Business leaders globally are comfortable but not yet fully prepared for large-scale shift to remote work: Study

Business leaders around the world are comfortable and optimistic about the broad scale shift toward remote work, according to Riverbed?s Future of Work Global Survey 2020  that included 700 business decision makers, however findings also indicate the vast majority of organizations were not well prepared when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Moving forward, the majority of business leaders said they are investing in technology to improve remote work performance and have high expectations of their return. 

The survey found that while 95% of business leaders are comfortable with their employees working remote (and 63% completely or very comfortable), from a technology standpoint, 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 center of the crisis, understandably had the most (86%) most respondents that were not completely prepared, followed by manufacturing (72%), retail (69%), professional services (66%), and financial services (58%).

?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. ?This new study shows that business leaders are now much more comfortable with their teams working remote, however organizations must have the right technology in place to ensure greater productivity and a better remote experience as employees increasingly work from anywhere.?

Performance Issues Have Impacted Employees and the Business

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 ? all resolvable ? include: 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 report: 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%).

Barriers to Success of a High Performing Remote Workforce

Business leaders say the biggest barriers to success for ensuring the performance of a remote workforce are: technology to optimize or improve remote performance (39% globally; and 50% in the U.S.), spotty or unreliable home Wi-Fi (38%) and the need for better visibility into network and application performance (37% globally; and 43% in the U.S. and 42% in France).

?The last several months have given organizations a better understanding of the barriers to success for creating a high-impact remote workforce,? said Subbu Iyer, CMO at Riverbed. ?It?s encouraging to see from the Future of Work survey and in conversations with our customers, that businesses and governments are planning to invest more in technology to boost remote work performance. Riverbed is fully focused on helping our customers maximize the performance and visibility of networks and applications, regardless of the physical location of where employees work.?

Remote and Flexible Workforces Expected to Increase Significantly

Despite challenges, nearly one in five (19%) 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 25% of employees to work remote after COVID-19, a near 50% increase versus prior to the pandemic.

Industries projecting the largest average percentage of their teams to work remote after COVID-19 are those less dependent on physical presence, including financial services (39% vs. 28% before the outbreak) and professional services (35% vs. 28%). Geographically, U.S. business leaders expect 42% of their employees to work remote after COVID-19 (a 27% increase versus prior to COVID-19), while in Saudi Arabia and UAE the expectation is 28% working remote, also an increase of 27%.

Business Leaders Investing In Technology for Remote Workforce Performance

To drive greater remote working performance, 61% of business leaders plan to make additional technology investments – and 31% plan to make significant investments – in the next 12 months. In the U.S., a robust 86% plan to make additional technology investments, while in Saudi Arabia/UAE and the UK, 79% and 72% of business leaders plan to invest, respectively. Among industries, financial services (84%) and healthcare (79%) plan to make additional investments over the next year.

Business leaders have already begun to identify their priority strategies and technologies to enhance remote work for their employees and their company. The top initiatives business decision makers plan to undertake in the next two years include:

  • 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%)

Globally, business leaders expect to gain long-term benefits for their employees and bottom line as a result of increasing their remote workforce, including: better work-life balance 50%; savings from office space and related costs 50%; better use of technology 49%; and increases in productivity 43%.

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