The Pandemic’s Impact on Business: How Remote Work Has Accelerated Automation

The COVID-19 global pandemic has impacted the traditional office environment immensely. With government policies in place, offices have been forced to close all over the world, mandating employees work from home to follow social distancing guidelines and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, many organizations were moving toward a more hybrid work environment where some employees worked remotely, but it’s clear the shift to remote working has accelerated as an outcome of COVID-19. According to IDC research, there has been a 211% increase in work from home worldwide, and 544% increase in work from home in the U.S. relative to COVID-19. With no clear end in sight, many are relying on a vaccine to return to more “normalcy” in the workforce. It’s expected that there will be some decrease in work-from-home post-vaccine, but many don’t have plans to go back to the office. Of course, organizations will continue to revise their plans, but one thing is holding true: the hybrid workforce is the new normal.

With this increase in work-from-home, which really means work-from-anywhere, there has been an expected acceleration in automation. Not only are organizations seeking technology to further enable their now-remote workforce, but the acceleration of digital transformation (DX) is critical to both recovery and future economic growth. IDC’s research shows that organizations are now placing greater emphasis on digital transformation as a result of the pandemic. Essentially, the pandemic has made DX and automation a necessary component of any successful business strategy.

IDC’s research shows that organizations are most focused on IT operations (event, configuration, provisioning, change and incident), and data management (classification, encryption, protection, optimization, movement, governance) as technology automation priorities. It makes sense that IT operations would be at the top of the list because organizations need processes to continue as usual even with so many changes taking place in the workforce. With these changes, it’s also imperative that data management be a priority, ensuring protection and governance of company correspondence, information and communications while things are handled remotely.

There are a number of examples across industries where the need for digitization has been accelerated; these digital workflows have become basic business requirements in order to keep companies in operation. In claims processing for auto insurance, for instance, claims are now increasingly being submitted via virtual tools like mobile apps instead of the traditional process, which involved a claims adjuster on-site to evaluate the damage and then submit a report. Transaction processing in financial services such as banking has been automated to keep institutions afloat. Digital mail has also accelerated as corporations seek out solutions and services to enable their remote employees to receive and access mail virtually. There is a common theme across all of these examples: the shift to a digital approach saves time and money while reducing the likelihood of manual error. Furthermore, in most cases, there is an increase in productivity. Due to this outcome, we can be almost certain that whenever the world does get back to “normal,” — whatever that may mean — it’s likely that most organizations will keep many of their newly adopted digital transformation efforts in place.

This shift to remote working also lends itself to the need for cloud-based infrastructure. For companies that were already primarily operating in the cloud, the transition to work-from-home has certainly been more effortless than for those that were primarily operating on-premise. Organizations have been forced to accelerate the move to the cloud to keep operations flowing and ensure data security. We expect that in the coming months, despite many technology cuts being made, that cloud will continue to be at the top of the list of things to invest in.

Allison Fantony is a research manager for IDC's Imaging, Printing and Document solutions group, responsible for the hardcopy industry transformation practice. Her core research coverage includes 3rd platform technology (cloud, data analytics, mobile, IoT), and document solutions (print management, device management, and enterprise output management). She is responsible for written research, forecasts, and analysis covering document solutions, and the industry transformation within the hard copy market. She looks at emerging technologies and adjacent opportunities for traditional hardcopy vendors.