For many people, the option to work remotely has gone from perk to necessity.
A whopping 85 percent of North American office workers say it's important for their employer to provide technology that lets them work from home, according to a study published last month by IT solutions and services provider Softchoice. Seventy-four percent would leave their current jobs for one that allows them to work remotely more often, even if they didn't get paid more.
Mobile devices and cloud services have made working from home a more viable and desirable option for many employees. The Softchoice study, which surveyed 1,000 full-time North American office workers who use a computer or mobile device for most of their workday, found 83 percent of office workers already use technology to collaborate with people who aren't in the same room or office.
If companies want to recruit and retain top talent, especially with a growing technology skills gap, they'll likely have to adopt a model that caters more to employees' interests and demands.
"To stay competitive, we have to position ourselves as an organization that these skilled technologists want to work for," said Francis Li, vice president of IT at Softchoice."That includes being able to support a more flexible work environment, and, potentially, employing individuals that are not necessarily situated in the offices that your company operates within."
Tech companies including Amazon, Dell and Adobe were listed among Flexjobs' top 100 companies offering remote jobs in 2017. Other companies, including IBM in May and Yahoo back in 2013, made headlines for calling remote workers back into the office.
"Some companies are concerned that there will be a reduction in coordination, innovation or interaction when people are not in the same space," said Jennifer Deal, senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership.
The right tools
Allowing employees to work remotely also means organizations have to make the right devices and technology available to them.
The survey found that only around 55 percent of employers provided laptops, 31 percent provided smartphones and 19 percent provided tablets to their workers. Eighteen percent of workers say a lack of the right technology is the reason they can't work from home.
Even when the right new technology is made available, one in three employees say they get little to no training on how to use it. In addition, 78 percent of workers who utilize collaboration technology frequently experience technical difficulties, from having trouble remotely joining a meeting to having connection quality issues.
More than half of employees surveyed have brought their personal devices to the office instead of using the equipment their employers provide. Some cite inadequate or outdated office technology, while others say they're more efficient working off of their personal devices.
Millennials, who are now the largest demographic in the workforce, are twice as likely to feel more productive working from home than Baby Boomers. They're also twice as likely to feel that their employer-issued work device is outdated, the report states.
"If you're going to fill your technology gap, you definitely have to take a look at the Millennial segment of the population, as they're going to be your only talent pool at some point, along with the generations that follow them," Li said.
There's also the fear that technology will "take over." One in four office workers are worried that technology will entirely replace their jobs within five years. The jobs they feel are most at risk are accounting, administration, IT, sales and human resources.
While there are entire roles being automated -- particularly those at big companies with a small number of highly repetitive tasks, like in IT -- for the most part, intelligent automation is replacing specific tasks, not entire roles, said Stanton Jones, director and principal analyst at technology research and advisory firm ISG.
"In most cases, we see companies using this as an opportunity to make people more productive, because when a person is paired up with a robot, they can take on more work or use the freed-up time to focus on higher-value activities," Jones said.
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