Work, learn anywhere strategies attract investment, innovation

IT budgets are shifting to build out infrastructure to support remote work and education and enterprises and workers are leaving the buildings behind.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Remote work and education are quietly morphing into work and learn anywhere strategy and the evolution is likely to kick off an innovation cycle.

Yes, this shift is about more than terminology. The move to remote work and education was a shift born in the COVID-19 pandemic. Work and learn anywhere reflects more permanence and productivity gains will require thought, experimentation and investment.

Indeed, a TechRepublic Premium survey of CXOs reveals that 13% of respondents rank remote work as a top 2021 budget priority. In terms of how COVID-19 will affect IT priorities, 26% of respondents reported that they will spend more on remote technologies that enable employees to work from home, 22% will spend more on security and 19% said most of their IT staff will work from home permanently.

The shift to working and learning from anywhere has been a recurring theme on tech earnings conference calls. The general theme is that vendors that enable people to work and learn from anywhere will be winners. Companies that harness the remote productivity and flexibility will win too. Simply put, there may be no going back when you consider that employees are fleeing high-priced cities for other locations.

In 2021, the IT infrastructure will be put in place to enable work and learn from anywhere strategies that will be refined in later years.

Vendors scramble to enable working and learning from anywhere

It's hard to miss the remote work boom taking place. HP, which reported a second quarter dominated by strong laptop demand, launched new Z workstations and a virtual desktop system. Jim Nottingham, general manager of Z by HP, said it has become clear that the "PC has a new role and is essential."

"80% of creators and power users want to work from home full or part-time," said Nottingham. That reality means developing systems that can enable workers to crunch algorithms, edit video and design remotely.

Dell Technologies is seeing strength from VMware as well as PCs due to the move to work and learn from anywhere. Intel is working with partners to develop a new class of laptops that are aimed at the new work-from-afar model.

Zoom is the poster child of the new world of work and education. The growth the company is seeing is mind boggling. We'll let the chart do the talking.


Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, said on the company's second quarter earnings conference call. "As remote work trends have accelerated during the pandemic, organizations have moved beyond addressing immediate business continuity needs to actively redefining and embracing new approaches to support a future of working anywhere, learning anywhere and connecting anywhere," said Yuan.

In other words, the next round of IT spending is going to revolve around these remote experiences. Jamf CEO Dean Hager said:

Technology is no longer part of the employee experience. It is the entire employee experience. What was once nice to have is now a necessity. Even after we work through this difficult period, we do not believe the world will go back to the way things were. These past several months have laid the groundwork for a future where people can work from anywhere, learn anywhere, and receive care anywhere.

Now we haven't quite worked out how to shake hands virtually, but Yuan is working on it perhaps with 3D video and augmented reality. He said that in the long run, Zoom is looking to create better meeting experiences than face-to-face with "language translation real time, and also how to shake hand remotely, a lot of cool features like that."

How permanent is the work, learn anywhere shift?

There are camps that'll argue that everyone will go back to the office and school as normal once there's a COVID-19 vaccine, but the money and talent has already left the building. IDC estimated that the ranks of mobile workers will swell to 93.5 million by 2024. Much of this growth will be driven by knowledge workers.

In theory, this IDC prediction could be derailed if companies forced workers to congregate in offices in the new normal. But the reality is that companies can save too much money by shedding commercial real estate and leases. Sure, companies will need space for workers, but a lot less of it.

Education may see a similar shift. Universities, which are glorified real estate investment trusts in many cases, will need less space because remote education isn't going away. The entire education business model is being blown up as we speak.

CBRE research showed that inbound capital to commercial real estate fell 34% in the first half of 2020. Twitter, Salesforce and Google are just some of the companies taking their time returning workers to offices--if at all.

And finally, employees are relocating as suburban real estate booms. According to Redfin, 27.8% of its users were looking to move to a new metro area. Redfin said: "The work-from-home culture stemming from the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the trend of migration away from expensive coastal cities to more affordable inland areas that has been going on for at least five years."

The reality is that workers and companies are already relocating or ditching offices completely and that's going to require a bit more technology investment to address.


The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet's global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America.


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