Before the pandemic, many people embraced their companies’ remote work policies. As COVID-19 came to the fore, many more workers were forced into this industry-wide social experiment. However, as demand for knowledge workers has grown, “work from home” became “work from anywhere” (WFX), expanding the number of places where someone could get their work done. WFX is an interesting concept because it ultimately translates to workers being able to get their work done from almost anywhere, and theoretically any time. This is counter to the idea that employees need to be at work, or even at home, to accomplish their tasks and to be productive employees. It took a pandemic to convince many companies that they could enable their employees to work from home and I believe that the natural extension of that is the ability to work from anywhere. I believe a few major trends are driving this shift to WFX, which includes but is certainly not limited to work from home.
Top trends driving the “work from anywhere” revolution.
Wi-Fi: From nice-to-have to necessity.
One of the major trends that set the stage for a WFX revolution is the plethora of connectivity across Wi-Fi and cellular. Wi-Fi was one of the early drivers of WFX, including the advent of free public Wi-Fi at venues, in addition to the Wi-Fi people have at home. While Wi-Fi is popular and nearly ubiquitous, most places do not have truly ubiquitous Wi-Fi except for a few select cities around the world. Even in those few cities, public Wi-Fi is generally not a secure or reliable enough connection for work. Wi-Fi is fundamentally based on hotspots and works best in places like homes and cafes and, in many cases, simply can’t be everywhere we need it to be. It’s important to remember that, at the time that Wi-Fi became ubiquitous, the world was still very much a 3G world.
Ever-growing demand for anywhere connectivity.
It really wasn’t until 4G that WFX could even be possible, which ultimately enabled many of the applications that we use today to make WFX possible. While 4G is a great enabler, the cost of 4G data and speeds limit the experience and applications that are possible. Ultimately, the future of WFX connectivity will be based on the multi-faceted nature of 5G and the improved speeds and latency that it delivers. Enterprise application developers will know with Standalone 5G that they can rely on the performance and latency of 5G to deliver a secure and quality user experience from virtually anywhere.
5G will likely also accelerate the adoption of technologies like fixed wireless access (FWA), which promises to significantly improve connectivity to peoples’ homes, with some delivering fiber-like speeds and latencies. The future of 5G will also integrate satellite into the equation. With services like Starlink’s LEO satellites potentially delivering speeds of over 100 Mbps to rural areas, we could see people working far from the major urban centers without anyone noticing.
A sprawling cloud-first world needs next-gen networks.
When you have faster speeds, more consistent coverage, and reliable connections, you also enable an entirely new industry with cloud computing. Cloud computing is one of the key technology drivers that have enabled the creation of multiple applications driving the growth of WFX. Without consistently fast speeds virtually everywhere, cloud computing would not deliver a good enough experience for it to take off as it has. While 4G has shown that developers can leverage cloud computing to scale new applications and business models, it hasn’t entirely delivered on the speeds and latency that many believe is possible. The acceleration of cloud computing applications is where 5G may prove to be a vital enabler of WFX momentum beyond just the home office.
Software strong enough to shift the business meeting paradigm.
One of the earliest apps for this, Skype, was mainly designed for peer-to-peer video, which tends to be locally resource-heavy and may have a cap at a certain number of users. The limitations of peer-to-peer video have driven the advent of cloud-based video conferencing and collaboration applications like Zoom and Google Hangouts, which are great solutions for individuals and small businesses.
The rise of the knowledge workforce.
These tools have enabled yet another major trend in working from anywhere: demand for knowledge workers, or workers whose skills can be utilized remotely and don’t require a physical presence. As software continues to eat the world, the need for skilled software engineers and other knowledge workers has allowed an entire class of workers to do their jobs from virtually anywhere in the world.
This has also opened the world to more opportunities for workers to become their own bosses or work for multiple employers in ways that were previously impossible. For example, driving to meet with eight clients across town is time-consuming and expensive. Instead, a small business owner or gig worker using cloud-based video conferencing and other WFX applications can meet with multiple clients in a day without having to leave their seat, wherever they happen to be sitting. The ability to leverage these technologies to expand one’s customer base is also worth noting. It means that a worker could comfortably work with anyone in the world rather than people and businesses just in the same city, state, or country.
Covid-19’s catalyzing effect on trends.
Another major trend accelerant—and the elephant in the room—is Covid-19. There’s no denying the power of the pandemic to accelerate nearly all of these trends. While many of these components were already in place before the pandemic began, they did enable many businesses and critical government services to continue to function. Quarantine lockdowns forced many companies to change or fail, which also in turn made companies realize that remote workforces are possible. While a 100% remote workforce may impact productivity in some industries, there can be benefits to allowing employees to work from anywhere. Another silver lining of the pandemic was accelerated digital transformation for many of the hold-outs in the small, mid-market, and large enterprises. For example, many restaurants were forced to have their menus on their websites and to allow for online ordering and delivery and for in-person interactions to adopt touchless payment systems and QR codes for menus. Today, many employers are allowing employees to work from home indefinitely. Once pandemic restrictions ease, employees will start to return to work, but not all of them will right away and we will likely have a hybrid WFX model.
Work from anywhere is here to stay.
Many factors have driven the acceleration of the WFX revolution that we are seeing in front of our eyes and even though some of these factors, like Covid-19, are only temporary, the impact of them will be lasting on how employees get their work done. A combination of improving connectivity, the capabilities of cloud computing, SaaS business models, improved collaboration services and the pandemic are serving as powerful enablers of this new WFX model of work. While not all companies will adopt WFX for all employees, many of the components to make it possible for the employees that desire more flexibility of where they work are now in place. The ability to enable employees to work from almost anywhere may also have some added benefits for employers as well, like being able to access larger talent pools and encouraging more workers to join their companies.
Could embracing a WFX model benefit offer long-term benefits to your business? Moor Insights & Strategy’s Will Townsend shares the business case for work from anywhere.
Anshel Sag is a Senior Analyst responsible for Semiconductors, Client Computing, Wireless, and Spatial Computing at Moor Insights & Strategy. Mr. Sag advises some of the largest chip manufacturers and smartphone and PC OEMs as well as carriers in the world. He is frequently featured on NPR, CNBC, Bloomberg, CNET, The Verge, and contributes to Forbes.com, providing insights into smartphones as well as wireless including 5G and XR. Mr. Sag is also ranked as one of the world's top analysts and influencers on the topics of 5G and XR and has repeatedly been ranked on the ARInsights Power 100 analyst rankings.