The global shift to remote and hybrid work during the global pandemic has had a powerful impact on the way knowledge work gets done and what equipment people use to do it.

Research by Gartner estimates that by the end of 2021, remote knowledge workers will represent 32 percent of employees worldwide, increasing from 17 percent in 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic data.

In addition to this, more than half of those working in the office will be operating in a hybrid environment, working from home at least one day per week. (Gartner defines knowledge workers as those who are involved in knowledge-intensive occupations, such as writers, accountants or engineers.)

“A hybrid workforce is the future of the work, with both remote and on-site part of the same solution to optimize employers’ workforce needs,” said Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at the research and advisory company.

Emerging economic data indicate that the shift of IT spending from long-term capital expenditures to day-to-day operational expenses will offer greater flexibility, with the ability to scale down or shift operations becoming a key feature of business resilience and continuity planning.

Powering online collaboration

Remote workers are using a variety of devices to remain productive in different environments, and the research indicates an upward trend to at least four different devices from three in 2019. Some of these may be used by workers to try to circumvent AI-driven tracking systems that employers implement to supervise when and even where people are doing their work.

“Ten percent of workers will try to trick AI-driven tracking systems by 2023, increasing the challenge for employers to monitor employees remotely,” Gartner said in the research.

When it comes to IT buying for businesses, work-from-anywhere capabilities will remain front and center. Unsurprisingly, PC and tablet shipments will exceed 500 million units for the first time ever, to support the multi-device remote transformation.

“Through 2024 organizations will be forced to bring forward digital business transformation plans by at least five years. Those plans will have to adapt to a post-Covid-19 world that involves permanently higher adoption of remote work and digital touchpoints,” said Gartner’s Atwal.

Cloud-based liberation from location

In addition to device migration, the adoption of a range of cloud technologies has also accelerated during the Covid-driven remote revolution.

“Worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services will grow 26.7 percent in 2021 as CIOs and IT leaders continue to prioritize cloud-delivered applications, such as software as a service (SaaS),” the report said.

These applications are designed for remote access from any device — even basic netbooks and phones — and do not depend on any location factors beyond access to a reliable internet connection.

Still, voice communications often are the most difficult feature to integrate into unified-communications (UC) cloud platforms like Microsoft Teams, due to legacy equipment and contracts and the complexity of transferring services seamlessly.

“The preferred outcomes are clear — people want to use the Teams client that they’ve got on their desktop and click the dialer or the contact card in there, to make a voice call,” Tim Jalland, solutions manager for Microsoft Teams at VOSS Solutions, explained in UC Today. “Organizations are using Teams for internal chat and sharing, and on the other hand, they’re using a completely separate system for the voice and telephony side.”

Gartner’s findings predict that effective UC solutions are being found, however, to support remote-readiness and genuine work-from-anywhere capabilities.

Security, as well as access, will be fundamental in ensuring business continuity in a work-from-anywhere world, according to Gartner, which also predicts an increase of zero trust network access (ZTNA), which provides application security.

“By 2024, at least 40 percent of all remote access usage will be served predominantly by ZTNA, up from less than 5 percent at the end of 2020. While most of these organizations will not completely retire all their client-facing VPN services, ZTNA will become the primary replacement technology,” Gartner’s forecast stated.

The future is here, but …

The impact of these changes will, like the pandemic itself, be experienced unevenly around the world. However, remote-work uptake will vary considerably in different markets due to IT adoption, culture, industrial mix and local employment regulations, Gartner data suggests.

Remote workers will account for 53 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2022, 52 percent in the U.K., and 37 and 33 percent in Germany and France, respectively, Gartner predicts.

The research concludes by acknowledging that much remains unknown about the future of the workplace. These accelerated digital transformations are taking place in the context of other emerging trends that will influence many aspects of how we connect, communicate and collaborate.

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