The Future of Work and how to prepare for it

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Jun 30, 2021

via Flickr ©  shixart1985 (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © shixart1985 (CC BY 2.0)

  • IDC has been making calculations on how much is going to be spent on creating the ‘Future of Work’
  • There’s no single or clear vision of what’s in store, but some spending guidance is possible
  • IDC calculates that FoW spending will be nearly $656 billion this year, an increase of 17.4% over 2020

The pandemic and its consequent lock-downs have rippled through the world’s work environments (and ripple still, with many workers just now in the process of returning to their old workplaces). Much prognostication has flowed under and over the bridge concerning the impact the lockdowns were bound to have on the ‘future of work’ (as this branch of futurism was quickly dubbed), and what seems to have emerged is agreement on a series of marked trends, nearly all of which were under way before the pandemic struck.

Importantly, an increased appreciation of employment flexibility backed up by network availability means employees need no longer be anchored to one office location but - when business conditions favour it - may be dispersed to branch and satellite offices, including serviced offices.

What does this new workplace look like?

Naturally no coherent vision of a new working dawn has emerged, but Covid has almost certainly acted as an accelerator of diverse workplace change with experience from lockdowns (and subsequent measurements of  business or administrative performance) validating some important points.

Things like: 

  • In general people DON’T take the work at home opportunity to sit around  being undisciplined. If anything, businesses have reported that productivity from those ‘working at home’ tends to improve for many reasons (better use of time, less commuting, and so on). 

  • Also, it came to be widely realised over the past year or so that work proficiency should be judged by output rather than ‘apparent’ input. 

  • The ability and desirability of our technologies to react quickly to sudden change (pandemics, major outages, political crises and the like) has been noted and built into  corporate technology roadmaps.

  • The importance of equipping employees with appropriate portable technology and ensuring they have broadband services to make use of it.

  • A recognition that cloud transformation, in particular, should be top of mind within many enterprises;

As a result it’s now possible to sketch a generalised Future of Work model with enough clarity to base some spending plans on and therefore give a steer to those vendors and digital service providers with ambitions to tap the emerging Future of Work market.   

Analysts at IDC believe that future work environments will “foster human-machine collaboration, enable new skills and worker experiences, and support a work environment un-bounded by time or physical space. 

So IDC’s  Worldwide Future of Work Spending Guide estimates FoW spending will be nearly $656 billion this year, an increase of 17.4% over 2020.

IDC claims the  largest area of investment in 2021 will be hardware ($228 billion) comprising endpoint devices, enterprise hardware, infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and robotics and drones. 

Services, including business, IT, and connectivity services, will be the second-largest area of spending at more than $123 billion; and software will see the fastest spending growth at 21.3% over the 2020-2024 forecast period, including investments in enterprise applications, content and collaboration, analytics and artificial intelligence, human resources applications, security, and software development and deployment.

It also notes that  the continuing emergence of AI, the Internet of Things and augmented/virtual reality will change how work is done across all industries and geographies. 

In terms of sector spend, IDC forecasts that “discrete and process manufacturing will account for just over one third of all Future of Work spending this year. Professional services, retail, and banking will be the next three industries in terms of FoW spend in 2021. The construction industry will see the fastest growth in FoW spending over the forecast period with a five-year CAGR of 23.7%. Media and retail will follow closely with CAGRs of 19.5% and 19.3% respectively.”

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