From a CX point of view there is going to be far more interaction with brands and products through online channels. This is not just about eCommerce and buying from a portal. It is also about using tools like Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms more widely. It is about learning to interact with the customer in multiple ways and touching their journeys at multiple points, all virtually using the web – mostly the mobile web.
Ecosystm research shows that almost three out of four companies have decided on accelerating or modifying the digitalisation they were undergoing (Figure 1). It is fair to expect that this gives a further boost to moving to the cloud. For the customer it will mean being able to access information in many new ways and connect with products, services, brands at multiple points on the web.
Since interacting with the customer at multiple points is new for most services, I foresee a lot of missed opportunities as companies learn to navigate a completely different landscape. Customers pampered by digitally native organisations often react harshly to even a small mistake. It will become critical for companies to not just become a bigger presence online but also to manage their customers well.
New solutions such as Customer Data Platforms (CDP), as opposed to CRM will become common. Players who are into Customer Experience management are likely to see huge business growth and new players will rapidly enter this space. They will promise to affordably manage CX across the globe, leveraging the cloud.
#2 Virtual Merges with Real
AR/VR has so far been seen mainly in games where one wears an unwieldy – though ever-improving – headset to transport oneself into a 3D virtual world. Or in certain industrial applications e.g., using a mobile device to look at some machinery; the device captures what the eye can see while providing graphical overlays with information. In 2021 I expect to see almost all industrial applications adopting some form of this technology. This will have an impact on how products are serviced and repaired.
For the mainstream, 2020 was the year of videoconferencing – as iconic as the shift to virtual meetings has been, there is much more to come. Meetings, conferences, events, classrooms have all gone virtual. Video interaction with multiple people and sharing information via shared applications is commonplace. Virtual backgrounds which hide where you are actually speaking from are also widely used and getting more creative by the day.
Imagine then a future where you get on one of these calls wearing a headset and are transported into a room where your colleagues who are joining the call also are. You see them as full 3D people, you see the furniture, and the room decor. You speak and everyone sees your 3D avatar speak, gesture (as you gesture from the comfort of your home office) and move around. It will seem like you are really in the conference room together! If this feels futuristic or unreal try this or look at how the virtual office can look in the very near future.
While the solutions may not look very sophisticated, they will rapidly improve. AR/VR will start to really make its presence felt in the lives of consumers. From being able to virtually “try” on clothes from a boutique to product launches going virtual, these technologies will deeply impact customer experience in 2021 and beyond
In the immortal words of Captain Kirk, we will be going where no man has gone before – enabled by AR / VR.
#3 Digital CX will involve Multiple Technologies
AI, IoT and 5G will continue to support wider CX initiatives.
The advances that I have mentioned will gain impetus from 5G networking, which will enable unprecedented bandwidth availability. To deliver an AR experience over the cloud, riding on a 5G network, will literally be a game changer compared to the capabilities of older networks.
Similarly, IoT will lead to massive changes in terms of product availability, customisation and so on. 5G-enabled IoT will allow a lot more data to be carried a lot faster; and more processing at the edge. IoT will have some initial use cases in Retail, Services and other non-manufacturing sectors – but perhaps not as strongly as some commentators seem to indicate.
AI continues to drive change. While AI may not transform CX in 2021, this is a technology which will be a component of most other CX offerings, and so will impact customer experience in the next few years. In fact, thinking of businesses in 2025 I cannot believe that there will be a single business to customer (B2C) interaction which will not feature some form of AI technology.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the technologies which will impact CX in 2021 – Connect with me on the Ecosystm platform.
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Businesses need a new way to manage the devices and applications of their remote employees. They need to be able to extend the benefits of the WAN to them without the downsides of VPNs. Every business we interviewed saw benefits of bringing devices, locations and offices inside the WAN. Turning every device and office into a Branch of One.
A few security and network technologies have promised this capability – SDNs can offer a similar service, but they require client software to be installed. 78% of businesses we interviewed are using VPNs to bring devices inside the WAN – but again, they require client software, and can be inconsistent (and insecure!) on mobile devices.
Companies that embrace the Branch of One can provision new users in a few clicks. No software to install, no cables to connect, no hardware to provision – it makes life easier for technology and security professionals. The Branch of One gives your employees the systems and data they need to get their job done – delivered securely across the mobile network.
Download the report based on ‘The Global CxO Study 2020: The Future of the Secure Office Anywhere’, conducted by Ecosystm on behalf of Asavie. The report presents the key findings of the study and analyses the market perceptions of Office Anywhere and the need for a ‘Branch of One’, which will be the foundation of enterprise mobile security in the future.
