For decades it has been muted that the future will include home working and having a more self-managed lifestyle leading to a higher quality of living. Managing time for leisure and time for work and how the equation would be remunerated were considered problems. Employers were sceptical that home working would maintain productivity and how were people to be managed remotely? The last few months has answered most of these questions. Outcome management has been used, with communication being enhanced as the need to maintain understanding and control also increased. Communication mediums like Teams and Zoom along with many others, have proven their point and in the main been amazingly effective. Initial problems were overcome, and workarounds introduced to maintain efficiency.
So, now that we have proven that technology today can support home working. There are still a few thorny problems that need addressing like; bandwidth, cybersecurity and in financial services compliance oversight. Remote working clearly needs as robust support on the home front, as it does in the office. These issues are not impossible to overcome, they just need the right amount of investment. Is that forthcoming and what of the Governments plan to introduce high speed broadband for all?
One of the most common complaints by the home workers is the lack of social interaction. No water cooler conversations, impromptu laughs, or evening drinks. No gossip about the officious manager or the secretary having long lunches with the boss. All the things that human contact and conversations bring by just being there, The human contact between employees can also be used by employers to build corporate culture and an identity that translates into teamwork and pride of the employee to be a part of it. There is much that may be lost in home working, but it is all about balance. However, home working does not need to be every day of the week. For example, face to face meetings and home working could be staggered through the week. One or two days in the office might be more than enough to retain the social benefits without losing productivity.
Another idea might be to utilise Virtual Reality (VR) over the broadband network enabling people to enter meetings via their avatar. This is not science fiction like the gaming industry has known for years. It is the application of technology to benefit employers and employees by creating an interactive artificial social connection. Why not the have a dealer on the trading floor able to walk virtually into the dealing room, sit at their desk and work on the same screens as they would in the real world. They could experience social interaction with their dealing peers. Meetings are already operating in a virtual way through web conferencing technology. So interfacing VR technology with real world technology, to enable better home working and social interaction looks like the next step. Of course, not all work would be suitable for VR interaction, for example with key workers who have played such an important part throughout the pandemic, but for those that have mainly desk based roles, VR looks like it can be an enhanced tool to make their job as near as possible back to normal, whilst sitting in their home office. This could also enable massive cost savings as the need to rent large premium office space would be reduced. These massive offices could perhaps be replaced by several shared local satellite offices, solving the need for massive numbers of people having to travel hours on expensive overcrowded public transport, just to get to work. Another plus would be that this could result in a more sustainable eco-friendly environment for the planet.
A further possibility would be for supermarkets and other stores to utilise VR to enable a full store browsing experience for shoppers, rather than today’s online shopping, which is a more structured process of search and select, where opportunity sales can be lost and product replacements are very hit and miss. This too could enable massive cost savings as the need to own or lease retail outlets could be replaced with cheaper warehouses on industrial sites, but with existing staff retained, working to fulfil orders in warehouses rather than shops.
VR is here, and all that is needed is some imagination by corporate employers on how to implement it effectively, to enable huge cost savings. The relocation from central points to a distributed network, using VR combined with other technologies like DLT and mobility, could also bring significant rewards to local economies and vacated office blocks could be turned into much needed accommodation.
Is this vision beyond us?
May be not, if we learn from Covid 19 lessons, which tell us that imagination and the smart implementation of technology can bring great rewards to both employers and employees and ensure that we will not fall as easy victims of a condensed society when any future pandemics hit.