The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. Unemployment has soared, entire industries have been impacted, and schools have been shut down. However, one huge change has remained under the radar. We’re on the cusp of witnessing the death of cities as we know them.

To understand why let’s rewind to 1870: the start of the industrial revolution in the United States. Industrialization drove people from rural communities to cities. America’s three largest cities—New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia—grew 43 percent per decade, reaching 10 million residents by 1910. This mass urbanization changed everything—religion, education, the economy, crime, and dozens of other aspects of American life.

Today, four out of five people live in urban areas. That’s 263 million Americans. Only 66 million live in rural areas by comparison. However, the COVID-19 pandemic now has the potential to reverse this trend. Gartner predicts that three in four American enterprises will shift at least some of their workers to work-from-home (WFH) status post-COVID-19.[1]

This development has the potential to drive a reverse migration out of cities, as suggested by forecasts that more than half of employees would move out of America’s largest cities if they were converted to WFH status.[2]

If you work in IT or DevOps, this will have a major impact on how you do your job. To better understand how COVID-19 is affecting American businesses (in general) and IT departments (specifically) during the pandemic, Catchpoint commissioned the 2020 CIO New Normal Survey.

Catchpoint 2020 CIO New Normal Survey – Methodology

Catchpoint commissioned ReRez Research of Dallas, Texas, to survey 200 CIOs and 200 work-from-home managers in July of 2020.

CIO Survey:

  • 67 CIOs of small enterprises (1,000 to 2,499 employees)
  • 67 CIOs of medium enterprises (2,500 to 4,999 employees)
  • 66 CIOs of large enterprises (5,000 or more employees)

These enterprises were geographically dispersed across the United States and comprised a wide range of industries.

Work-From-Home Manager Survey:

ReRez also surveyed enterprise managers from enterprises of similar sizes, all of whom had been required to work from home during the crisis. All these managers have jobs that require the use of a computer for 50 percent or more of the day.

How COVID-19 Has Affected the Enterprise

Working from home is certainly not new. Before COVID-19 hit, roughly one in four (27 percent) American enterprise employees worked from home at least some of the time. However, COVID-19 caused these numbers to swell. During the pandemic, the number of work-from-home employees (WFH) increased to three in four (74 percent).

Prior to the pandemic, less than half (43 percent) of customer engagements were face-to-face. During the pandemic, this dropped to just one in eight (13 percent).

Lockdowns are easing, and two-thirds of the enterprises that we surveyed have announced plans to bring workers back into the office. However, by no means is this a return to a pre-COVID-19 “normal.” In the post-COVID-19 “new normal,” enterprises plan to have 42 percent of their workforce work from home at least for part of the time. This represents an increase of 27 percent in the number of WFH employees (from 27 to 42 percent).

The same is true with regard to customer interactions, in that face-to-face interactions will drop to approximately one-third (37 percent versus the pre-pandemic percentage of 43 percent). The biggest shift will be to Zoom (or equivalent) meetings, which are forecast to grow by 45 percent after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Challenges Created by the COVID-19 Pandemic

It has been well reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on enterprises. Our survey showed that the three biggest impacts on businesses related to profitability, revenue growth, and productivity.

Within IT departments, the biggest impacts were security, app reliability, and network availability. These impacts were driven by a variety of challenges faced by enterprises during the crisis. Within IT departments, the biggest challenge was that of maintaining application performance, which two-thirds of the CIOs rated as a somewhat-to-extremely significant challenge. This was followed by issues relating to network reliability, a lack of employee expertise with WFH technologies, and security, all of which were seen as somewhat-to-extremely significant challenges by 63 percent of the CIOs.

Employees Have Mixed Feelings About Returning to the Workplace

Only one in ten enterprise workers are extremely excited about returning to the office, whereas one in three (33 percent) are against returning. Their biggest worry is that of being exposed to COVID-19. In addition, employees are dreading a return to commuting, which involved an hour per day of travel time for the typical employee.

However, it would not be fair to say that employees have nothing to look forward to in terms of returning to the office. The biggest reasons for which they look forward to returning include social interaction, getting away from the distractions of working from home, and being able to brainstorm more effectively with coworkers.

Workers want to continue working from home for at least some of the time. Three in four want to work from home at least one day per week in the new normal.

Have Cities Outlived Their Purpose?

One hundred and fifty years ago, cities formed to provide cheap housing for a new class of industrial workers. American cities greatly expanded as a result. However, COVID-19 is currently driving a work‑from‑home revolution. Being “close” to work means having good bandwidth and a decent webcam. As enterprises embrace WFH strategies, workers are poised to abandon expensive, crowded cities. It’s the industrial revolution in reverse, and for anyone working in IT or DevOps, it’s time to rethink how you provide your services.

Read the complete survey report here.