Gartner: 51% of global knowledge workers will be remote by the end of 2021

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This will drive PC and tablet shipments to over 500 million units for the first time, the firm said.

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By the end of 2021, 51% of all knowledge workers worldwide are expected to be working remotely, up from 27% of knowledge workers in 2019, according to Gartner. 

The research firm also estimates that remote workers will represent 32% of all employees worldwide by the end of 2021. This is up from 17% of employees in 2019. Gartner defines knowledge workers are those who are involved in knowledge-intensive occupations, such as writers, accountants and engineers. Gartner defines a remote worker as an employee working away from their company, government entity or customer site at least one full day a week (hybrid workers), or who works fully from home (fully remote workers).

SEE: Remote working technology is creating a productivity nightmare (TechRepublic)

"A hybrid workforce is the future of the work, with both remote and on-site part of the same solution to optimize employers' workforce needs," said Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner, in a statement.

Remote working varies considerably around the world depending on IT adoption, culture and mix of industries. In 2022, 31% of all workers worldwide will be remote (a mix of hybrid and fully remote), the firm said.

The U.S. will lead in terms of remote workers in 2022, who will account for 53% of the workforce. Across Europe, U.K. remote workers will represent 52% of its workforce in 2022, while remote workers in Germany and France will account for 37% and 33%, respectively, according to Gartner.

India and China will produce some of the largest numbers of remote workers, but their overall penetration rates will remain relatively low with 30% of workers in India being remote and 28% of workers in China working remote, according to Gartner.

Impact on how IT is procured and used through 2024

The lasting impact of remote work is resulting in a reassessment of the IT infrastructure that shifts buyer requirements to demand work-anywhere capabilities, Gartner said. "Through 2024, organizations will be forced to bring forward digital business transformation plans by at least five years. Those plans will have to adapt to a post-COVID-19 world that involves permanently higher adoption of remote work and digital touchpoints," Atwal said.

Digital products and services will play a big role in these digital transformation efforts. This longer strategic plan requires continued investment in strategic remote-first technology continuity implementations along with new technologies such as hyper automation, AI and collaboration technologies to open up more flexibility of location choice in job roles, Gartner said. Hyper automation is an approach that enables organizations to rapidly identify, vet and automate as many processes as possible using technology, such as robotic process automation, low-code application platforms, artificial intelligence and virtual assistants, according to Gartner.

Increased demand for PCs, tablets

A hybrid workforce will continue to increase the demand for PCs and tablets. In 2021, PC and tablet shipments will exceed 500 million units for the first time in history, highlighting the demand across both business and consumer markets. 

Organizations also deployed cloud to quickly enable remote workers. Gartner forecasts worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services will grow 23.1% in 2021 as CIOs and IT leaders continue to prioritize cloud-delivered applications, such as software as a service (SaaS). SaaS applications are designed for remote access and aren't constrained by the location of the workers using the application. Social and collaboration tools will continue to be a "must-have," which will lead the worldwide social software and collaboration revenue market to increase 17% in 2021.

In terms of connectivity, many organizations had to change and adapt many IT approaches to ensure business continuity among their remote workers. By 2024, at least 40% of all remote access users will be served predominantly by zero-trust network access, up from less than 5% at the end of 2020, the firm said. While most of these organizations will not completely retire all their client-facing VPN services, ZTNA will become the primary replacement technology.

Rethinking hybrid work

"This entails rethinking how work is done, reconstructing the office space both in its reduction and use of the remaining for collaboration," the Gartner report said, "while HR departments create an all-encompassing employee agreement that takes account of the total employee experience."

One of the key challenges is to determine how often workers should work on-site versus at home. Among employees, preferences are strong for a hybrid workplace. Around 70% of employees work at least some time remotely, preferring two to four days in different locations, according to Gartner's 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey of 10,080 employees across nine countries.  

Country preferences showed up at both ends of the frequency spectrum. Less than 1% of Chinese and 5% of Indian employees preferred fully remote, while close to 30% of remote employees in the U.K. and U.S. preferred fully remote. "Preferences are no doubt linked to available home office space, social/cultural differences and management styles,'' the report said.

In addition, fully remote provides a sense of the work-from-anywhere market potential, according to Gartner. "As generally is the case, employees' preferences and employers' ability to hire and support work-from-anywhere employees are still divergent, given indications from major organizations around the world about future work plans," the report said.

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