Millennials Want to Work from Home: What does that Mean for the Network?

In recent years millennials have become the largest generation in the work force, surpassing generation X by almost 3 million [1] The impact millennials have had on the work environment has been substantial, particularly the balance of work and life. Research shows that millennials would choose a work/life blend rather than a work/life balance. 33% say managing their family, career, and personal activities has become difficult in the past 5 years [2]. In reaction to this change, the modern workplace has shifted, and more and more people are choosing to work from home.

Why are Millennials Choosing to Work from Home?

In addition to the increasing adoption of the work life blend, Millennials are staying home for other reasons. The US Census found that the average commuter spends 9 days a year commuting, and that commute duration has increased 20% since the 1980s [3]. For individuals starting professional careers, this statistic is alarming, especially when cost of commuting is factored in. Millennials simply do not want to spend an hour a day commuting, especially when that distorts the work/life blend. However, it isn’t just employees that are noticing the benefits to working remotely . The number of employers offering a work from home option has grown by 40% in the past 5 years [4]. This trend is not just positive for the millennials employee. Employers offering at least part-time telecommuting flexibility collectively save $44 billion each year [4]. This reduction in costs stems from the fact that the companies are paying less in real estate costs. In addition to saving money, companies offering a work from home option notice an improvement in productivity when their employees work from home. 86% of employees say they’re most productive when they work alone—away from distractions like ineffective meetings, loud offices, and gossip [4]. This increase in productivity coupled with the decreased office space costs increase overall employer saving.

Employee productivity is one of the main concerns with offering a work from home option. Employers want to ensure that the option to work from home does not lead to an overall decrease in productivity. Data conducted by an Ernst and Young Survey states that 75% of millennials want the ability to work on a flexible schedule and still be on track for a promotion and career advancement [2]. This is then proven by a separate study that produced data stating two-thirds of managers report that employees who work from home increase their overall productivity [5].  Setting opinions aside, that is good for business. Companies offering a work from home option also report a decrease in employee turnover, another decrease in cost. In a Stanford University study, employers who offered a work from home option had employee turnover rates fall by over 50 % [6] . A work from home option may help a business hold on to some employees, however it also might help the business gain fresh new talent. This trend is proving to be beneficial for not only the employee working from home, but the company they work for as well. This option is particularly important for millennial job seekers. 68% of millennial job seekers said a work from home option would greatly influence their interest in working for a company [7]. Due to the personal benefit of working from home and the business benefit, it is clear to see why this trend in gaining popularity. However, it is crucial to examine all aspects. Working from home does benefit the business and the employee, but the impact on the IT professional needs to be examined.

Figure: 1 [8]

What is the Impact on Technology?

The growing popularity of working from home was made possible by the advancements of technology, however the emergence of the cloud and cloud computing made it entirely possible. With the cloud, employees are not just able to work from home, but from wherever is most convenient for them. This could be a local coffee shop, library, or anywhere with a secure internet connection. The cloud allows meaningful interactions with coworkers or customers anywhere. Interactions fostered by the abundance of services offered to improve employee communication. Services such as group sharing, and communication platforms have made working from home more practical, seeing as communication within a team or office is still available. IT professionals monitoring these cloud applications and services understand the importance of a healthy network, seeing as though in some cases it is the only way in which communication is relayed.
The increasing popularity of working from home was cause for some concerns about security. Employees choosing to work from their home instead of the office need to access company network from outside company servers. With multiple people access the company network from remote locations raises the need for a more secure network. Personal devices trying to access the company’s network has the potential to be a security risk, and so do company devices trying to access an unsecured network. Virtual private network allow for users access the company network and transmit data through an encrypted tunnel. When accessing Wifi with a VPN, the user’s privacy and security is protected at all times. This is essential for network health and security. For the employee working from home or anywhere remotely, a VPN connection is almost as critical as having an actual internet connection.

One of the most common and frustrating aspects of working from home is the wide range of technical problems that can arise. Meetings and video chats require decent audio and visual features and can often be problematic if there is low quality connection. Relying on a stable internet connection for multiple hours a day can be a challenge and a frustration if it becomes unstable. If something goes wrong with a device or there is a support issue at home, IT isn’t just a few doors away. The British Infrastructure Group revealed that in the UK, 5.7 million broadband customers had internet connections that do not reach Ofcom’s acceptable minimum speed of 10Mbit/s [8].  This challenge created a niche for remote desktop support services, to assist employees from a distance and troubleshoot technical issues. Many services allow of the IT professional to take control of user’s desktops and perform root-cause analysis, break-fix solutions and regular maintenance. The implementation of these services have allowed for some companies to go fully remote, being that company does not have a physical workplace and all employees from home.

Figure: 2 [8]

The Impact on the IT Professional

The increase in the popularity of working from home is due to the increase of millennials in the workforce. However millennial IT professionals are contributing to this trend too. Over the past few years, more and more IT positions have been offering the ability to work from home. In fact, millennial IT professionals have been responding favorably to the increase in remote IT jobs. These positions provide technical knowledge and support, not just to employees working from home, but central offices too. In terms of career opportunities, this is a promising direction to go in.
The popularity of working remotely has caused the popularity of managed service providers to increase. These service providers provide remote servers and IT staff to companies. This “virtual IT department” can assist employees from a remote location with their support and connection issues. Network monitoring services can have a bird’s eye view of the company network, ensuring that any arising issues will be taken care of.

Looking To the Future

As the ability to work from home increases, the increase in the amount of people choosing to work from home is inevitable. This means that dependence on managed services, cloud-based applications and remote IT professionals will increase. Pew Research predicts that after 2018, and with more stable company positions and more experience under their belts, millennials may be ready to settle down [1]. However this provides them with a unique opportunity. With the increase in cost of living, and the increase in millennial debt, it is important for companies to understand that moving for some individuals may not be an option. If a qualified candidate lives in Seattle, and the company is headquartered in Manhattan, the cloud would allow that individual to work alongside their coworkers virtually–something that wasn’t an option before the cloud. With this increase in popularity of working from home, the IT professional can expect people to be able to work from anywhere, and the network must be able to support it.

If the cloud, services, and remote MSPs can ensure your business’s performance, what’s not to say it can’t go 100% remote? The reality for many companies could be just that within the coming years. The operational costs must be weighed against each other, and worker opinion as well. The answer may lie with Generation Z, the next generation in line, whose oldest are in the first few years of their career. These individuals are the next trendsetters, and just as the Millennials impacted the workplace, so will Gen Z.

Sources:

[1] Pew Research Center ‘Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force’ (2018)

[2]  Ernst and Young, ‘Study: work-life challenges across generations Millennials and parents hit hardest’ (2015)

[3] United States Census (2017)

[4] Fundera, ’11 Surprising Working Fro Home Statistics (2018) 

[5]Surepayroll, ‘Productivity Prohibitors: How to Stop Them in Their Tracks’ (2016)

[6] Stanford Graduate School of Business, ‘Why Working From Home Is a “Future-looking Technology”'(2017) 

[7] Aftercollege, ‘2015 AfterCollege Career Insight Survey’ (2015) 

[8] Regus, ‘The Workplace Revolution – a Picture of Flexible Working 2017’ (2017) 

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