For years, the view towards remote work has been shifting, especially in the tech industry where remote work is achievable. 

There are a number of concrete benefits to remote work, according to a 2019 survey from OpenVPN, including higher productivity, less time spent on commuting, improved employee retention, fewer overhead costs, and access to a larger pool of talent. 

The benefits are clear, and a number of companies have already been offering remote options, whether that be full-time remote or working from home a few days a week. But a number of companies are also set in their ways, largely because their environments were not set up to support remote work. 

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Now that is all changing as companies are forced to send their employees home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The rapid spread of the virus across the world has forced a trial by fire of remote work at scale, and it has the potential to have long-lasting impacts on the workforce. 

But like any major change, the switch to working from home has its challenges. For one, Muddu Sudhakar, CEO at IT service management company Aisera, explained that there will be an initial spike in help desk requests as people leave the office and need all of their software accessible from remote locations. “Before what happened is if you had a question, you walked to somebody, you talked to a coworker to resolve it,” he said. “Now what happens is your interactions have to be through some sort of request.”

Sudhakar believes that AI-driven help desks will drastically reduce the headaches caused by such an abrupt switch to a completely remote environment. According to him, there are three technologies that will enable this. One is cloud because it provides the centralization and scale needed. The second is advances in natural language processing and AI over the past three to five years that has helped us better be able to interpret human language. The third technology is automation, which will help take the burden off of IT workers. “You can understand language, but if you don’t have the right solution underneath, you won’t have the ability to deploy the request that the user will have,” he said. 

He also recommends IT teams look for tools that will help them with things like automating their help desk, enabling collaboration across teams, and conversational AI. 

In addition to the stress on IT teams, the switch to remote environments may take some getting used to by employees all across the organization. 

In order to help teams cope with the challenges of distributed teams, Google has offered eight tips to help foster collaboration and productivity remotely. 

  1. Create a team alias, whether that be an email list or chat room with all team members, to easily stay in touch
  2. Check sharing permissions on documents so that teams can edit and comment on documents as needed
  3. Schedule meetings in advance to stay in contact
  4. Hold daily meetings to stay connected with coworkers to prevent coworkers from feeling isolated and to keep people engaged
  5. Share goals and updates regularly 
  6. Continue practicing good workplace etiquette, such as checking calendars before scheduling meetings
  7. Don’t spend all day on video with your team. Instead, Google recommends other tools for staying in touch, like a chat room, shared document, short survey, or quick conference call.
  8. Find a good setup to help you stay focused throughout the day

Suddukar believes that even once things return to normal and people no longer have to be practicing social distancing, the workforce might not go back to normal.  “I think this change is for good,” he said. “I think this can only get best hygiene practices for us. It can get people to work remotely and get the best out of them.”