For many people, the beginning of COVID was a mad scramble to throw together a halfway-functional home office. Now, though, we’re over a year in, and many people have settled into a comfortable and productive work-from-home routine. You might have finally found an office chair you love or discover the perfect location for the electrical enclosure that houses your Wi-Fi router. (Hallelujah, service in every room of the house!)
Home office technology itself, however, still has a long way to go. Too many people are still experiencing frustrations like inconsistent Zoom connections, and that’s not even considering the potential for real trouble like data breaches.
How will businesses step up and meet the coming challenges of home office technology? There’s no telling for sure, but the trends we’ll talk about here are five relevant technological factors in the coming shift to permanent remote work.
System intrusions and data breaches are some of today’s biggest threats to any business, and one of the major issues with remote work is that it can increase a business’s vulnerability to cybercrime. Many businesses have spent the past year fortifying their data security in response to these threats, and tools like corporate VPNs have become standard. However, there’s still a long way to go, considering that businesses reported an almost 20 percent increase in data breaches since COVID lockdowns started.
Businesses must plan for the long haul and develop data security solutions that address the unique threats of a fully or partially remote workforce. For some, that will mean hiring third-party IT security consultants, while for others, it will mean beefing up in-house IT security resources. Employees also need to have a thorough knowledge of how to keep corporate and personal data safe so they don’t fall victim to phishing or other types of scams that target remote employees.
A proper remote work setup requires some investment, usually including a desk, a comfortable chair, some lighting and possibly a computer or another device. To meet employees’ needs in both productivity and personal wellness, furniture and office supply companies need to chart a new path forward. That path will need to incorporate both the latest research in occupational health and forward-thinking design principles.
One of the most pressing needs in home office tech is low-footprint office furniture—from desks to office chairs—for the millions of remote workers who are working with limited space. Versatile, multi-purpose design is another big trend, as remote workers search for cost- and space-efficient pieces that can pull double duty. For those workers designing a totally new home office, options, such as junction boxes with customizable electrical knockouts, can provide more versatility in organizing spaces and devices.
2. Workers in some industries need edge computing capacity in order to perform their tasks efficiently at home.
For some tasks, a Chromebook and an Internet connection isn’t going to cut it. Employees who work in fields like medicine and engineering often need more computing power close to home in order to work effectively on their projects. That’s why edge computing is among the most promising technologies in the continuing evolution of remote work.
Unlike cloud computing, which distributes a workload over many nodes, edge computing technology provides computing power that’s located physically close to the user. This user-centric topology helps improve computing response times and could give users the ability to perform more complex tasks remotely. It could also offer a way to preserve bandwidth for remote employees who share an Internet connection with others.
3. Physical and virtual collaboration need to become more compatible.
One of the biggest questions that will affect the future of working from home is the degree to which employers will be able to incorporate virtual collaboration into spaces that require physical work. Could we one day see scientists conducting experiments in a laboratory from the comfort of their homes, or engineers virtually supervising an R&D prototyping process from their offices on another continent?
Such collaboration would require some pretty substantial leaps in tech, but it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibility. 5G, and the low-latency connections that it promises, could one day allow engineers and machinists to manipulate complex equipment remotely. However, these will likely be some of the most capital-intensive technologies of the next wave, which means that we’re likely to first see them in universities, big corporations and government labs.
4. The U.S. needs improved investment in high-speed broadband.
Plenty of people are excited about the opportunities that an expansion in remote work offers for rural America. Employees who work from home could (at least in theory) choose to live in rural areas, offering rural communities a chance to reverse their decades-long decline. But first, those rural areas are going to have to cross the so-called digital divide—a catchy name for the lack of sufficient broadband Internet access in many rural areas. Without reliable broadband, these communities will be cut off from increasingly large sectors of the 21st-century economy.
On top of that, poverty and institutional barriers have contributed to a lack of consistent broadband access even in high-density urban areas. And with the 5G rollout now fully in motion, the gap may widen even further as rural areas lag far behind in 5G capacity. Thus, the U.S. government urgently needs to step up its investment in broadband access for customers across the geographic spectrum if digital prosperity is going to extend to all segments of society. The ongoing infrastructure bill negotiations could produce billions in new money for broadband investment, but as always, it depends on its sponsors’ ability to overcome Washington’s political gridlock.