Kathy Gibson reports from a Nutanix webinar – The word work has transitioned from being a noun to a verb. Work is no long a place people go, but is the thing people do.

This happened almost unconsciously, says Professor Herman Singh, CEO of Future Advisory.

The office itself has changed over time, often evolving in a haphazard fashion rather than by design, he points out.

Not only has the location changed, we have also overloaded the environment, Prof Singh believes. “So we ended up with a legacy of sunk technology costs.

“In fact, the building itself is a sunk cost.”

The office hasn’t changed, but the nature of work has. “But nobody asked why we actually needed an office at all.”

In recent years, collaboration has become the main reason to gather people in an office – but, as this has become virtualized, the point of the office has largely fallen away.

“So we performed design thinking in offices – but haven’t performed design thinking on offices.”

This happened due to the dematerialization of the economy that took place in the 1980s, when GDP shifted from materials to services.

“We realised that 90% of the work taking place in offices was actually wasted.

“So we started to systemise the office, and re-engineered the way in which work was done. We removed the silos, systemised and standardised.

“So we converted what was a service shop into mass services – into service factories.”

The next phase was to automate from high-touch environment to a high-tech environment.

“Software ate the office,” Prof Singh says. Essentially, our lives became app-lified.”

This didn’t just affect the direct tasks, but core operations as well. “We used ERP and RPA, and digitalisation began to accelerate.”

This talks to the fact that we have fundamentally changed the nature of work.

Importantly, email is becoming secondary, with cloud computing the new killer app, Prof Singh says.

Covid-19 was the killer blow for office work, but technology has turned out to be the knight in shining armour.

“The pandemic catapulted us 10 years into the future.”

A big question around liability if people get sick in the office has been a driver behind this.

The first step was to move people out of the office, allowing them to work from home.

“This works well for some jobs, but not all,” Prof Singh says.

Having moved people out, we have to fix the office. There are rules about how to queue, how you use the elevator, how people use stairs and escalators and more, isolate and sanitise people, deep clean offices, and physically separate people where they work.

“This begs the question of whether we will have avatars in the office, so be present for people/

“And this further begs the question: why bother?”

The reality is that online habits have been formed, Prof Singh says. And there is no going back.

There are downsides to working from home, Prof Singh adds. These include isolation and a lack of collaboration.

The total number of meetings has gone up, although the number of people in meetings has gone down – when it’s not possible to solve issues in the workplace environment, there are more two-person remote meetings being set up.

In addition, interruptions have gone up with people working home, and focus has gone down.

We don’t know what kind of recession we are going to have, but the current situation will be with us for a while, and we are going to see more work shifting going on.

Which means you have to build a virtual organisation, on platforms and cloud. We are moving from centralized to decentrlisaed environments.

But its is clear that few companies were ready for distributed working, and we have seen massive increase in the number of VPNs, Prof Singh points out.

Up to 50% of the people working from home are new to this. And many believe that remote workers are not secure.

We are definitely not prepared at the device level, Prof Singh says. One in four devices have critical security apps that are out of compliance, and there is a raft of malware living on devices.

There has been a three-fold increase in attacks since the lockdown, most of them from external sources.

Companies have started implement surveillance, monitoring remote workers and security processes.

According to Prof Singh, key takeouts from the pandemic include:

* We have to stop defending sunk costs;

* Design from a zero base;

* We have to get through a process or change management;

* Include support staff in decision-making;

* Defend the home and the phone;

* Secure enterprise data wherever it is;

* Guard the cloud and the channel; and

* Monitor staff behaviour.