The Top 5 Telecommunications & Mobility Trends for 2021
The 5G Divide – Reality for Some and Hype for Others
Despite the economic challenges in 2020, GSMA reports that the global 5G subscriptions doubled QoQ in Q2 2020 to hit at least 137.7 million subscribers. This accounts for 1.5% of total subscribers – and is expected to rise to 30% by 2025.
The value of 5G will become increasingly mainstream in the next few years. 5G offers a tailored user-centric approach to network services, low latency and significantly higher number of connections which will power a new era of mobile Internet of Everything (IoE).
However, there are many operators who are still sceptical about 5G. In the US, many operators failed to get any tangible positives from 5G. In the near term, many operators will continue to evolve their 5G capabilities – a full grown standalone 5G technology implementation in some verticals might take longer.
The unsuccessful launch of 5G by the US operators does not mean that 5G is a failure, however. It also implies that we need to look at other geographies to lead us into 5G – and Asia Pacific may well emerge as a leader in this space. China, for example, leads the drive in 5G adoption; and 5G smartphones account for more than half of global sales in recent months.
Telecom Operators Will Accelerate Digital Transformation
Telecom operators are facing increasing demands for cutting-edge services and top-notch customer experience (CX). The global pandemic has caused revenue loss, due to struggling economies and many operators will aim to reduce OpEX to circumvent these financial pressures, raise the quality of CX and retain existing customers. To realise this, there will be much focus on improvement in efficiencies, better operations management as well as improving the IT stack. These digital transformation efforts will enable rapid and flexible services provisioning, which will be better prepared for the tailored services customers now demand.
Many operators are increasingly incorporating cloudification alongside the 5G network deployment. Operators are moving towards transforming their operations and business support systems to a more virtualised and software-defined infrastructure. 5G will operate across a range of frequencies and bands – with significantly more devices and connections becoming software-defined with computing power at the Edge. Operators will also harness the power of AI to analyse massive volumes of data from the networks accessed by millions of devices in order to improve CX, ramp up operational efficiencies as well as introduce new services tailored to customer needs to increase revenue.
Remote Working Will Transform Telecommunications Networks
The changing patterns in peak network traffic and the substantial movement of traffic from central business districts to residential areas require a fundamental rethink in network traffic management. In addition, many businesses continue to ramp up digital transformation efforts to conduct business online as physical channels will remain limited. Consumer onboarding will also be fervent, as organisations look at business recovery – resulting in increase in bandwidth requirements.
The increasing remote working trend is amplifying the need for greater cybersecurity. Cybersecurity has catapulted in importance as the pandemic has seen a worrying increase in attacks on banks, cloud servers and mobile devices, among others. Cyber-attack incidents specifically due to remote working, has seen a rise. A telecom operator’s compromised security can have country-wide, and even global consequences.
SASE Will Grow – and Sprawl
Although it was perhaps originally seen as an Over-The-Top (OTT) provisioned competitive service to operators’ MPLS services, many telecom service providers have been embracing SD-WAN over the years as part of their managed services portfolio. “Traditional” SD-WAN offers some of the flexibility needed to address the change towards a more distributed access and the workload requirements that the pandemic has accelerated – the technology does not address all of the issues related to this transformed workspace.
Employees are now working from a variety of locations and workloads are becoming increasingly distributed. To address this change, organisations are challenged to move workloads and applications between platforms, potentially compromising security. Despite all the challenges that the pandemic brought with it – both human and technical – it has also provided organisations with an opportunity to rethink their IT and WAN architectures and to adopt an approach that has security at its core.
We believe that secure access service edge (SASE), which is a model for combining SD-WAN and security in a cloud-based environment, will see a drastic rise in adoption in 2021 and beyond.
OTT Players Will Continue their Expansion in the Telecommunications Space
Facebook, Google, Amazon are no longer considered as web companies as they moved from standalone ‘web’ companies to become OTT providers and are now significant players in telecom space. With the Facebook-Jio deal in India earlier this year, and with Google and Amazon actively eyeing the telecom space, these players will continue to explore this space especially in the emerging markets of Asia and Africa. There are telecom providers in these countries which will be prime targets for partnerships. These operators could be those that have a large customer base, are struggling with their bottom lines or are already looking at exit routes. OTT players were already offering services like voice, messaging, video calling and so on which have been the domain expertise of mobile operators for a long time. The market will see instances where telecom providers will sell small stakes to OTT players at a premium and get access to the vast array of services that these OTT providers offer.
