Over the past decade, remote work has become increasingly common. Early research suggests that companies and their employees have been enjoying greater productivity, reduced costs, and greater satisfaction as a result. But recent social upheaval has suddenly thrust remote work into widespread adoption, permanently transforming the way we look at our shared digital spaces.
The social distancing policies of the COVID-19 pandemic represent a global trial run of what may become a new normal. As we adjusted to home isolation, technology became our sole platform for community and collaboration. These digital environments are now changing the ways we look at civic, social, and professional engagement forever.
Fortunately, new technologies have made it easier to create the shared experiences that we need to remain creative and productive — no matter where we choose to sit. Recent advancements in augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and automated technologies may allow for decentralised work environments that perform far better than examples from only a few years ago.
Although the technologies that make this transformation possible exist, improvements are possible. The barrier to even better performance is often poor connectivity. Even basic video conferencing, a staple in remote work environments, cannot operate without robust connectivity between users. Existing networks struggle to prevent interruptions and disconnections, let alone support these recent advancements.
As early as May 2019, more than 1.54 million UK employees primarily worked from home. In March 2020, they were joined by millions more as 46% of companies encouraged their staff to work from home, in line with the government’s guidelines. Video conferencing, digital tools for project management and collaboration, and digital workflows had already become normal. Extending these capabilities to remote locations has become a natural extension to the efficiencies these tools already provide.
When COVID-19 arrived in early 2020, it upended the business world and accelerated the inevitable trend toward the normalisation of remote working environments. The pandemic has forced business leaders to reevaluate their ability to protect their employees and maintain long-term productivity when their office doors must close.
Only 40% of people currently working from home in the UK said their companies had a work from home policy and were given training prior to the coronavirus outbreak. 30% said they had neither a policy nor training. (Global Web Index [GWI] Coronavirus Research: Work Behaviours, April 2020)
Business leaders are asking themselves, “Are we prepared for this urgent change?” The necessity of travel, the protection employers provide their employees, and data security in connected environments are coming into question. But more immediate concerns will be about the business capabilities a decentralised workforce can support.
44% said their companies were very or pretty well equipped to operate a fully remote workforce, with 29% saying they were not equipped. (Global Web Index [GWI] Coronavirus Research: Work Behaviours, April 2020)
We’re discovering that common forms of connectivity simply aren’t enough to support this transition long term. In a recent Verizon Media study exploring digital experiences in the UK, an overwhelming 70% of consumers say they experience poor network coverage with their existing 3G and 4G connectivity. The rate is even higher among younger generations, the future of our workforce.
Now, people are looking to 5G to deliver better coverage and data speeds. In the study, respondents cite ‘consistent, better quality coverage when travelling,’ ‘faster data transfer speeds,’ and ‘better mobile broadband connections’ as their most-desired 5G benefits. These capabilities will ease our already accelerated transition into widespread adoption of remote work. The emerging 5G revolution will further normalise remote work across multiple industries—not just among office teams but also in manufacturing, medicine, and both media and creative fields as well.
“As a change agent, 5G is among the most important technological enablers in this decade and the next. Therefore, investing and taking a deep look at 5G is critical at this time.” Forrester, "Gear Up Pragmatically for 5G,” July 2019
In a post-COVID-19 business world, 5G removes both physical and invisible barriers to progress. Fewer employees will need or want to travel. More work once done physically will be controlled remotely, and more creative teams will engage via shared experiences online, using high-performing platforms once impossible to function at long distances.
As employees adapt to working remotely, they will have more time and opportunity to create environments that work for them, without the physical limitations of a corporate office. 5G will keep them connected to the capabilities they need, no matter the types of work they do. 5G connectivity frees workers from seeking out and fighting over Wi-Fi hotspots, allowing them to work virtually anywhere in the world. Companies will no longer be restrained by geography when seeking to hire top talent, either.
Most importantly, the capabilities remote work supports will no longer be business outliers. Entire industries could adapt to a remote-work mindset and embrace 5G-supported capabilities that make business possible—even if only a fraction of their employees work from home, at distance, or abroad now.
In this way, getting behind the idea of improved connectivity makes sense, no matter your role. But 5G will do even more, allowing for entirely new remote use cases—even new types of business models—we can only imagine today. Existing and potential use cases include:
Companies will be able to connect more devices in more complex ways, changing the way technology communicates and shares data. The networked effects of 5G represent a total shift in how we view computing and the ways we manage entire industries—from 100% remote-controlled farming equipment to global, real-time AR experiences with hundreds of thousands of users and zero latency.
Verizon Media is leading the 5G transformation that makes these innovations possible. Our new London-based 5G Lab & Studio is a cutting-edge incubator for innovative and creative companies ready to shape the future of remote collaboration, shared experiences, and control—transmitting massive amounts of data almost instantaneously.