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Global business leaders comfortable if not fully prepared for large-scale shift to remote work

Riverbed survey shows new technology investments are expected to enhance corporate performance and wellness as employees increasingly work from anywhere and employers adopt hybrid working models

As they move forward to deal with a new working model, business leaders around the world are comfortable and optimistic about the broad scale shift toward remote work, and are investing in technology to improve remote work performance with high expectations of their return, according to a study from Riverbed.

Yet even though there was general optimism about increasingly supporting remote working, the network and application performance platform provider’s Future of work global survey 2020 also revealed that the vast majority of organisations were not well prepared when the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The custom online survey was completed in June 2020 by Wakefield Research, with 700 business decision makers at companies with over $500m in annual revenue from across the US, the UK, Germany, Australia, and UAE/Saudi Arabia. Quotas were set for 100 respondents within key verticals including financial services, manufacturing, professional services, healthcare and retail. 

The study showed that while 95% of business leaders are now from a technology standpoint comfortable with employees working remotely, and 63% completely or very comfortable, 69% of these same business leaders reported they were not completely prepared to support extensive remote work at the beginning of the outbreak. The healthcare industry, at the centre of the crisis, had the most (86%) most respondents that were not completely prepared, followed by manufacturing (72%), retail (69%), professional services (66%) and financial services (58%).

And while businesses have survived throughout the Covid pandemic, the survey showed that performance issues have impacted employees and the business from mass remote working. Indeed, nearly all (94%) business leaders surveyed reported technology performance issues for remote workers that have impacted their employees and the business.

The most common issues included poor quality of video meetings (40%); frequent disconnects from corporate networks (40%); slow file downloads (38%); and long response time when loading apps (36%). When asked about the impact these issues have on the remote work experience of employees, business leaders reported increased technical disruptions (40%); weaker employee performance and lack of productivity (37%); increased anxiety and stress (36%); a lack of work motivation (34%); and increased difficulty engaging with customers (34%).

Business leaders said the biggest barriers to success for ensuring the performance of a remote workforce were technology to optimise or improve remote performance (39% globally), spotty or unreliable home Wi-Fi (38%) and the need for better visibility into network and application performance (37% globally).

Read more about the post-Covid workplace

Despite these challenges, nearly a fifth (19%) of business leaders globally expect half or more of their employees to work remotely (full-time or at least half-time) after Covid-19. Additionally, on average, business leaders globally expect a quarter of employees to work remote after Covid-19, a near 50% increase versus prior to the pandemic.

The survey found industries projecting the largest average percentage of their teams to work remotely after Covid-19 were those less dependent on physical presence, including financial services (39% compared with 28% before the outbreak) and professional services (35% vs. 28%).

Geographically, UK business leaders expected more than a quarter of their employees to work remotely in the post-Covid-19 environment. This was more than a 50% increase versus prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, while in Germany the expectation was 16% working remotely, an increase of 60%.

To drive greater remote working performance, 61% of business leaders said they were planning to make additional technology investments, 31% “significant”, in the next 12 months. In the UK, 72% plan to make additional technology investments, while in France and Germany, 23% and 39% of business leaders plan to invest respectively. Financial services (84%) and healthcare (79%) planned to make additional investments over the next year.

Among the top initiatives business decision makers said they were setting out to undertake in the next two years were updating company-wide remote workplace strategies and policies (43%); increasing the use of cloud services or SaaS apps (42%); using software for better visibility of network and applications performance (40%); deploying technology to automate remote network operations (40%); investing in digital security technology and software (40%); re-evaluating and/or re-architecting IT environment (40%); investing in application or network acceleration solutions (38%).

“Businesses had already been accommodating more remote workers the past several years, but Covid-19 is accelerating this, and the office of the future will clearly look very different with a more flexible and hybrid workplace,” said Rich McBee, president and CEO of Riverbed. “However, organisations must have the right technology in place to ensure greater productivity and a better remote experience as employees increasingly work from anywhere.”

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