Work Redefined: Three Aspects of the Virtual Office That Will Follow Organizations Back to the Physical Workplace

Everything has changed in the blink of an eye, including the way people live, work, eat and play. Over the past few months, the pandemic has rapidly accelerated global trends, disrupting modern office environments, enterprise technologies and daily routines. In fact, a recent Gallup Study found that twice as many employed Americans (62%) have reported working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic began (31% as of March 13-15).

The sudden shift in workflows caused organizations to quickly transition to a fully virtual office setting where they’ve faced both challenges and opportunities in finding new ways to stay productive and connected across entire organizations. However, this sense of resilience has empowered teams across the globe to rise together and rethink what’s possible for the future of work.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”One thing is clear: Ways of working have been altered forever and some of the newfound processes and tools will undoubtedly follow us back to the physical workplace when the time comes. – Katsuhiro ‘Jerry’ Matsufuji of @CanonUSABiz” quote=”One thing is clear: Ways of working have been altered forever and some of the newfound processes and tools will undoubtedly follow us back to the physical workplace when the time comes.” theme=”style4″]

Now, even as some workplaces prepare for a slow reopening, a great deal of uncertainty remains surrounding “non-essential” employees returning to the office. But one thing is clear: Ways of working have been altered forever and some of the newfound processes and tools will undoubtedly follow us back to the physical workplace when the time comes.

Here are a few examples of how we anticipate these ways of working will translate into the new normal:

New suites of communication tools

Workforce communication tools have seen an uptick in usage and can continue helping employees stay connected and efficient as organizations eventually transition back to physical offices. Along with the increase in virtual connections at work, traditional methods, such as email, have seen an increase in activity in the past two months as well, and some email services include solutions that help companies implement security features, governing and managing attachments while people aren’t able to physically connect face-to-face.

But almost overnight, video calls have become one of our main methods of communicating effectively with colleagues, customers and partners — and a lifeline for maintaining connectivity from different locations. Why is this the case? Video helps support more structure and encourages employees to pay attention and participate, rather than multitask. With colleagues calling from different locations and time zones, video calls allow for more intensive discussion and less side-chat, which means participants are likely to stay alert and focused. Now that everyone is up to speed on this new technology, traditional phone interviews and sales calls could become less frequent, or even a thing of the past, transforming functions like HR and sales.

Taking it a step further, organizations getting used to the new norm of video calls are already thinking through what’s next. In fact, a study by GigaOm shows most remote workers feel more connected to colleagues and processes during video meetings, as compared to traditional conference calls. To further enhance the video experience, companies are launching new software and equipment to support this trend long term.

Moving beyond the home office and into the field, some companies are leaning into their customer solution centers that are already leveraging technology to allow engineering technicians to tap into VR and connect with customers and channel partners throughout the country, as well as troubleshoot software issues from afar. Such offerings may be equipped with virtual presence tools, which help specialists reach out and see what the field technician is working on through their mobile device. These types of services and assets play a key role for companies as they help their customers maximize efficiencies in the current climate.

Additionally, as organizations continue to brainstorm ways in which they can still come together for company news and product announcements despite physical events and tradeshows being put on hold, companies have been administering virtual press conferences to ensure the public is informed and up-to-date on the latest and greatest.

With the implementation of a variety of new tools across various industries that are generally saving time and resources, many companies likely will continue to take advantage of these offerings even when “normalcy” returns, latching onto new innovations from the latest techs and specs.

… which means more collaboration

The adoption of new technology hasn’t just impacted how organizations communicate within their own teams, but also how they collaborate with colleagues and even customers and partners outside of organizations. Collaboration tools have experienced steady growth in the last three years as new platforms have emerged. And the pandemic has accelerated the widespread use of these tools. A Nemertes study shows that by 2021, more than two-thirds of organizations will adopt collaboration tools.

It’s no secret that collaboration tools have become a fundamental requirement for working from home in this environment. One of the biggest gaps that collaboration tools are filling today is remote management. Gone are the days in which you could swing by someone’s office or cubicle and ask to grab a cup of coffee to catch up or check in for a status update, for now at least. In recent months, managers have had to find new ways to facilitate quick touchpoints throughout the days that don’t always require hopping on a formal phone call.

Instead, collaboration tools, such as shared activity logs and documents, help keep employees engaged and communicating for work and social needs in real-time. Even further, seamless integrations within these tools can help employees shift the conversation from a chat to a call within their individual channels or teamwide when needed.

In the past few months, managers and team leaders have had to not only juggle the transition to their home offices, but also make sure their employees maintain a sense of camaraderie within their organizations. As a solution, some have started to set up separate channels where employees can ask quick questions or collectively share updates on their work. Others created social channels to provide a “virtual watercooler” for employees to chat about hobbies or new quarantine interests.

As employees get in the habit of being further apart with less of a physical connection, many companies will continue focusing on ways to encourage more collaboration and strengthen their teams. To help on this journey, companies are working with third-party collaboration and content management tools that contain security features and are designed to provide mobile and remote workers access to their critical content virtually anytime, anywhere and on a wide array of devices.

But how are organizations dealing with security while staying organized?

With millions now working remotely, employees are accessing information from a variety of places and devices. As leaders seek to implement solutions to best manage the inflow of information, cloud adoption will likely become even more widespread. Gartner predicted that by 2021, as a result of the pandemic, over 75% of midsize and large organizations will adopt a multi-cloud or hybrid IT security.

Cloud-based services and technology support this new work style, offering flexibility in implementation, support and usage. A recent survey reveals that more than a quarter of leading IT leaders plan to make cloud security a top investment moving forward. The advantages of cloud solutions also apply to those who will resume travel when people establish a new sense of normal and can serve as a benefit for teams on their next client visit. These tools can give organizations the ability to easily move data or increase storage space — often helping to alleviate labor and physical storage costs. Moreover, implementing cloud content and email management solutions can help streamline processes and maintain productivity across teams in multiple locations.

With cloud computing, employees can access their information from various devices — provided those devices are authorized to do so — while using security features, such as those offering detailed activity reports that track the content being accessed by specific users.
Historically, companies were hesitant to migrate to the cloud for numerous reasons, but now we see more jumping in and leveraging solutions to streamline business and help employees stay organized — and we can expect more of this test and learn approach moving forward.

Looking ahead

The rise of the virtual office has transformed the way that teams communicate, collaborate and organize information, and can be further implemented to create more effective strategies and facilitate productivity whether colleagues are near or far. While the challenges our organizations have faced seem mighty, we have worked to adapt quickly and embrace new digital tools that help us continue to get our jobs done. A Prodoscore study in March and April found that productivity has increased 47% in 2020, despite the impact of the pandemic.
The new normal that organizations are all anticipating in the business world will create a new focus on the work being done rather than the office or environment they’re residing in. As our teams have been adapting to new ways of working virtually, we’re headed in a direction that could yield powerful results and allow us to focus much less on where we’re working and put more attention on the contributions we’re making to our industries and communities.

As the dust starts to settle, now is a time for organizations to lean into the new opportunities and innovations that have emerged from our new environment. There are many lessons — and emerging tech trends – to bring into the next phase of work life.

Katsuhiro “Jerry” Matsufuji is vice president and general manager for the Business Information Communications Group of Canon U.S.A., Inc. In his role, Matsufuji helps enterprises leverage the solutions and technology needed to thrive in today’s competitive business climate. During his 34-year career at Canon, Matsufuji has worked at offices both inside and outside of the U.S., showcasing the strength of his leadership.