The workspace of the future
The workspace of the future
Generation Y wants to work differently. Not comfortable with traditional communications channels, younger workers are driving businesses to adopt new tools and a less rigid approach to organizational processes. The result will be a completely new working environment. Danny Bradbury, a regular contributor to many technology magazines, investigates.
Is your company ready for the new world of work? Collaborative technologies are helping modern organizations to source skills independently of location, while enabling their employees to be more flexible in their working lives. Both of these developments promise to improve productivity, and it is happening at a breakneck pace. According to the Yankee Group, 50% of workers now spend at least 20% of their time away from their primary workplace.
In the company of tomorrow, people, technology and locations will come together to produce exciting new opportunities. It will encourage a culture of bottom-up innovation, flexible and location-independent working, and dynamic teams that use the best skills available, wherever they happen to be located. The benefits of working in this way are extensive: companies become more agile and more efficient, with lower operating and capital costs. They also capitalize on their key asset - people - to a greater extent.
The technologies underpinning this development all revolve around better communication and collaboration. Mobile, Internet-connected devices will provide better access to social media environments that encourage employee interaction. The quality of collaboration will also increase; by 2015, Cisco predicts that 200 million people will be using desktop videoconferencing.
In addition, highly functional consumer devices are increasingly making their way into the office. Apple sells 18.5m iPhone 4 devices every quarter, all enabled with its mobile Facetime videoconferencing technology. Plus, the Apple iPad has become a hit among many business execs who view it as a user-friendly alternative to taking a laptop on the road. A number of enterprises are starting to run pilot BYOD, or "bring your own device," programs as a result. "Enterprises are being pressured by end users to support their personal devices at work, with the caveats that it's secure and it doesn't breach any regulations," explains Michael Burrell, Senior Manager of Unified Communications and Collaboration at Orange Business Services. "People have been unofficially using personal devices or applications like Skype, IM and social networking in the workplace for a long time, and that has been driven by their experience with the technology at home. They want to see the same capabilities in the workplace."
One group that is particularly pushing the consumerization of IT is the "Generation Y" age bracket, also known as the "millennials." This group, born after 1980, has become a growing part of the workforce over the past decade. The younger end of this group grew up knowing nothing else but the Internet, and it is increasingly changing the way that technology is used.
Whereas the prior generation is heavily reliant on email, millennials prefer more frequent, short-form communications such as instant messaging, SMS and Twitter, to a phone call. "For Generation Y, their mass media is now social networking, social media and personal mass broadcasting," affirms Professor Michael Hulme of the Institute of Advanced Studies at Lancaster University and Director of the Social Futures Laboratory.
These tools overlap heavily with social media, which is increasingly being felt in the enterprise. According to IDC, 57% of workers use social media for business purposes at least once per week, and 15% of them use a consumer tool instead of the corporate-sponsored one.
Millennials will also help push the enterprise towards a more mobile working environment, driven in part by the ubiquity of mobile devices in their personal lives. By the end of 2010, according to research by Cisco, 3.6 billion mobile devices had been purchased. Of these, 1.8 billion are capable of accessing the Internet.
The percentage of mobile devices with Internet connectivity will continue to grow. Morgan Stanley Analyst Mary Meeker documents sales of smartphones vs. PCs and has said that 2012 will be an inflection point, where smartphone sales outpace PC sales worldwide.
Against this backdrop, employees will increasingly demand a mobile working lifestyle, in which they are able to access extensive corporate resources, including applications, scheduling and messaging systems, from wherever they are.
This will require a more intimate relationship between mobile device users and corporate applications than we see in many corporations today, placing new demands on security and policy use of corporate data.
What will the workplace of tomorrow look like? Sebastien Ruest, Vice President for Services and Technology Research at IDC, predicts a world of dynamically assembled and disassembled teams. "We will be able to create and dismantle corporations in a very short time, because we can break out business, infrastructure and application layers," says Ruest.
Today, a company might find itself at a disadvantage if it is headquartered in a region bereft of key skills. In the future, it can source those skills from centers of excellence around the world, regardless of where the experts live, and have them work together using collaborative tools. The business benefits include lower skill- acquisition costs and increased agility, providing key advantages over the competition.
But how will those tools all work in unison? Orange research has found that the average business person uses seven different communication devices and applications: a desk phone, mobile phone, soft phone, email client, IM, voice mail, and audio, Web and videoconferencing. They must all be brought together under a single heading. Unified communication and collaboration holds the key. It marshals these technologies into a form that delivers significant business value by enabling greater collaboration among virtual groups.
Traditionally, business communications revolved around legacy phone systems. Over the last 15 years, these have gradually been modernized and combined with IP networks to deliver IP telephony and voice over IP (VoIP). However, many companies still have to make the leap from VoIP as a simple cost- cutting mechanism to unified communications systems.
These systems will form the foundation for highly functional collaborative workspaces that will give companies the edge when dynamically forming and reforming loosely connected teams of far-flung individuals.
Modern unified communications systems bring together all communications channels in one client that is device independent: desktop, mobile or Web-based. Presence shows individuals' availability and the best way to reach them. Individual presence can be enhanced with skill, location or social networking information to speed identification of the person you need to reach. Because all communications tools are integrated through a UC client, a user can seamlessly switch from an IM, to a voice call, to an audio, video, or Web conference on the fly.
The ability to take advantage of mobile devices is particularly important in the evolving workplace of tomorrow. Unified communications systems can support multimedia conferencing and instant messaging on any smartphone or Web browser. This will allow users to access their global address list while on the road and join pre-scheduled conferences with a single click.
costs-savings, productivity improvements
Developments such as these offer significant efficiencies to business processes and cost savings, while empowering staff and encouraging the retention of talent. According to a Wainhouse Research ROI Survey, videoconferencing, when used as part of a structured system, can reduce travel expenses by up to 30%. Training costs fall by roughly a quarter and recruitment costs by around 20%. Telephony and conferencing costs can fall by a fifth when using internal audio conferencing technology. Benefits such as these are crucial and make the technologies supporting tomorrow's workplace impossible to overlook.