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2020 was a breakout year for SaaS providers – and a tough one for a lot of on-premises software vendors. SaaS (or mainly SaaS) providers like Salesforce, Zoom, Microsoft had record growth and some of the best quarters in their history, while other mainly on-premises software providers have had poor quarters. SAP is even accelerating the transition to a 100% cloud-based business as their revenue suffers. The race to deploy SaaS tools and platforms is well and truly happening. Many of the usual ROI models and business cases have been abandoned as the need for agility – to drive business change at pace trumps most other business needs. Ecosystm data validates this
This trend will continue in 2021 – in fact, we expect it to accelerate. Most SaaS solutions (such as CRM, ERP, SCM, HRM etc.) are implemented by less than 30% of businesses today – which means the upside for the SaaS providers is huge.
Hybrid Cloud Will Finally Become Mainstream
The sudden move to remote working in 2020 forced most organisations to increase their use and reliance on cloud-based applications. Employees have relied on collaborative tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WebEx to conduct virtual meetings, call centre workers had to respond to calls from home – most if not all relying on cloud-based apps and platforms. This trend is set to continue going forward. Ecosystm research finds that 44% of organisations will spend more on cloud-based collaboration tools in the next 6-12 months.
But the forced adoption of these tools has also prompted many – especially larger organisations – to worry about losing control of their IT resources, including worries related to security and compliance, cost, and reliability. As for the latter, both Microsoft Azure and Zoom experienced outages after the pandemic hit and this has made many organisations wary of relying too much on a single public cloud platform. Ecosystm therefore expects a sharp increase in focus on hybrid cloud platforms in 2021 as IT Teams seek to regain control of the apps and services their employees rely the most upon.
Carrier Investment in 5G Will Give Edge Computing a Boost
The gap between the hype around edge computing and the actual capabilities it offers will narrow in 2021 as 5G networks are built out. One of the most promising methods of deploying edge computing involves carriers embedding cloud capacity in their own data centres connected to their 5G networks. This ensures data does not unnecessarily leave the network, reducing latency and preserving bandwidth. This combination of 5G and the Edge will be of particular benefit to applications that until now have faced a trade-off between mobility and connectivity. Over the last twelve months, the major hyperscalers announced their 5G edge computing offerings, and some of the major global telecom providers have served as test cases by partnering with at least one hyperscaler and will likely add more over the next year. Expect this ecosystem to expand greatly in 2021.
Cloud environments can benefit from pushing computing-heavy workloads to the Edge in much the same way as IoT and provides a great platform for managing the edge computing endpoints. The flipside of pushing containers to the Edge will be the increased complexity and the fact that the number of attack surfaces will increase. Containerisation must therefore be deployed with security at its core.
Stateful Applications Will Move to the Cloud with Containers and Orchestration
As organisations seek to migrate workloads and applications between platforms in an increasingly hybrid cloud environment, the need for “lifting and shifting”, refactoring and partitioning applications will increase. These approaches all have their shortcomings, however. Lifting and shifting an application may limit its functionality now or in the future; refactoring may take too long or be too costly; and partitioning is often not feasible or possible. A better approach to this task is to modernise the applications to make use of application containers like Docker, Windows Server Containers, Linux VServer and so on, to enable a faster and more seamless way to migrate applications between platforms. We also see container orchestration environments like Kubernetes and containerised development and deployment platforms like IBM’s Cloud Paks.
How these technologies are used to deploy stateful applications in multicloud environments will evolve. A raft of container management platforms, based on Kubernetes, are being released to simplify what was once a complex DIY process. New entrants will look to challenge the cloud hyperscalers, virtualisation giants, and Kubernetes specialists. The emerging features that previously required cobbling together third-party tools, like service mesh, data fabric, and machine learning, will speed up containerisation of stateful core applications. The deployment of containers on bare metal rather than in virtualised environments will also gather pace. The most challenging task will be delivering containerised applications at the Edge, forcing developers and platform providers to create inventive solutions.
Serverless will take us a step closer to NoOps
As the application lifecycle speeds up and the distinction between development and operations shrinks, the motivation to adopt serverless computing will grow in 2021. While NoOps, the concept that operations could become so automated that it fades into the background, is still a distant goal, serverless computing will make a stride in that direction by abstracting the application from the infrastructure. Having seen the agility benefits of a microservices architecture, many DevOps teams will experiment with breaking services down further into functions. Moreover, the pay-as-you-go model of serverless will appeal to OpEx driven organisations. Expect stories of bill shock, however, as were seen in the early days of cloud adoption. While AWS Lambda is currently considered the serverless industry standard, it is likely that in 2021, Microsoft, Google, and IBM will ramp up efforts in this space. Each of these providers will build out their offering in terms of languages supported, event triggers, consumption plans, machine learning/AI options, observability, and user experience.
