As part of Avanade’s Future WX series, I’ve been thinking about four factors that will shape the future of how we work at Telstra as we tackle the disruption of the pandemic and move towards 2025.

The world is a very different place to the one we left behind at the beginning of 2020. Among the seismic changes that have taken place, new ways (and locations) of working are here to stay. If you’re reading this and you haven’t set foot in an office for more than a year, you’re not alone.

The end of the story has yet to be written — but you can be sure that hybrid working or work from anywhere is going to play a big role in our working lives from now until 2025 and beyond. Gartner predicts that almost 50 per cent of employees will continue to work remotely post COVID-19.

What hurdles will your business need to overcome on the journey to the workplace of the future? Here are the four factors that I believe will define your work from anywhere model as we speed towards 2025.

#1: Culture eats tech for breakfast

When we think about the future of work in the context of the past year, we already know that technology wasn’t the biggest barrier to remote working. It was culture.

We’ve been working flexibly for almost a decade, with people working an average of two days a week from home pre-pandemic. But looking back, we still had a way to go for everyone to fully embracing the flexible workplace.

What we’ve learned since is that transformation needs to be led by company values – and not tech – to be successful. And that starts with organisations questioning what kind of workplace they want to be and what kind of experience they want to offer their employees into the future.

Of course, it’s important to be able to set people up at home with laptops, video conferencing software, collaboration platforms, monitors, keyboards and mice – as a kind of remote working survival kit – but if an organisation doesn’t develop a truly agile mindset, change is simply not going to stick. Forrester found only 52 per cent of US employees agree that their company has the technology resources to allow people to work from home as necessary.

When we made the decision for 25,000 people to work from home overnight, we were fortunate to be well equipped to execute this move at speed. But many others weren’t. So, yes, tech is a big part of the puzzle. But culture is the ultimate enabler.

#2: Dispersed training will be bite-sized and continuous

Another trend that I foresee growing in prominence is training and career development for remote or dispersed teams. While the days of getting 20 people into a room for training aren’t necessarily over, it’s likely we’ll now enter a phase of continuous trickle-training.

There’s a huge shift to bite-size learning and virtual learning, with upskilling happening continuously rather than at single large event training sessions. And this lends itself to the work from anywhere model quite neatly – with training embedded more naturally into the flow of work. We’ve started this transition by encouraging people to build in 20 minutes of online learning a week and introducing virtual development days once a month for many of our Agile teams.

But the bigger challenge is managing career pathways with a dispersed employee base. There are opportunities to use data, insights and predictive tools to help link an individual employee’s career and learning tracks to specific next steps and goals.

#3: Who you hire (and where they live) will change

COVID-19 has redefined the geographical limitations of the workplace. If employees no longer need to live within a commutable distance of the office, the possibilities for hiring really open up. We can reach a whole talent pool that’s never been available to us before, in a range of jobs we never even considered could function remotely.

We’re making the most of this shift by taking a location agnostic approach to recruitment for most roles in Australia. This will only increase over the coming years as employers realise the potential benefits.

As the limitations of geography change, so do the expectations of new recruits. Being able to work from home is pretty much a given, and having ‘flexible hours’ is all very well, but what do you really mean by that? Are you giving parents part-time options? Are you allowing them to pick up their kids from school? Can employees take a gym class in the morning and make up the hour later that day? You need definitive parameters, not vague promises.

If you don’t trust your workforce to complete their tasks on their own schedule, it’s time to think long and hard about why that is—and take action to combat it. To attract and retain the top talent, workplace flexibility needs to be sewn right into your core values and thought about from every angle—not just listed on job applications as 2021’s shiny new buzzword.

#4: The workspace will be increasingly employee-centred

Another factor that will impact the work from anywhere model in the coming years is the role of the office. Do you even need one? What’s the point of an office in 2021 (or 2025)? According to Forrester, 75 per cent of CEOs said they expect their office spaces to shrink in the future because of remote working.

Of course, the office will always have its place. You might need less space, but the idea of ‘the office’ will be rethought as a hub for collaboration, for celebration, and about enabling people to get together for a purpose.

And when employees do choose to come in, it’s essential to have the tech there for booking in office days, booking a desk, booking a car space and so on. This will only get more commonplace and advanced as the years go by.

Tech is also critical for creating a seamless office experience for those who are unable to attend. Once upon a time that a person might conference call into a meeting on a speakerphone—but today, and in the future, you need smart software that enables multiple remote workers to feel just as much a part of the action as those who are physically present.

2025 and beyond

It’s exciting to witness such broad-brush changes at close hand and in such a compressed timeline. No one knows what the next few years will bring. Will we settle into a new normal and resist any further changes? Or will our desire for change maintain this state of disruption and evolution?

Alex spoke to Avanade as part of its Future WX Series.