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There is no doubt that COVID-19 has changed the way we work. How lasting some of those changes will be is up for debate. One of the most hotly contested areas is the future of remote work.

First, let's look at the data. With technology advancements, such as inexpensive, fast and highly portable hardware, as well as improved connectivity, employees have been getting work done from home for years. However, pre-COVID-19, only about 17% of workers worked from home five or more days a week. 

Then, in March of 2020, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, and employers started sending workers home in droves. A survey conducted in April 2020 found that 44% of workers were working from home five or more days per week, and two-thirds were working remotely for at least a portion of their workweek. 

Now, with at least one COVID-19 vaccine in distribution and approval for additional vaccines on the horizon, workers may be able to return to the office in the not-too-distant future.

But will they?

Rethinking the modern office

While the majority of employers probably didn't expect to keep their employees at home for nearly nine months (and counting), the extended life of the pandemic has had one upside: it's given employers and employees a chance to reevaluate their views on working remotely. 

Working remotely is not for everyone. According to a Gallup poll conducted in April, 41% were eager to return to the office once the pandemic was over. Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of employees told Gallup researchers they preferred working from home. Perhaps they discovered the many advantages, such as no commute and the freedom to work in your pajamas (or at least the bottom half for those who do a lot of video conferencing).

Historically, many employers have been reluctant to allow employees to work from home because they feared a loss in productivity. Harvard Business Review published some encouraging news on that front. Their researchers found that since working from home:

  • Employees were spending 12% less time in large meetings and 9% more time with customers and external partners.
  • Employees had become more self-directed, performing 50% more tasks of their own volition rather than because they were told to do something.
  • Employees also saw their work as more worthwhile, with the number of tasks rated as tiresome dropping from 27% in 2003 to 12% in 2020 and the number that could readily be offloaded to others dropping from 41% to 27%.

All of these statistics point to a more engaged, more fulfilled workforce, and that's good news for employers. But perhaps the best news is the cost savings many businesses can realize by moving employees from the office to home. 

In a survey of CFOs conducted by Gartner in March, 20% of respondents indicated they have deferred on-premise technology spend, with an additional 12% planning to do so. Thirteen percent said they had already made cost reductions in real-estate expenses, with another 9% planning to take actions in this area in the coming months. Based on what they're hearing from clients and research participants, Gartner posits that the cost-cutting benefits of remote work have allowed some of these organizations to minimize the impact of the pandemic on employees, including keeping more of them employed.

These benefits are apparently enough to cause many employers to rethink their stance on remote work. The Gartner survey found that nearly half (48%) of employers planned to keep at least 10% of their previously in-office roles working from home after the pandemic ends. 

It's one thing to share strategy in a survey. It's quite another to execute it. With more employees working from home, IT has its work cut out for it.

Two key IT issues with remote workforce management

Keeping an eye on a dispersed workforce can be a challenge as many IT professionals already know. But, with two-thirds of workers suddenly working from home for at least a portion of the workweek, organizations suddenly have more workers logging in from unknown locations using unknown devices than ever before.

Unless managed well, a vastly expanded remote workforce can become a security nightmare. Many of the organizations we work with have had to rethink how they manage essential elements of their IT security strategy, such as credentials management, user authentication and log monitoring. In many cases, they need to be able to perform these functions with the team they have as there is no time or budget to hire additional skill sets or develop them internally.

While security may be the top priority, ensuring system performance isn't far behind. Lag time might be tolerated when an employee is "getting a little extra work done" on the weekend, but even an extra millisecond becomes intolerable when the employee is accessing systems remotely every minute of their workday.

AIOps: Addressing the challenges of the workforce of tomorrow

COVID-19 hasn't just accelerated the rise in employees working from home. It's also accelerated the rise in a technology designed to address the challenges of managing an increasingly remote workforce: AIOps. 

In a nutshell, AIOps addresses the challenges of IT operations with the increased use of AI and machine learning to manage IT security, application performance, and network performance across the enterprise. Refer to our recent post What is AIOps? for a more comprehensive discussion.

AIOps can help manage a dispersed infrastructure in three critical ways:

1. Improve monitoring. Visibility across the enterprise is an area that many organizations have struggled with, and the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the issue. Since you can't manage what you can't see, the first function of AIOps is to improve visibility across your infrastructure, including remote systems. 

2. Improve response time. This is where the power of AI and machine learning kicks in. AIOps uses advanced algorithms to identify unusual patterns that may indicate a problem. Machine learning can help prevent over-zealous responses, such as denying access to a legitimate user. 

When the issue is real, such as a sudden drop in application performance, diagnosing the root cause is easier and less time-consuming. 

3. Reduce remediation time. AIOps also provides the ability to automate a response to issues, cutting remediation time to the bare bones. If a response cannot be automated, AIOps initiates the alert process and automates the acceleration of alerts, based on severity of the issue, to ensure prompt remediation.

The AIOps difference

There are individual solutions that offer each of these benefits across each of the four areas of AIOps: enterprise monitoring, IT security, application performance and network performance. What makes AIOps different (in addition to using more advanced algorithms than most point solutions) is that it leverages innate functionality or integrates functionality from other solutions into one comprehensive platform. With employees more dispersed than ever, IT professionals need IT operations functionality that can bring their entire enterprise into focus in one place.

Want to learn more? Check out our playlist: The Past, Present and Future of AIOps.

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