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In the recently published the Top 5 Cybersecurity & Compliance Trends for 2021 report Ecosystm predicts that 2021 is when M&As will ramp up in earnest to consolidate the fragmented cybersecurity market. The pandemic has slowed down M&A activities in 2020. Early signs of what we can expect from the market when we emerge from COVID-19 can be seen in the recent acquisition of Asavie by Akamai Technologies. The market is realising the full implication of the shift to remote working and the potential of increased cyber threats – and this acquisition is a sign that larger vendors will continue to strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities by acquiring vendors, with complementary capabilities.
Asavie Enabling the Secure Office Anywhere
Asavie, headquartered in Ireland, offers a global platform that manages the security, performance, and access policies for mobile and internet-connected devices. Asavie delivers secure access to business resources for a mobile workforce – without requiring installation and management of client software. Increasing mobile workloads and Office Anywhere trends mean that the enterprise private network is no longer just PCs/laptops. All enterprise endpoints must be considered to be a part of the enterprise network – and security and authentication solutions must be able to handle this. Organisations will need to explore options where they can give seamless access to their employees without straining their IT and cybersecurity teams – a rapidly installable, scalable, and cloud-managed solution will become a necessity.
More than ever before, enterprises will have to treat all endpoints as branches of the organisation, and the Future of Work goes beyond enabling home offices. The Global CXO Study: The Future of the Secure Office Anywhere finds that 66% of IT and business leaders think of multiple locations, when they think of Office Anywhere. Employees will work wherever they get the best work experience and are most productive. Future work patterns will require that all endpoints are considered as extended branches of the organisation. This involves the ability to extend the enterprise WAN – with speed, flexibility, and security in mind – whether it is a temporary or a home office, an ad-hoc point of sales or an employee on the go. Every employee or device should be treated like a Branch of One.
“Akamai has been diversifying away from its well-known content delivery network (CDN) offering and has successfully built its security business offering in recent years. In 2019, the company nearly doubled its security revenue to USD 849 million from just USD 488 million in 2017. In their 3rd quarter financial results reported in end October 2020, the Cloud Security Solutions revenue was US$266 million, up 23% year-over-year.”
“The move into the mobile security segment has been timely for Akamai as enterprise application and content is moving from behind the firewall to the cloud; adding to the criticality of the cybersecurity threat management. The COVID-19 pandemic has further driven the onboarding of businesses and consumers alike, adding to significant addressable market opportunities.”
“The acquisition of Asavie is a strategic move. Asavie’s solution effectively extends the enterprise security management to incorporate mobile devices as a ‘Branch of One’ enabling CIOs and CISOs to manage security and policies the same way as traditional enterprise network resources. The growth of 5G will further drive IoT devices and a myriad of applications and use cases which will provide for a significant growth opportunity for Akamai – the acquisition of Asavie is a positive move to support this trend.”
Akamai Strengthens Intelligent Edge Capabilities
Asavie’s mobile, IoT and security solutions will integrate with Akamai’s Security and Personalisation Services (SPS) product line sold to carrier partners that embed the solution within the technology bundle sold to their subscribers. With the Asavie acquisition, Akamai intends to help their carrier partners address enterprise and mid-market customer demand for IoT and mobile device security and management services.
“The addition of Asavie to Akamai’s SPS product line provides synergy for the company to expand into new addressable markets for the remote workforce and internet-connected devices to deliver superior experience in a multi-cloud environment. The Global CXO Study conducted by Ecosystm found that three quarters of the organisations rate mobile security as an important or very important part of their digital transformation strategy. Secure mobile experiences will be a core element of the enterprise going forward in the post COVID-19 business environment – driven by employee needs for mobile services and corporate resources from remote locations, with superior identity and policy management, in a frictionless manner.”
“There is an opportunity for mobile service providers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) to leverage the Asavie solution combined with Akamai’s strength at the edge with over 1,500 networks worldwide to offer cloud-based value-added cybersecurity services. The Global CXO Study also found that scaling of endpoint security was a major pain point for half the organisations with more than 100 branches. Service providers can become the enabler by offering services for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to dynamically adapt their network and security services to fluctuating demand conditions.”
“Although Akamai does offer CDN services for the SME segment, the company heavily relies on service providers and carriers to address this segment in the CDN, cloud security and its burgeoning IoT Edge offerings. Asavie’s market approach is similar and its products and services portfolio appears to complement Akamai’s very well, making it a very good fit for the company. Not only will it enhance Akamai’s SME positioning on the secure connectivity space, but it will also boost its offerings for carriers in the IoT space.”
“Carriers have had a checkered history at best, in understanding and making the most of data services. Mobile Internet took off because of smartphone manufacturers (Apple) and Internet companies – not through carrier offerings. Although carriers appear to be more proactive and forward-looking with regards to IoT, they should not expect to have the foresight to see what services and business cases will make 5G and IoT truly profitable. Rather, their main focus should be on enabling the secure and flexible infrastructure that can ultimately enable others to develop the use cases. The next logical step would then be for carriers to develop IoT orchestration platforms that can manage much larger parts of the IoT value chain. If they succeed in this (and even if they don’t) it could result in a major boost for Akamai’s CDN business.”
