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Global Networked Economy: Knowledge Worker Trends

As the Global Networked Economy continues to evolve at an accelerated pace due to the ongoing pandemic, organizations that resist the inevitable transition to a distributed workforce will become the Neo-Luddites of the 21st century.

According to the latest global market study by Gartner, 51 percent of all knowledge workers worldwide are expected to be working remotely by the end of 2021 -- that's up from 27 percent of knowledge workers in 2019 that had adopted a flexible working model.

Moreover, Gartner analysts now estimate that remote workers could represent 32 percent of all employees worldwide by the end of 2021. That's a significant increase from the 17 percent of all employees in 2019.

Remote Worker IT Market Development

Gartner defines knowledge workers as those involved in knowledge-intensive occupations -- such as writers, accountants, or engineers. Gartner also defines a remote worker as an employee working away from their company, government, or customer office site at least one full day a week, or those who work fully from their home location.

"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. Remote working varies considerably around the world depending on information technology (IT) adoption, culture, and mix of industries.

In 2022, 31 percent of all workers worldwide will be remote (a mix of hybrid and fully remote). The U.S. market will lead in terms of remote workers in 2022, accounting for 53 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Across Europe, U.K. remote workers will represent 52 percent of its workforce in 2022, while remote workers in Germany and France will account for 37 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

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

According to the Gartner assessment, the lasting impact of remote work is resulting in a reassessment of the IT infrastructure that shifts business technology buyer requirements to demand 'work-anywhere' capabilities. This rapid shift is the most pervasive digital business transformation trend of this decade.

"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," said Mr. Atwal.

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, artificial intelligence (AI) and collaboration technologies to open up more flexibility of location choice in job roles.

A hybrid workforce will continue to increase the demand for personal computers (PCs) and media 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.

Outlook for Remote Worker Applications Growth  

Organizations also deployed cloud to quickly enable remote workers. Gartner forecasts worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services will grow 23.1 percent 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 17.1 percent in 2021.

In terms of connectivity, Gartner noted that many organizations had to change and adapt many IT service approaches to ensure business continuity among their remote workers. By 2024, at least 40 percent of all remote access usage will be served predominantly by zero-trust network access (ZTNA) -- that's up from less than 5 percent at the end of 2020.

While many of these organizations may not completely retire their legacy VPN services, ZTNA will become a primary secure access enterprise technology. That said, I believe every savvy CIO and CTO will reevaluate their data network services spending and end-user computing device investment, plus update their associated digital workspace application subscriptions.

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