Remote working is the new normal. Over 60% of global employees already work from home, at least some of the time. 5G will accelerate working from home further. It will revolutionise communication, collaboration, automation and productivity. But will 5G help the global workforce set up office anywhere? Or will 5G create a virtual office that follows us everywhere?
In this article we explore the remote work benefits that can be realised by the 5G revolution. It’s undeniable that faster wireless networks and greater connectivity can improve how we work remotely. As 5G is slowly implemented, we must ask how this transformation can best serve everyone, not just employers.
5G Remote Working – Increased Reliability
Among the proven benefits of a remote workforce are increased productivity, happier employees, lower overheads and access to a wider talent pool. Remote working improves businesses, however, remote working can still be held back by technology. Connectivity is not always reliable and all unreliability seriously impacts day to day operations.
The rollout of 5G will significantly boost both reliability and speed. It will deliver better video connectivity and fewer dropped connections. This should remove any lingering fears that a remote workforce will not be good for business. Employers will be more confident that their workforce is connected, all of the time. And that connectivity won’t disappear during an important virtual meeting.
5G Means Working From Anywhere, Not Just From Home
Increased reliability is complemented by increased range. More of the world will be connected. Not just a home office with the latest gadgets, but remote locations on every continent. Most remote workers use coworking spaces or work from home, but this wider connectivity will help to take more remote workers on the road.
It will enable the remote workforce to live and work from more far-flung places, away from cities and towns. Remote working is greener and more sustainable than traditional office environments. The ability to truly work from anywhere will help businesses become greener. Plus, it’s more enjoyable for employees when they don’t rely on Starbucks or a cramped home office.
5G Enables Us to Work From Anywhere, All the Time
Over 60% of the global workforce sometimes works from home. But by the end of 2019, less than 10 million people worked remotely all of the time. While this figure increased significantly in 2020, the gap remains. Not all employees have complete freedom to work from anywhere, all the time. They remain geographically restricted to a fixed workplace location (even if they only go to the office once a week).
5G will transform work from home, because reliable work from home will be possible all of the time. Most employers currently allow their employees to do some of their work at home. This is a hub and spoke model, with everything still running through a centralised hub. Fully remote companies like Invison demonstrate this isn’t necessary. 5G will enable distributed teams to fully circumnavigate a fixed office, by enabling a virtual centralised hub.
AR & VR – 5G Will Enable Enable New Levels of Communication
The figures are frightening. 5G may be able to support 1 million connections per square kilometre. In contrast, existing 4G technology does 4000 connections. You don’t need to know exactly what that means, just that it’s a 250x increase and people are understandably frightened. Can existing privacy laws keep us safe when corporations and governments have such unfettered access to our digital footprint? This isn’t a place for a debate on morality. Let’s explore possibility.
Such immense connections open up the possibility for augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR). Businesses will be able to create virtual meeting rooms, simulating a fixed office space. These will increase (virtual) face to face interactions and offer a connectivity far in advance of video meetings. Holographic calls are just one technology in development, with each employee represented by their 3-D projection.
Improved Teamwork and Collaboration Via Remote Working
Research into remote workforce trends proves that distributed teams collaborate more efficiently than their office-based counterparts. Remote working already improves teamwork. Technology already allows in-the-moment collaboration, such as provided by Google docs, or an online whiteboard like Miro. Communication tools like Slack ensure remote workers are always connected.
With 5G it’s very possible that distributed teams will be present in a virtual office, interacting with each other. Existing video connectivity is centralised. Everybody sees the same screen and interacts with everyone at the same time (Zoom’s breakout rooms are a minor improvement on this). Imagine a virtual office where every employee can walk around and collaborate with different colleagues, when they want, without interrupting others. With VR and AR, distributed team members will be virtually present, working next to each other, all the time.
