Why the future of work is increasingly remote
These days, many of us are working from home. While the Covid-19 situation and physical distancing continues across the world, many of us are also reflecting on where and how the future of work is best conducted. Patrik Hedlund discusses why the future of work is increasingly remote, and how it’s set to become the new normal.
What changes will we see when society returns to normal and isolation is over? For me, we’re likely to see a reduction in the demand for travel, in part because people have now adapted to using home-working technology during the crisis.
One thing is for sure, something will likely change in the way we travel to and from work. The climate crisis requires emissions from domestic transport to decrease radically – specifically, we should be cutting all emissions by 50 percent by 2030, according to the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap report. Transportation is one of the largest sources of climate change and a fast-growing one, causing greenhouse gases that are responsible for almost one quarter of emissions in the EU.
So what will really change? Now more people feel that they can work from home in a successful way, and employers see that productivity is not largely affected by this remote working. Already, companies have started to declare that workers can work from home any time also after the pandemic. One recent example is Twitter.
Five years ago, remote working on this scale generally seemed unfeasible. Today, our working routines represent a huge shift that has taken place, both in terms of technology and consumer matureness. For example, many people weren’t really used to video meetings. Now, we’re seeing Zoom and Teams meetings becoming part of the school infrastructure, and the social life of our senior citizens has moved online.
However there’s still some way to go until physical meetings can be replaced. Additional opportunities will emerge as we move into an Internet of Senses world, where we touch, smell and experience our way into new digital spaces. In Ericsson’s 10 hot consumer trends, we notice early adopters of consumer technology foreseeing that digital and physical realities will be indistinguishable by the year 2030. This will allow for the development of other work tasks such as remote surgery with a tactile glove. The future of work may well be a key part of this digital development.
Location, location, location
In the future, many of us will question our way of commuting, both for convenience and out of necessity as we need to halve global carbon emissions each decade. An important question, therefore, is where our work should be placed in the future. As office work can be done with some smart gadgets with various tools for online meetings, the physical location of work becomes less important.
One possibility is to work from a local office, or hub, located close to a worker’s home. An office hub or community office is a purpose built place for work and meetings, and can be equipped with office desks, WiFi, printers, coffee, and meeting rooms, for example.
Office hubs also offer a solution to the isolation – and the many distractions – that many of us experience when working from home, while giving almost the same time and emissions savings. The hub can also become a place for meeting and innovating with new people.
This is something that is investigated through the KTH Mistra SAMS Living Lab, a research lab, where Ericsson employees and residents of Tullinge, a suburb south of Stockholm, are able to work at an office hub close to home alongside access to a digital platform for mobility and accessibility.
By allowing workers to set up at a location closer to home, and cut down on commuting, millions of tons of carbon could be saved each year. According to the recently published Exponential Climate Action Roadmap, which identifies 36 solutions to halve global emissions by 2030, such practices could reduce individual commuting emissions by around 50–60 percent annually, and at the same time reduce pressure on infrastructure.
Finding a better balance
Working closer to home can also promote health and wellbeing, and facilitate everyday family routines, such as dropping off and picking up kids at day care. You can also save time and money, which can be used for leisure activities with family and friends. Some preliminary results from Tullinge indicate an increase in walking, the use of bicycles and local services, as well as a reduction in driving a car.
At the same time, it may well lead to a renaissance for our residential areas, which can be developed into ‘living meeting points’ following an increased need for lunch and other local services. And with more adults on site, it may also promote security in neighboring areas. For companies, the opportunity is the ability to recruit competence in remote locations as employees can live virtually anywhere. But it’s also in cost savings, where the need for office space in expensive central locations is no longer valid.
Distance working is something that has, so far, been limited to white collar workers and desk jobs. However, more jobs in manufacturing may also be performed remotely in the future. From remotely controlled production robots in a factory, to forestry machines and drill rigs in mining– these are capabilities that will soon enough be joining the remote working category.
And although it’s likely that large organizations will also need to provide spaces for employees to meet physically in the future, the digital trend is here to stay. So, to me, the future of work is not about building more offices, highways and parking lots in the city center. It’s about harnessing the new normal – building better digital infrastructures to support a better, more balanced working life.
Read our top tips for how to manage teams remotely.
Here are our top 10 tips for working from home.
Read CTO Erik Ekudden’s perspective on the role of digital infrastructure in challenging times.
Explore the Internet of Senses.