“In other words, carriers need help with IoT and to that end, Akamai’s acquisition of Asavie may strengthen its ability to support carriers to reach that goal.”
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Remote Working Will Force Contact Centres to Re-evaluate Security Measures
Security has always been a concern for contact centre leaders. Improper data use by agents and agents breaching confidentiality are the biggest security challenges for contact centres. This has been further heightened, especially the fear of agents purposely breaching confidentiality while working from home.
Contact centres are still trying to figure out the best security measures when managing customer data, especially in the work-from-home environment. There is greater scrutiny over security and compliance measures – what agents view, how agents access the data, when agents log in and out of the system. Outsourcing providers will also have to guarantee high levels of security – a trusted relationship and defining the best practices on working from home will not be sufficient.
Many contact centres will trial different methods – from installing video surveillance cameras, desktop monitoring tools and access controls. Others will test technologies that can mask the information captured through mobile devices. This presents immense opportunities for vendors, as contact centres will rely heavily on technology to re-invent their security practices.
Contact Centres will Invest in Conversational AI – Chatbots will No Longer be Enough
Many enterprises have rushed into deploying chatbots with expectations that these engines can solve the problem of high call volumes. The outcomes have often been poor, leaving customers frustrated and opting to interact with a live agent instead. Implementing a basic chatbot does not fully solve the problem and will force companies back to the drawing board.
Conversational AI offers a different experience by designing multiple forms of dialogues and conversations. It requires conversational design and the algorithms go through rigour from the start. The aim should be to make the channel irresistible – one that customers have confidence in, and that can reduce the need to email or call an agent. Successful uses cases have shown that conversational AI can reduce calls and repetitive queries by 70-90%. Ecosystm research finds that contact centres are ramping up their self-service capabilities and their adoption of AI and machine learning.
Offshore Centres will Re-invent Themselves and Make a Comeback
2020 has seen contact centres in offshore locations struggle to offer services to global clients. Many of these operators have been plagued by poor internet connectivity at agents’ homes, and unfavourable home working environments. These outsourcing locations remain vital however, for multiple reasons – for example the range of services offered, agent specialisation, costs or diversity in agent profile.
Contact centre outsourcing providers will make a comeback in 2021 and we can expect new models to appear. Many providers across the globe have been running successful work-from-home only operations for years – other outsourcing providers will learn from these best practices. Organisations will find that bringing jobs back to high-cost locations will incur more costs. A full onshore model may not be the right model for business continuity, and organisations will prefer to have back-up locations to ensure continuity of services if another pandemic or catastrophe happens. Organisations will want to see the outsourcing providers offer them a choice of location – they will prefer some services to be delivered from offshore locations and others to remain onshore.
Digital and Mobile will be the Cornerstone of Deeper Customer Engagement
COVID-19 has changed how customers want to be served, and organisations have had to re-evaluate how they use their channels – e.g. email, web, chat and voice. Customer profiles and expectations have changed over the year and they are more digital savvy and are more likely to interact with brands through digital and mobile apps. They will expect a single point of interaction – for their enquiries and to complete their transactions. For instance, they will expect to chat while filling up shopping carts. Introducing chat capabilities within mobile apps is a good way to impress customers – this can be an effective way to push promotions and upsell. Capabilities such as the ability to directly place a call from a website will make the customer experience exceptional. Customers will expect to move between channels easily when interacting with a brand.
Workplace Collaboration Will be Fully Integrated into Contact Centres
Contact centres will reassess their business and talent models. The focus on employees will be in two major areas:
Productivity. The contact centre floor dynamics have changed in how agents are spread out across outsourcing locations and in-house contact centres. Agents are no longer located in the same room or floor and do not have access to their usual way of work – continual training, digital signage that provides guidance and demonstrates KPIs, conversations with supervisors, managers, and team members for guidance or assistance, easy access to back-office functions and so on. This can impact their productivity.
Engagement. Contact centre staff often work in high-stress environments -chasing sales targets and deadlines, handling complaints – and it is important for managers and supervisors to be able to engage and motivate them constantly. Remote working has further exacerbated the stress for those agents who do not have a conducive working environment at home.
Contact centres will increasingly look to workplace collaboration platforms and tools to improve employee productivity and experience.
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Most organisations have introduced remote working options till the end of 2020 and beyond; while some others have made working from home a permanent option. Organisations will have to re-evaluate when employees can be realistically expected to come back into the office, and many will extend their work from home policy. Amazon recently announced the extension of its work from home policy till June 2021, from January 2021. Other organisations are expected to follow suit as the virus continues to be active in many countries.
