Looking at the coronavirus crisis through an IT industry lens, where will we be in three months, a year, or ten years from now? As we look further out to when the crisis subsides, what could the coronavirus mean long term for the future of IT careers and work itself?
If previous infection outbreaks are anything to go by, then perhaps we shouldn’t expect much: the defining legacy of most pandemics is their lack of legacy. While the 1918 flu almost certainly killed more people than the war itself, with estimates exceeding 50 million, the pandemic has no notable influence on employment and is treated as a footnote to the conflict. And as for the Spanish flu – historians have barely broached the subject, except to remark that it wasn’t in fact Spanish.
That being said, the 2020 coronavirus crisis feels different. Even once the immediate crisis subsides, it’s hard to imagine things simply returning to normal. The pandemic we’re facing could well be the defining moment of this century; sweeping it under the carpet once a vaccine is rolled out is an outright impossibility.
In business, and in IT at the very least, the element that seems most likely to be affected long term will be where we work.
Remote working in IT
Remote working has long been on the rise, and the IT sector, to give it credit, has never been left behind. With a few notable exceptions (such as some of the work done in the datacenter industry, for example) most IT positions, from System Administrator, to Data Scientist, to Cloud Engineer, can (and sometimes are) carried out remotely.
Nevertheless, the growth in remote working jobs, even in IT, was historically something of a gradual process. Despite a swell of effective telecommunications tools over the last decade, despite a clear desire from knowledge workers to be able to work from home, and despite study after study after study indicating that remote workers are more industrious, content, and engaged compared to their office-based counterparts, companies with traditional approaches to HR had always been slow to adopt remote working.
Needless to say, coronavirus has changed all that, and businesses have been left with little choice in that matter. It’s remote work, or no work. The abrupt departure from physical offices has compelled employers to drastically change how they connect and lead their teams.
For employees and organizations alike, this isn’t such a bad thing.
Discovering the benefits of a remote workforce
Employees are realizing that they can be successful working from home. Most knowledge workers have logged into video conferencing apps and collaboration tools like Zoom, Teams, and Slack, and are adjusting well to the fact that domestic and work lives have merged. Many are enjoying the flexibility in choosing where to live, and in some cases, are reclaiming that illusive work-life balance, as they don’t have to spend as much time traveling to and from work.
Employers, for their part, are realizing their own share of benefits. Remote work allows them to cut costs on office space. It’s also becoming evident that an office isn’t necessary to build a strong, successful, company culture; providing employees are engaged, teams should be able to work, collaborate, and communicate effectively while home full-time during the outbreak.
Both sides – employers and employees – have now had a taste of completely different way of working, and there’s a lot to like. For the IT sector and for other knowledge workers, reneging altogether on our current way of work when the pandemic ends seem unwise. More to point, it’s not what people want.
In the UK, just 9% of Britons want life to return to 'normal' once lockdown is over. And as a recent study from Citrix found, almost two-thirds of employees believe remote working will become more common once the threat of the virus passes.
Remote work has finally arrived, and by most indications, it’s here to stay.