CoronaWork: WFH newbies confront %[email protected]# work disasters

work from home
Work from home can be challenging, especially while adapting to children at home. The trend could continue well beyond the COVID-19 crisis.(Getty Images)

For some newcomers to WFH (Work From Home), it may be their fourth or fifth week of adapting to a new work-life experience as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

All the major tech companies that have been promoting WFH for years might not be hearing all the loud cursing (in mostly X-rated terms) from makeshift offices in homes around the country and elsewhere in the world.

WFH veterans have been sharing their success stories, mostly, but Michael Dell, founder of Dell Technologies, admitted there’s an added kink, especially for parents who have children at home from school.

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“One of the big challenges that young families have had is how do you juggle all the responsibilities of home schooling, making food for your kids and entertaining them while also doing your day job,” Dell said on a CNBC interview.  “Every day now is teacher recognition day.”

Even without kids, other workers new to WFH have to adjust to bad internet or small monitors, some in cramped spaces with makeshift desks and chairs. Working on a spreadsheet on a 10-inch laptop screen while also writing a document on the same screen was always a challenge, and many organizations have not been able to buy their home workers big monitors. 

Some school districts cannot force students to engage in online learning because some of them don’t have home internet at all and cannot find a safe connection while distancing themselves from other people.

One WFH newbie told FierceElectronics about composing a speech in an email at home so his boss could deliver it via a web conference in an hour, only to mysteriously lose the speech completely just minutes before the presentation.  That caused a lot of cursing to the walls, but everybody knows the walls remain deaf to all people, equally, and their technology.

Dell said his company started working on the WFH concept a decade ago and now has 90% of its 167,000 employees globally working from home.  Adjustments have “been pretty seamless” through the years, he said.

He also estimated there are 700 million computers used in the commercial sector, not including computers used by children in schools or the public sector, with only 25% used by remote workers or those who travel heavily. 

With the sudden transition to WFH because of COVID-19, there will likely be a significant change for organizations.  The pandemic is going to accelerate all forms of digital transformation, Dell predicted, including the move to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Software Defined Networking, 5G, and cloud. “As all those will get accelerated, WFH will persist, but how this rolls out for the future, I don’t think anyone can predict,” Dell said.

Dell has tried to help newcomers to WFH with credit and equipment, including government workers. “In the public sector work from home is still very uncommon,” Dell said. “States are moving tens of thousands into work from home and need a lot of help to be able to do that.  They need additional VPN and virtual desktop capacity and essential support and services to keep systems running. Technology has never been more important than it is now.”

Two analysts said there will be some long-term impact from the pandemic on the WFH trend, although it has taken decades to reach the 25% that Dell noted and opinions vary on the size of the impact.

“I think the WFH trend will continue well beyond COVID-19,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

“Each company will need to have a pandemic plan which includes all non-essential employees to work from home,” he added. “This will accelerate and improve technologies and give users and companies the time to get better at WFH.”

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, predicted at least a 35% increase in the amount of time that a typical employee works from home after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. “WFH is not possible for everyone, depending on the industry, especially if you are people-facing, so those folks will probably head back to an office somewhere,” he said. “But many others, now that there is an infrastructure and corporate process in place, will stay active in WFH.”

Both Moorhead and Gold predicted there will be a need for less office space, although Gold said it won’t be a dramatic reduction, perhaps just 15% over the next two years.

Moorhead was emphatic that office design will surely change to fewer open office space concepts.  “Not only does research suggest that these environments don’t equate to better collaboration, but now could be seen as a health liability,” he said. “I expect many of these spaces to be converted into more hygienic pods if workers have to come to work.”

As there is a greater acceptance of WFH, Gold said he expects to see a focus on upgrades to connectivity, especially in homes where users have old Wi-Fi routers, for example.  The changes could also lead to Wi-Fi 6 adoption, more 5G connections and upgrades to newer PCs in the next two years, he predicted.

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