5G Increases the Scope of Remote Working
Remote working is now possible for anybody who usually works in an office. That’s the general consensus right now. But you don’t need a laptop to work remotely. You just need a connection. Enhanced VR and AR capabilities will create new possibility. Perhaps a production line where workers wear VR headsets with instructions on how to make technical repairs to machinery. It’s a production line in a factory but the employee is at home, monitoring and adjusting real-time machinery from afar.
5G will enable remote workers to interact and manipulate objects in a different place, in real time. Remote workers will do virtual work that creates real products. These VR and AR scenarios mean workers can travel anywhere they need to be, without leaving home. For example, workers can be fully remote, working from home, yet still inspect and access manufacturing sites on five different continents.
Healthcare is one industry that will shift towards virtual appointments. Retail may be another. A virtual assistant can guide a customer through an e-commerce store and the customer can virtually try on different clothes.
5G Will Increase Automation
Along with cybersecurity, the big downside to 5G is that it will cost a lot of jobs. Technology has been replacing jobs since the advent of the wheel, so this is nothing new. But the future looks bleak for many occupations previously considered untouchable. In particular, 5G powered vehicles will reduce demand for drivers, virtual shops will change retail, and automation will further change manufacturing and agriculture.
Within an office environment, 5G can automate many more administrative tasks. For example, smart shelves automatically detect when a product is running low and can submit a replacement order. An enormous supply of new data has the potential to increase automation and efficiency, if there are enough data scientists and analysts to make sense of it all.
5G Helps People Learn New Skills Faster
As some jobs are lost, new job opportunities enter the market, many of them we are yet to understand or realise. Remote training courses are already transforming the workplace. Instead of an expensive multi-year university degree, you can now learn real-life job skills from anywhere, via video training. You can learn the right skills and become location independent by exploring online courses in future-proof skills.
VR and AR will take this further. You will have all the benefits of learning in the classroom, alongside a tutor, from anywhere. Workers do not need a centralised hub because they can learn everything from a distance. 3-D virtual training can take place without a trainer or employee leaving their home. This is especially beneficial for technical jobs or anything that requires learning as you go. Now you can learn and practice with a tutor in real time, in what appears to be a real setting.
5G May Impact Our Workplace Freedom
5G will make it easier to work from anywhere. Everyone can take their work anywhere, with greater communication, connectivity and collaboration. But there is a real risk that work will follow us, everywhere we go, 24 hours a day. A single device opens the office door, turns on your computer, synchronises your schedule, reports your presence to your boss, and makes you available anywhere, anytime.
Research on remote workplace trends indicate that the biggest challenge for employees is switching off. Most of the remote workforce say they struggle to turn off and they work too much. They are always available – responding to emails over breakfast, taking calls in social settings, feeling a need to prove their presence from a remote setting, and never shutting down.
The ability to work from anywhere, anytime, should not be mistaken from working everywhere, all the time. VR and AR creates a context where employers can literally see their employees, at any time. Simulating an office environment is an advancement, but detecting employee engagement via AR or expecting full-time virtual availability is regression. Employers shouldn’t be looking in while you’re eating breakfast. There must be a clear line between work and home.
5G Will Transform Remote Working – We Need a Chance to Shape the Future
Now is the time to be discussing privacy and what 5G will mean to remote working. It will transform the way we work. More people will work remotely. Remote working will be more efficient. Global workplaces will be greener and more sustainable. Yet there is a danger that these advancements may trap remote workers in the situation they wanted to escape. Remote working brings freedom and flexibility, but that’s not possible when a virtual office follows you everywhere.
Now is the time to be involved with shaping what this future means. As existing remote workers, we will be at the frontline of changes, both good and bad. And we can have an impact as these changes take place, potentially shaping the transformation to come. Just imagine, you can truly work from anywhere, anytime. You can be completely connected, in a virtual office environment that increases productivity and collaboration. And then you can switch off smartly and not return to the virtual office until tomorrow morning. That’s the future 5G can create, if we have the opportunity to shape it.