Firms prepare for new world of hybrid remote and in-office workforce

The return to the office after mass teleworking looks like a long road indeed, with survey predicting it will take over a year for noticeable majority of workers to return, leading to new hybrid model for the workforce

A global business survey commissioned by Xerox Holdings Corporation shows an estimated 82% of the workforce in respondents’ organisations will on average have returned to the workplace in 12-18 months’ time, necessitating investment in new resources to support a hybrid remote/in-office workforce.

The Xerox Future of Work Survey, conducted by independent research firm Vanson Bourne, polled 600 IT decision-makers, including senior C-level professionals from the US, Canada, the UK, Germany and France, whose organisations have at least 500 employees.

Respondents reported challenges caused by the sudden transition to remote working, with 72% citing they were not fully prepared from a technology perspective. As a result, 56% of firms have increased technology budgets and 34% are planning to speed their digital transformation as a result of Covid-19. Yet in addition to technology (29%), the biggest pain points during the required work from home period were communication breakdown across teams/employees (26%) and maintaining focus (25%).

Yet while there was no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way companies work, the research found that, over time, many companies plan to have most employees back in an office environment. This could be for a variety of reasons, Xerox noted, including communication, speed of decision-making and talent development. Moreover, Xerox suggested that at the same time, the sudden shutdown and ongoing hybrid work environment has exposed technology gaps that require new or additional investment in the coming months.

While most businesses plan to return most employees to the office, the research found that the new expanded remote work policies are here to stay. Prior to work-from-home requirements being imposed, a third of respondents said network/data security and privacy was their biggest concern with a remote workforce, 24% cited employee productivity, followed by 16% citing technology infrastructure. These concerns, coupled with the belief held by 95% of respondents that in-person communication is important for personal development and assessing talent, indicated widespread remote working will not replace more traditional workspaces, said Xerox.

The research also found that now businesses are more comfortable with remote working, attitudes and policies of C-suite leaders and IT decision-makers are shifting. Among the countries polled, the US was found to be the most likely to have an increase in confidence in remote working (86%), followed by the UK (80%), Germany (80%), Canada (77%) and France (75%). Furthermore, 58% planned to change their work-from-home policy within the next year, highlighting the need for companies to support a hybrid workforce.

Xerox’s takeaway was that while employees may not be going back to the office all at once, or even in the same capacity as before, the need for organisations to support a hybrid workforce would be here for the foreseeable future.

The research also highlighted that the rapid transition to remote working was difficult for most businesses, with only 28% saying they were fully prepared and 29% citing technology as their biggest pain point. Among the specific countries polled, France was the least likely to be fully prepared for the sudden transition to remote work, while the US was the most likely to be fully prepared.

With regards to technology specifically, respondents said their top challenges were remote IT support (35%), inadequate workflow solutions (27%), lack of communications and collaboration tools (22%) and lack of cloud-based solutions (10%). Some 85% of business leaders also missed the accessibility and ease of use of their office printers, with US respondents missing them the most (93%), followed by Germany (92%) and France (91%).

To mitigate against future disruptions, such as the rapid transition to remote working resulting from Covid-19, Xerox said companies would need to look to invest in new technologies and seek added capability from existing tools to accelerate their digital transformation.

In another key shift, the research found that technology purchasing priorities are shifting to better support employees. As a result of technology gaps uncovered by having a mostly remote workforce, 70% of IT decision-makers globally are re-evaluating their budget spend, with companies increasing investment in remote technology resources (55%) or a hybrid of remote and in-office resources (40%).

The pandemic has also seen businesses prioritising investments in cloud-based software (65%), remote IT (63%) support and collaboration software (52%). Hardware such as laptops and printers were another important consideration, especially for companies based in France, with 22% of respondents citing it as the most important need when it comes to technology, productivity and their overall work experience.

In conclusion, and as a call to action from what it found in its Future of Work Survey, Xerox said Covid-19 was feeding digital transformation plans and companies were placing a renewed focus on meeting employees’ needs with both hardware and software.

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