breaks, provide insights for managers to better manage and prevent burnouts within their teams, and more.” On this same note, La Rocca underlines the importance of investments in employee mental health and wellbeing as he believes this is critical to ensuring employee satisfaction and curtailing attrition. “The 10-hour WFH day in the same setting day after day can be taxing, with the right tools in place, technology can set up some guardrails to keep people happy and healthy.” He believes this has to be part of any corporate strategy and organizations should be continuously asking themselves how they can improve their employee’s home working experience.
TREND 5: NEW TECHNOLOGIES AND SERVICES WILL DRIVE BUSINESS AGILITY
As this new world of work moves from on-premise to the online domain, businesses’ digital transformation efforts will be fuelled by the Anything-as-a-Service (XaaS) wave. XaaS follows the digital services subscription model, with businesses offering their customer services on demand. 2021 will see the XaaS model take off, beginning with enterprise-grade video conferencing hardware as people continue working from home and demand surges. “Consider the way a consumer might bundle the price of a smartphone with their phone bill,” explained Châlon. “Here, we can also expect to see industries colliding, where telcos might offer headsets, speakerphones, video bars, and more on a month-to-month paid plan.” In terms of agility, this is great news for businesses as they can now spread the cost of technology investments over several years while helping their employees work seamlessly and without disruption.
Speaking of workplace innovation, Wiese foresees Artificial Intelligence (AI) playing a role in office buildings. “We will see highly imaginative applications of AI – especially when it comes to voice-activated commands that prevent us from touching shared surfaces.” “But there’s more,” he adds, “AI will also alert us to important information on which we can take action — such as a meeting room that’s exceeding its capacity or a notification that a meeting is over so the room can be cleaned.”
AND WITH THAT…
Here we stand on the precipice of another new year – a few bruises to show, but stronger and wiser than ever before. This past year pushed us to tap into the deepest stores of ingenuity, as society innovated at a rate even the most ambitious leaders would have thought impossible. In 2021, organizations must take the lessons learned throughout 2020 and purposefully invest in a flexible, more resilient workforce. The first few months of 2020 were a scramble to survive, and even now, many parts of the world are still struggling to cope with multiple waves of COVID-19 infections. How one plans for and executes on the next 12 months may very well define their success for years to come.