The Experimentation will Continue
Companies will continue to enable seamless collaboration that spans across virtual and physical realms. But what will be important is to see how organisations can successfully incorporate a remote working culture across its different locations. Dropbox has announced a new ‘Virtual First’ remote working policy which includes features such as the ability for employees to decline unnecessary meetings, and a way to open source their learnings with the wider business community. Dropbox will still retain some physical spaces called Dropbox Studios, that will either be repurposed office space or entirely new spaces designed for meetings, group events and special offsites. The core collaboration hours will typically be between 9am-1pm, as employees are no longer expected to be in the same locations or time zones.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor Ravi Bhogaraju says, “Flexibility (Work from home or Office Anywhere) is a company strategy and not a tactic. It needs to be evaluated within the context of the overall strategy of the company, how it creates value and how technology and talent can help provide better customer experience.”
Another experiment that was announced last week was Dubai’s efforts to revive its tourism industry. Remote working has been associated with stress and organisations are increasingly having to monitor employee emotional well-being. To overcome this, Dubai is inviting overseas remote workers to expand their workplace and remote working environment. Dubai’s new remote working program is welcoming remote workers with a valid passport, health insurance, proof of employment and a minimum monthly salary of USD 5,000 to visit and work from Dubai. Programs such as these highlights the potential change in the work environment that we might witness.
Talking about the implications of such moves on organisations, Bhogaraju says, “having everybody as free agents within the network working from anywhere – without fully enabling the process and workflows across teams and the entire organisation – will require a lot more patching or coordination. It can impact the customer experience, and also opens up the firms to compliance, tax and regulatory risks if not carefully managed – especially when cross-border work is involved.”
With experiments such as these, it will become even more important for organisations to ensure that they have the right technology in place that can not only ensure seamless access to company resources irrespective of the location of the employees but also that IT and cybersecurity teams are not overburdened by the need to secure the endpoints and network.
Other Factors to Consider
While organisations must keep working on understanding the right model that will work for them, there are some other factors that they should consider.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Mike Zamora says, “what employees are learning is that their home expenses are increasing – E.g. electricity, connectivity costs, and even food where employers have previously provided snacks, beverages and lunches. Increasingly this needs to be addressed by Businesses in order to maintain a strong connection with employees. If not, when the economy recovers, companies might find their talent moving to other companies.”
“As some companies have limited return to the office, the Business and Employees have learned what is essential to be completed at the office. This is usually collaborative tasks which cannot effectively be done through remote collaboration. In addition, there are some specialised assets (special work rooms for some industries) which cannot cheaply or effectively be recreated in the home environment.”
Bhogaraju also cautions, “an advantage of working from anywhere is that it opens up talent pools that were not available or accessible to employers before. However, without knowing what kind of employees would be needed to sustain the strategy on a mid to long-term basis the hiring would probably result in poor fit to the working environment – and lead to a spike in attrition as the employees would not be able to cope with the working arrangement.”
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First let me explain my interest in the subject. I have been a full-time mobile and part-time remote worker for over 13 years with a global technology company. I have designed many mobile office environments throughout Asia, working with business units to understand their needs and to educate them on the changes required and the change management process. For over 10 years I have taught this subject around the world to fellow professionals – across industries – in Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Europe and the USA. I was based in Hong Kong during the 2003 SARS outbreak. These experiences have given me a keen understanding and perspective on what happened in the early days of COVID-19, and insights on what the future could look like for many businesses.
Let’s look at some basic Work Environment facts:
It costs a company an average of over US$10,000/year per employee for their physical space.
Remote working happened very quickly at the start of COVID-19, almost overnight for some companies and employees.
There are many venues available to conduct work from, over the long term: Office, Home, the 3rd Space (coffee shops, etc) and other venues.
While overall levels of remote work are high, there is considerable variation across industries.
Remote work is much more common in industries with better educated and better paid workers.
Employers think that there has been less productivity loss from remote working in better educated and higher paid industries.
More than one-third of firms that had employees switch to remote work believe that it will remain more common at their company even after the COVID crisis ends.
The Emergence of the Future of Work
Mobile & Remote Work. The cost of housing a worker in an office environment has always been a concern for senior management. The cost quickly adds up, even for a small or medium-sized firm. The physical cost of the office is typically the second largest expense for a company, after employees’ salaries. This is one reason that “densification” has occurred in the office environment over the past 10 years or so. It is also a reason remote working (working outside the office – from home, coffee shop, hotel, airport lounge, etc.) has been attractive to companies. If the office environment is designed with multiple work-type spaces (e.g. collaborative, non-collaborative, quiet, etc.), a permanently designated workspace is not required for a worker. This type of Work Environment is known as a mobile environment. Both of these Work Environments – remote and mobile – have been the trend for many companies (especially technology and financial firms).
