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Majority of global knowledge workers will be remote by the end of 2021

Leading research firm predicts remote work will drive PC and tablet shipments to over 500 million units for the first time ever by the end of 2021

With firms reorganising themselves to cope with the demand of the post-Covid landscape, the hybrid model is set to dominate, but even though there will be a return to the office for global knowledge workers during 2021, remote working will dominate until at least the end of the year, research from Gartner has shown.

The analyst defines knowledge workers as those who are involved in knowledge-intensive occupations, such as writers, accountants or engineers. It also categorises a remote worker as an employee working away from their company, government or customer site at least one full day a week (hybrid workers) or who work fully from home (fully remote workers).

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

In its Forecast analysis: Remote and hybrid workers, worldwide, the analyst predicted that by the end of 2021, 51% of all knowledge workers worldwide are expected to be working remotely, up from 27% of knowledge workers in 2019. In addition, Gartner also estimates that remote workers will represent 32% of all employees worldwide by the end of the year, up from 17% of employees in 2019.

Looking more deeply at remote working, Gartner said the practice varied considerably around the world depending on IT adoption, culture and mix of industries. It estimated that in 2022, 31% of all workers worldwide will be remote using a mix of hybrid and fully remote. It said the US will lead in terms of remote workers in 2022, accounting for 53% of the US workforce.

Across Europe, UK remote workers are set to represent 52% of its workforce in 2022, while remote workers in Germany and France will account for 37% and 33%, respectively. Even though India and China were cited as likely to produce some of the largest numbers of remote workers, Gartner said their overall penetration rates will likely remain relatively low, with 30% of workers in India being remote and 28% of workers in China being remote.

The lasting impact of remote work was resulting in a reassessment of an IT infrastructure that shifts buyer requirements to demand work-anywhere capabilities. “Through 2024, organisations 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 world that involves permanently higher adoption of remote work and digital touchpoints,” said Atwal.

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Gartner saw digital products and services as playing a big role in these digital transformation efforts. It said that such longer strategic plans require continued investment in strategic remote-first technology continuity implementations, along with new technologies such as hyper-automation, AI and collaboration technologies to open up more flexibility of location choice in job roles.

Another result of the increased hybrid workforce was a likely increase in demand for PCs and tablets. It predicted that in 2021, PC and tablet shipments will exceed 500 million units for the first time in history, highlighting the demand across both business and consumer markets. Organisations were also deploying cloud to quickly enable remote workers.

Gartner forecasts worldwide user spending on public cloud services will grow 23.1% in 2021, as CIOs and IT leaders continue to prioritise cloud-delivered applications, such as software as a service (SaaS). It added that SaaS applications are designed for remote access and aren’t constrained by the location of the workers using the application.

The analyst also predicted that social and collaboration tools would continue to be a “must have” which will lead the worldwide social software and collaboration revenue market to increase 17.1% in 2021.

In terms of connectivity, Gartner said many organisations have had to change and adapt many IT approaches to ensure business continuity among their remote workers. It projected that by 2024, at least 40% of all remote access usage would be served predominantly by zero trust network access (ZTNA), up from less than 5% at the end of 2020.

While most of these organisations will not completely retire all their client-facing VPN services, Gartner predicted ZTNA would become the primary replacement technology.

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