Earlier this week on WorkSpace Connect
, IT analyst Zeus Kerravala, of ZK Research, discusses the impact that the spread of the coronavirus has had on enterprises’ use of video to replace travel. He argues that earlier generations of video technology couldn’t deliver on the promise of travel replacement because they were too expensive and not as high quality as today’s systems. With many enterprise employees traveling less or not at all during this pandemic, they’re finding that video can be a workable alternative, if not a complete replacement for face-to-face meetings.
Zeus very realistically argues that once the pandemic is behind us, travel will resume. People want to meet face to face; it’s human nature. But they’ll know that video is a “good enough” substitute when face-to-face meetings aren’t possible.
So what are the implications of this for the workplace strategist, and for the IT/AV, HR, and Facilities/Real Estate teams that support workspace planning? We have seen almost universal adoption of remote work among companies in areas affected by the coronavirus, with enterprises assuming that just about any knowledge worker should have the technology tools, home facilities, and personal discipline to work from home at a moment’s notice. So, employees might argue, why return to the office?
The answer clearly is the same as Zeus’s answer about business travel: People want to be in proximity to other people; it can be more efficient, especially in a crunch time, for people to be able to get each other together on the spur of the moment. So if the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t eliminate the need for offices, how might it change them?
I wouldn’t be surprised if the current experience increases the aggregate amount of time that knowledge workers work from home, even if they’re still office-based. Maybe a person who has been working from home one day a week will start working two or three days from home each week. In enterprises where remote work has been seen more as a privilege than a strategy, management may have to concede that workers benefit more from working at home than the business benefits from forcing them to come into the office on typical days.
Video and other communications technology could drive this transition in other ways too. If a typical meeting now includes a combination of voice, video, and desktop sharing, it’s actually easier to hold a meeting remotely if a company is chronically short of meeting room space, or if those meeting rooms are outfitted with old technology that can’t display the new applications in the room.
For the time being, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way many people work. Things may get back to something like the old normal, but I suspect they won’t go all the way back.