Co-working. Beginning a few years ago, another Work Environment emerged: Co-working. One of the early market leaders was WeWork. Co-working is very similar to the mobile environment. It has the added benefit of not requiring any capital cost for the fit-out (tenant improvements). The company or individual rents a desk or space in a co-working environment and just pays the monthly fee. There is no delay to find the space, sign the lease, design, or construct the space, and no capital required for the construction cost. It is a “plug and play” space.
Blended Model. Given the selection, worker typology, and flexibility of space, all these alternatives will be used in some capacity in the Future of Work (FoW). The Work Environment will be a blend of these environments. Some have predicted the death of the office building. Ecosystm research finds that only 16% of organisations are looking to reduce their commercial office space, going into 2021. People are social creatures and need interaction with others, either for effective work collaboration or just to socialise.
The Future of the Work Environment
Figure 1 shows a compilation of the various type of Work Environments which office workers use and how they came about.
Each company, especially post-COVID, will have to look at their business strategy and determine how they will best solution their Work Environment to get the maximum benefits. These are the main questions each company has to ask and answer at a strategic level:
What is the best workspace solution for my company and employees?
Do employees want the corporate leased space? Does it help make them more productive?
How is the marketplace (landlords) responding to this demand if a company is leasing space?
Role-dependent Remote Workers. Returning to the larger topic of the Work Environment, the HBS paper states there are different rates of remoteness across industries. I would assert that in addition there are different rates of remoteness among the types of workers. A salesperson needs to interact differently with fellow company employees compared to an accountant or an administrative person. Workers in the Banking industry interact differently compared to workers in the Technology industry. The article also points out that a better educated and better paid worker – or a knowledge worker – can more easily be a remote worker. For those of us who have been working in the mobile/remote Work Environment for many years, we know and understand this. Knowledge workers are not employed for their physical skills. For example, an assembly line worker in an auto factory cannot be remote.
Determining Work Typology. The paper also states that remote working will be more common in the companies that have not experienced a dramatic decrease in productivity from remote working. This has been asserted and demonstrated by us, the professionals in the corporate Real Estate industry. The industry has been experiencing increased productivity for many years. We have also conducted in-house studies of the various business groups that have experienced remote working. We have even gone so far as to provide work typologies for the various types of workers. Each typology uses the office Work Environment differently and has varying levels of remote abilities.
Need for Change Management. A critical component of remote work effectiveness is the mindset shift by both the employee and the manager. The managers have to modify their style to more of a “management by performance”, versus just walking around and checking whether people are busy. Similarly, employees have to understand they are being trusted to work unsupervised but will have to accomplish the required work and be held responsible. The manager and employee relationship will require new performance measures to hold people accountable and determine whether they are being effective and productive in their remote environment. All of this requires a change management program to educate both without compromising the corporate culture.
When the pendulum finally comes to rest in the near future at what will be the New Normal, the Work Environment will be modified. But, more importantly, the mindset of employees and managers will have to be adjusted. This new mindset will be required so each company can be more agile to meet the new challenges that will be awaiting every company and industry throughout the world. This will enable a company to not only survive but thrive in the next wave of quantum shifts. And yes, there will be another wave of quantum shifts in the future, lest we forget the examples of the past (eg. the 2007 Global Financial Crisis, 2003 SARS, etc.).
This article has focused on the Work Environment. The Work Environment is one of the four components of the 360o Future of Work practice at Ecosystm. The other three components are: People, Technology, and Business. All four are required to be in balance to enable companies to meet future challenges, competitors, and unknown black swans.
Ecosystm Principal Advisors; Tim Sheedy (Technology), Ravi Bhogaraju (People & Organisations), and Mike Zamora (Infrastructure & Offices) provided holistic view of what the Future of Work will look like.
In Australia, Atlassian has made work from home a permanent option for their employees. They will continue to operate their physical offices but have given employees the option to choose where they want to work from.
Some organisations have gone beyond announcing these measures. Slack has talked about how they are evolving their corporate culture. For example, they have evolved their hiring policies and most new roles are open to remote candidates. Going forward, they are evaluating a more asynchronous work environment where employees can work the hours that make sense for them. In their communique, they are open about the fluid nature of the work environment and the challenges that employees and organisations might face as their shift their work models.
Organisations will have to evaluate multiple factors before coming up with the right model that suits their corporate culture and nature of work, but it appears that tech companies are showing the industry how it can be done.
