“Working from home is not an option for every job, but there is clear evidence that it can have major advantages in the right applications and with the right workers. And as we show in this report it also can have a positive impact on the environment.”
So concludes the June 2020 report, Technology at Work v5.0 — The New Normal of Remote Work, published by Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions [Disclosure: Citi is a current client]. The report has many contributors and is focused on what remote work now looks like in view of the ongoing pandemic. Like most companies, Citi has had to adapt to “the new normal of remote work” but is in no hurry to return to the previous work situation.
“We will use data, not dates, to drive decisions: Any decisions about returning to the office will be dependent on data, including local medical data. We are not, nor will we be, focused on hitting specific dates …
One approach won’t fit all: The timing and ways we come back to the office will vary based on location, office setup, resources and medical guidance. For high risk or vulnerable colleagues, we will continue to take extra precautions. For those with family and childcare needs, we will remain flexible.” —Citi HR Operating Committee
At one hundred pages, the report covers a lot of ground with 11 chapters —
- The Great Unbundling
- Death of Distance
- Agglomeration (Cities)
- The Telecommuting Divide
- Remote Work & Inequality
- Education and Learning
- Telecom Services
- Collaboration & Productivity
- Real Estate
- Airlines & Corporate Travel
- Climate Change
The focus is both internal and external to Citi with sections by global experts in their fields, who also include historical perspectives on the shifting nature of work. The report includes details and data, citing a wide variety of sources. This is not a marketing document.
An unexpected section dealt with the political situation in the USA. It shows that in cities more likely to vote for Donald Trump, there are fewer jobs that can be done remotely.
“As shown in Figure 25, COVID-19 is set to accelerate regional income disparities. And with the U.S. Presidential election coming up on November 3, 2020, it is noteworthy that the places where President Donald Trump has his electoral base rank relatively low in jobs that can be done remotely. Cities where more people voted for Trump relative to Hillary Clinton (Figure 26) as well as where Trump made the largest gains relative to Mitt Romney’s result in 2012 (Figure 27), are more exposed to the restrictions on movement and travel to curb the spread of the virus. This might also explain why Trump is particularly keen for the lockdown to come to an end.” —p. 52
It’s also interesting to see a corporate perspective on the Zoom video collaboration platform, which had recently received severe criticism for its security features. The bottom line, even for multinational corporations, is that it is easy to use. With most employees working from home, companies do not need extra barriers to get work done.
How has the technology improved over the last 5-10 years?
“The two biggest changes are Zoom and livestreaming. Zoom’s ease of use revolutionized usage for corporates and buy side firms with firms like OpenExchange providing interoperability to major banks such as Citi to allow for much greater video usage into previously approved platforms. Security is critical of course and Zoom’s recent issues temporarily allowed competitors such as Webex and Teams to gain some traction. Having said that, the release of Zoom 5.0 with 256 AES encryption and better use of waiting rooms has allayed most such concerns and Zoom’s upward trajectory has renewed.” —Mark Loehr, CEO of Open Exchange
Business real estate will be affected but it is not certain how much. The need for people to work together, especially for essential aspects of work that Citi’s President, Jane Fraser, describes as — collegiality & belonging, apprenticeship, and intangible connections — will not eliminate the need for physical business spaces.
“The key new piece on information added by the virus is that logistically, systems have been able to cope with almost whole cities working from home. Combined with the forced accelerated resolution of other work from home challenges (e.g., changing communication lines), office markets face a likely acceleration of flexible working for many more than previously thought.” —p. 76
As for airlines and travel, the near future does not look good. This should surprise nobody. Travel will be restricted and fewer people will fly less often. I would expect luxury travel to increase somewhat and budget travel to decrease significantly.
“Pulling this new forecast together with our previous analysis a 1% reduction in corporate travel volumes impacting airline profitability by 10%, we believe the airline industry (even assuming some highly optimistic cost cutting and lower fuel costs) will struggle to remain profitable.
In fact, we could see a scenario where the majority of long-haul airlines undergo a gradual nationalization process. This is on par with what is currently enjoyed in the Middle East; where destinations and jobs are in the airline industry are largely controlled by the respective governments.” —p. 93
In my area of professional interest — workplace learning — the company’s perspective is similar to much of my own work, as reflected in my blog posts over the past 16 years. Basically, work is learning, and learning is the work.
A Question to Cameron Hedrick, Chief Learning Office at Citi
If more employees work from home in the future, what opportunities, challenges and solutions do you see for Learning and Development?
1. Learning technology: While we’ve invested in distance learning technologies, we need to rethink the durability and effectiveness of said technologies in a world where distance work and learning is even more pervasive. Examples include: high bandwidth video with breakout room functionality/chat /whiteboard access; adaptive learning development platforms; peer-to-peer video content; and asynchronous/cohort based platforms such as Nomadic.
2. Collaboration tools and practices: I think we’ll see increased use of collaboration tools — both synchronous and asynchronous. The fatigue associated with long duration video events will drive greater adoption of efficient, ‘off meeting’ collaboration. For example, collaboration tools such as Slack, Yammer and MS Collaborate can be used to prepare for meetings, rendering the actual video time for discussion and debate versus the conveyance of information. I also view learning experience platforms such as Degreed and Edcast as essential collaboration tools given they enable communities of practice to ‘spring up’ around specific areas of interest.
3. Meeting management: Better meeting constructs, a more thoughtful approach to attendee composition, and meeting pre-work will become the norm.
4. Inclusion will be a greater challenge: Soliciting and truly hearing and acting on diverse opinions can be difficult in proximate environments — you have to really work at it from a distance.
Most people would like the option to work from home, most of the time. This is especially true for knowledge workers. They have tasted it, and in spite of the challenges of being forced into what I would prefer to call ‘distributed work’ — they like it.
“In fact a survey by Gallop has found that three in five U.S. workers who have been doing their jobs from home during the COVID-19 pandemic would prefer to continue to work remotely as much as possible, once restrictions have lifted. Technology has allowed many workers to work remotely from home in comfort, with communications platforms allowing people to have virtual meetings with their team and clients, with just a click of the button.” —p. 100
This report is worth reading and keeping, especially for the references. Let’s take a look in 12 months and see what the future looks like.