Trends that emerged in 2021 and are shaping SMB tech choices in 2022
Just over a year ago, I speculated what 2021 might bring, and—in common with many other people in the industry—one of my predictions was the acceleration of hybrid working. It turned out that this collective guess was correct, but on a scale and at a speed most of us would not have expected. Businesses around the world deserve applause for how they have embraced the workplace evolution. 2021’s trends continue to gain pace in 2022, so let's take a quick look at their benefits, some of the challenges they present, and how they can be addressed.
Work is about people, not a place to go
It has become clear that while some people are keen to return to work, others prefer to stay at home. Many like a blend of both, perhaps performing solitary tasks such as writing reports or responding to emails from home but going to the office for brainstorming sessions and team-building. Businesses might introduce schedules so that in-person office use is staggered to enable social distancing and to help address reduced desk space.
The traditional office is being replaced
We're not just going to see fewer desks in offices. Hybrid working is driving the retooling of offices. Roughly 20 to 25 percent of office space will be used as collaboration space, and workspaces are being reimagined into more flexible environments, with areas designed for huddles, planning sessions, and even social activities. Design is likely to be more informal, perhaps mimicking home décor. Of course, hybrid working means that some colleagues will participate remotely, so enabling them to contribute and have an inclusive user experience is essential.
Homeworking tech gets an upgrade
It has become clear that remote working means ensuring that employees have high-quality technology tools at home. Sales of WiFi and other equipment are surging to meet this need. Reliable connectivity has become another utility, with organizations depending on it to keep operating.
Individuals—whether with or without the help of their employers—have also improved their home office experiences, such as ergonomic chairs, better webcams, and more. However, finding a dedicated workspace at home has proved challenging for some: Late 2020 research by instantprint* found that 44 percent of people working from home used the living room, 17 percent the kitchen, 17 percent the hallway, 16 percent a bedroom or other spare bedroom. Only 16 percent had a dedicated home office.
Third space working
Two other workplaces are going to play a significant role in hybrid working. The first is referred to as third space working-temporarily rented collaboration office spaces, rented for a project or for a group of people that is geographically close. The other workplace category is more familiar. There is an increase in the use of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, for meetings. The owners appreciate the extra revenue that flexible workers can add. A 2021 study by Goldsmiths and the London Business School** discovered that people value the buzz of having others around them.
Likewise, shared or colocated offices are predicted to grow by $13.35 billion between 2021 and 2025, according to Research and Markets***. These spaces are often chosen for greater proximity to home or a customer. Other advantages can include professional quality business equipment, office services, and even access to showers after a lunchtime workout.
On the road
Lastly, we have the mobile workplace. As the world gradually settles into the ‘new normal’, travel will increase (although possibly not to pre-pandemic levels, which will be good news for the environment). As a result, people will once again be working on the road, on trains, in airport lounges and restaurants, or from hotel rooms and AirBnBs. One thing has changed, though: Because homeworkers have realized the value of better connectivity experience in the past couple of years, they will not tolerate bad WiFi any longer. So, if they have not already done so, hotels, airports, and all those other mobile work locations will have to up their WiFi game. Many employers equip their employees with mobile hotspot routers so that they do not have to rely on poor or non-secure public WiFi.
Dealing with the essential
This brings us to a crucial point: all these locations have their own networking requirements, bandwidth, protocols, and security. Plus, regardless of where people are, they will want a consistent and reliable experience.
So, in 2022, employers need to make sure that employee productivity is guaranteed in all four possible places: in the main office, at home, in third place locations, and on the road. Everyone agrees that poor audio, video & connectivity are unacceptable in today’s hybrid working world and the network is a crucial element.
Besides network throughput and performance, there are other aspects to consider, including digital security and ease-of-use. Two years ago, it was unthinkable that employers would be preoccupied with their staff’s WiFi routers, but today, that is the reality.
WiFi 6 and now WiFi 6E, making the home network as fast and secure as the office network.
WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E addresses some very modern issues. Multiple people in an average household on videoconferences simultaneously, creates a need for higher upload and download speeds, as well as uninterrupted Internet service. This is exacerbated by the concurrent increase in the use of home theater equipment and gaming and IoT devices since the start of the pandemic. All these are networked devices, so network routers have been busier than ever.
It is also important to know that wireless routers in surrounding homes cause interference between WiFi networks and that negatively impacts performance. The good news is that the next generation of WiFi 6E networks solves that radio congestion, by creating more available spectrum in the new 6Ghz band. There are now four frequency bands available for WiFi transmission: 2.4 GHz, 5 Ghz Low, 5 Ghz High and 6 Ghz. The net result is that WiFi 6E-capable devices are much faster than their predecessors, plus in-built security features make them more protected and private than ever before.
Creating effective hybrid working strategies has multiple challenges, but reliable and fast connectivity does not have to be one of them. Let’s work together in 2022 and beyond to help people communication, collaborate, and be productive, wherever they may be, efficiently and safely.