#2 Tech companies evolve their capabilities to enable the Future of Work
Right from the start of the crisis, we have seen organisations make technology-led pivots. Technology providers are responding – and fast – to the changing environment and are evolving their capabilities to help their customers embrace the digital Future of Work.
Many of these responses have included strengthening their ecosystems and collaborating with other technology providers. Wipro and Intel announced a collaboration between Wipro’s LIVE Workspace digital workspace solution and the Intel vPro platform to enable remote IT support and solution. The solution provides enhanced protection and security against firmware-level attacks. Slack and Atlassian strengthened their alliance with app integrations and an account ‘passport’ in a joint go-to-market move, to reduce the time spent logging into separate services and products. This will enable both vendors to focus on their strengths in remote working tools and provide seamless services to their customers.
Tech companies have also announced product enhancements and new capabilities. CBTS has evolved their cloud-based unified communications, collaboration and networking solutions, with an AI-powered Secure Remote Collaboration solution, powered by Cisco Webex. With seamless integration of Cisco Webex software, Cisco Security software, and endpoints that combine high-definition cameras, microphones, and speakers, with automatic noise reduction, the solution now offers features such real-time transcription, closed captioning, and recording for post-meeting transcripts.
Communication and Collaboration tools have been in the limelight since the start of the crisis with providers such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack introducing new features throughout. In August Microsoft enhanced the capabilities of Teams and introduced a range of new features to the Teams Business Communications System. It now offers the option to host calls of up to 20,000 participants with a limit to 1,000 for interactive meetings, after which the call automatically shifts to a “view only” mode. With the possibility of remote working becoming a reality even after the crisis is over, Microsoft is looking to make Teams relevant for a range of meeting needs – from one-on-one meetings up to large events and conferences. In the near future, the solution will also allow organisations to add corporate branding, starting with branded meeting lobbies, followed by branded meeting experiences.
While many of these solutions are aimed at large enterprises, tech providers are also aware that they are now receiving a lot of business from small and medium enterprises (SMEs), struggling to make changes to their technology environment with limited resources. Juniper has expanded their WiFi 6 access points to include 4 new access points aimed at outdoor environments, SMEs, retail sites, K-12 schools, medical clinics and even the individual remote worker. While WiFi 6 is designed for high-density public or private environments, it is also designed for IoT deployments and in workplaces that use videoconferencing and other applications that require high bandwidth.
#3 The Future of Work is driving up hardware sales
Ecosystm research shows that at the start of the crisis, 76% of organisations increased investments in hardware – including PCs, devices, headsets, and conferencing units – and 67% of organisations expect their hardware spending to go up in 2020-21. Remote working remains a reality across enterprises. Despite the huge increase in demand, it became difficult for hardware providers to fulfil orders initially, with a disrupted supply chain, store closures and a rapid shift to eCommerce channels. This quarter has seen a steady rise in hardware sales, as providers overcome some of their initial challenges.
Apart from enterprise sales, there has been a surge in the consumer demand for PCs and devices. While remote working is a key contributor, online education and entertainment are mostly prompting homebound people to invest more in hardware. Even accessories such as joysticks are in short supply – a trend that seems to have been accelerated by the Microsoft Flight Simulator launch earlier this month.
The demand for prime real estate has been hit by remote working and organisations not renewing leases or downsizing – both because most employees are working remotely and because of operational cost optimisation during the crisis. This is going to have a longer-term impact on the market, as organisations re-evaluate their need for physical office space. Some organisations will reduce office space, and many will re-design their offices to cater to virtual interactions (Figure 1). While now, Ecosystm research shows that only 16% of enterprises are expecting a reduction of commercial space, this might well change over the months to come. Organisations might even feel the need to have multiple offices in suburbs to make it convenient for their hybrid workers to commute to work on the days they have to. Amazon is offering employees additional choices for smaller offices outside the city of Seattle.
But the Future of Work and the rise of a distributed workforce is beginning to show an initial impact on the real estate industry. Last week saw Pinterest cancel a large office lease at a building to be constructed near its headquarters in San Francisco. The company felt that it might not be the right time to go ahead with the deal, as they are re-evaluating where employees would like to work from in the future. Even the termination fees of USD 89.5 million did not discourage them. They will continue to maintain their existing work premises but do not see feel that it is the right time to make additional real estate investments, as they re-evaluate where employees would like to work from in the future.
There is a need for organisations to prepare themselves for the Future of Work – now! Ecosystm has launched a new 360o Future of Work practice, leveraging real-time market data from our platform combined with insights from our industry practitioners and experienced analysts, to guide organisations as they shift and define their new workplace strategies.
Ecosystm Principal Advisors; Tim Sheedy (Technology), Ravi Bhogaraju (People & Organisations), and Mike Zamora (Infrastructure & Offices) provided holistic view of what the Future of Work will look like.