Technology Trends Changing the Workplace
Innovating the Office
By Bill Sechter
Co-Founder, President & CEO, ATLAS Workbase
"What does the future hold for how and where we work?"
The way we work is changing, and, not surprisingly, technology is playing a big part in that shift. Conversation about the workplace almost always starts with technology. Indeed, technology is the enabling factor that allows anybody, anytime, to complete work from almost anywhere. As technology is further embedded into the office, it will continue to help people work and think more effectively and efficiently.
When considering technology and the future of the office, it’s important to recognize that we’re increasingly moving toward an individual contributoreconomy. Individual contributors use the office to check in, to have a scope of work defined, and to collaborate before completing the work independently. In this individual contributor economy, the office offers a place to coordinate multiple moving parts, and multiple individual contributors. As a result, coworking facilities, such as ATLAS Workbase have quickly taken hold. These environments are carefully and intentionally designed to help individual workers get work done or conduct business.
What Does the Future Hold?
In 2018 offices will continue to adopt flexible work options, and with that comes even more reliance on screens and conference calling facilities. Forget meeting rooms, instead workers will book rooms purposely built for specific types of meetings. These will include all-purpose whiteboard rooms, creative rooms, relaxation rooms and concentration rooms. With high-end health and wellness features like lighting, air filtering and temperature control.
We’ll see more vigorous adoption of video teleconferencing and shared whiteboarding. Already, technologies like Microsoft's Surface Hub, an 80-or-so-inch TV that acts like a giant Surface tablet, are available, and eventually will become prevalent.
Speaking of Surface Hub, shared screens across sites are going to be huge. As we speak, Steelcase is working with Microsoft to build a room specifically for these technologies. When multiple rooms are linked together, gigantic real-time whiteboarding sessions for disparate teams located anywhere in the world will be possible. It’s just a matter of time before this becomes ubiquitous.
Companies are also moving toward the expanded use of credential technology. Signing in all the time is laborious! Phones already have a thumbprint scanner and camera with the ability to identify the owner. Why not use that technology set in a reasonable way to provide credentials for everything we do? As credentialing increases, we're going to see more identification and therefore tracking of people in space, via cellular devices using the individual’s physical characteristics. This technology scans the eye or fingerprint in an instant, allowing work to begin as soon as the computer has booted. The added security is a benefit, as every iris and/or fingerprint is entirely unique.
Microsoft Windows Hello works with a biometric sign-in. Users also have a facial recognition option for authentication. Simply sitting down in front of the computer is enough to unlock the screen. At present, only a few devices support this technology, so there’s still a wait for it to be delivered on a mass scale.
Part and parcel, the cloud continues to power connected devices, services and apps throughout the enterprise, and in effect “levels the playing field” for remote workers. For these tools and personal devices, there will be security implications and ramifications. All organizations will have some sort of policy and procedure relating to data access outside of corporate boundaries. Will workers be able to access data on their personal laptop, or can they only view data on the network?
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things delivers a myriad of new ways for technology to impact work. Smart apps will let team members know who is in the office, or which meeting and teleconferencing rooms are available and when. These rooms can automatically and seamlessly bring remote participants into the meeting, call up whiteboard notes from prior meetings, as well as adjust the lighting and climate of the room. If the meeting goes too long, the room will signal to the next group waiting that the current group needs the room a bit longer.
Like autonomous vehicles, the office of the future will also enable workers to better manage work complexities. Here, Ambient Intelligence will rely on the symbiotic relationship between the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, enabling the office to respond in real-time to human activities, creating a better sense of comfort, security, safety and productivity.
Thus, a workplace app might book a desk, check the food and handle messages. Within the building, AI will calculate for workers and teams where to book seats so they can sit together and work more easily.
We’ve only barely tapped into location awareness services within the office. Google is currently testing an indoor GPS-like system called the Visual Positioning System, which would mean “augmented reality” apps for offices – similar to Pokémon Go, but for work. With geospatial accuracy – right down to mapping the plug sockets – the time spent locating vacant desks, available meeting rooms, colleagues and even office facilities could be dramatically reduced. Employees can put on a VR headset to “come to work” – appearing as a virtual “ghost” in a 3D version of their real office.
We may also see “smart glasses” for employees, which “overlay” information on the real world. Others are testing “video walls” – Facebook has hinted at VR experiences as intense as teleporting to another place, allowing workers to meet online in 3D, perhaps even in a simulated version of the office.
Another still little-tapped technology in the workplace is Digital Voice Control. We speak faster than we type and voice recognition is intuitive and adeptly adapts to the user. This means voice assistants learn abbreviations or proper nouns, and can be instructed to create frequently used commands and optimize workflows. The possibilities are tantalizing, but in a simple example, we can say “Black Coffee” near the machine, place a mug beneath the tap, and coffee will appear.
How ATLAS Workbase is Utilizing New Technologies
ATLAS Workbase is currently testing cellular enabled locks in our offices. In the future (a year or two at most), workers will use their device to simply walk up and rent an office, on demand.
We are also in the process of installing digital antenna systems to deliver cellular service throughout the facility. This endeavor involves floor plans, blueprints, mark ups, and copious back-and-forth between customer and vendor. Wouldn’t that remote back-and-forth be easier with the vendor looking at the blueprint on a shared screen, drawing on the blueprint while circling the places that need wiring, with everybody viewing the same thing in real-time? With one vendor we spent two weeks conversing across time zones regarding blueprints. If we could have talked and shown at the same time, the issues would have been solved much sooner.
With a second vendor, we used screen sharing technology, resulting in efficient and effective communication over the course of one day. That's the difference that real-time, high-quality collaboration can make. Soon, this kind of meeting and interaction will be ubiquitous for all, and it will be done from the office and the home. Changes in the workplace and developments in technology continue to drive one another, making both life and work easier.