As shelter in place policies during the coronavirus outbreak force businesses to adjust to the reality of their teams working remotely, it’s almost as if we’re getting a trial run of what a dispersed workforce of the near future might look like. One of the much anticipated potential benefits of 5G, the fifth-generation wireless network, is the ability to enable a new kind of remote work: doctors treating patients from distant locations; widely dispersed farms changing their systems in fundamental ways from a centralized base; and knowledge workers seeing more productivity working from anywhere.
Bill Menezes, senior principal analyst at Gartner, the global research firm, imagines a post-Covid-19 world where business travel may be limited and large teams less viable. Menezes envisions scenarios where smaller groups are needed in the field since others can guide, assess, and document projects remotely with tools like virtual reality or high-speed video delivered over 5G. One upside of using 5G as a way to transmit data from the field back to the office is that “you’re limiting the number [of employees] who may have to go out and potentially get exposed to dangerous conditions,” he says.
As Inc. columnist Geoffrey James noted recently, there are compelling reasons why non-centralized workplaces will become more attractive: decreased emissions from fewer commuters, the potential to eliminate workplace bias, and savings to companies that will no longer need to relocate highly skilled workers to some of the most expensive areas in the country just because those cities house massive corporate headquarters. (Hello, Silicon Valley.) As James writes, in a decade, “centralized offices (open-plan or not) will be like the phone booths, a thing that older people remember as once being useful but which have since become irrelevant, obsolete, and non-existent.”