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Technology and Software: How COVID Will Change Remote Work Forever

 


BMO COVID-19 Insights podcast is live on all major channels including AppleGoogle and Spotify.


There’s no excuse to keep people in an office. 

It’s been a couple months since the quarantine began in earnest. You’re probably now used to regular video meetings, communicating with colleagues through instant messaging, virtual happy hours, working on projects with collaboration technologies and more. It’s incredible to see just how quickly much of the global workforce, especially in the financial and in other service-based industries, has adapted to working entirely online and from home.

While this out-of-office arrangement may be holding up relatively well now, there’s a big question as to what happens after the quarantine ends. What kind of lasting impact might this sudden shift to at-home work have on the economy and productivity and what does this mean for the technology companies that are now being relied upon to keep people connected?

Remote work’s moment

Well before coronavirus forced everyone out of their offices, interest in remote work among employees was rising. A Deloitte survey, released on February 20, just days before the COVID-19 crisis exploded in North America, found 94 percent of the 1,000 U.S. professionals who responded to the survey would benefit from flexible work options. However, 30 percent said they feared consequences to their professional growth if they chose to work remotely. 

While we would have all liked the remote workforce revolution to have happened more organically, this situation has shattered the idea that professional growth will suffer and that you can’t be a productive employee or executive from home. 

When social distancing restrictions lift, people will want to see each other and go back into the office. But the idea that you must be present at your desk at all times will disappear. Now that we’re all becoming more familiar with productivity and collaboration-enabling technology tools, people may come into work when they need to – perhaps for a meeting that must be in-person – and at least have the option of staying home the rest of the time. 

Video conferencing, which was, until a few weeks ago, awkward to use and only done in specific situations, will become as normal as sending an email. People will be able to work for companies located anywhere in the world, and some business travel will be replaced by virtual meetings. Imagine being able to have a coffee with a colleague from your home instead of having to fly thousands of miles– most would choose the former.

When social distancing restrictions lift, people will want to see each other and go back into the office. But the idea that you must be present at your desk at all times will disappear.

Technology’s moment as a critical key enabler 

None of this can be done, of course, without technology. While we’re making do with the tech that’s currently in the market, companies will need to invest in more modern tools – including in some that are not yet mainstream or even available, such as virtual reality – to make remote work that much more efficient and productive. Enterprises will need to look at their entire IT infrastructure and ensure it can accommodate a 100 percent remote workforce. 

More generally, networking and connectivity will need to be seen as not just essential, but as a critical service. BMO had its own growing pains. Getting the VPN to work and getting access to workplace resources was Phase 1, but delivering a seamless and enriched user experience to remote working, in a secure and compliant way, is going to be the next phase.  

Investing in mission critical tech 

What may be most interesting to see is how technology investments change in a post-COVID-19 world. It’s likely we’ll see a greater emphasis on companies that provide mission critical remote workforce systems and software, such as networking technology, secure file sharing, content management and collaboration capabilities, data analytics and so on. 

We’ll see more investment in key enabling technologies like business continuity, collaboration and productivity software. Companies with strong balance sheets and reliable cash flows, versus debt-laden operations that are having trouble in this kind of environment, will be the preferred destination for investor dollars.

It may be hard to see how the world and the way we work will change right now, but things will be forever different and company executives and investors must start planning for this new future now.

Just as important is the question of how to assess and evaluate the impact of this disruption on the financial performance of current technology providers, and what investors need to do to navigate the next couple of quarters.


The impact of COVID-19 on the technology and software landscape, and on how that relates to corporate strategy moving forward, will be discussed at an upcoming roundtable discussion. Visit the BMO Capital Markets website in the coming days for a recap of the panel. 

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