Technologies to keep the office relevant in the digital age

Some 58% of U.S. workers say they’re too swamped to think beyond their daily to-do lists. According to Workfront, they also report losing 60% of their working week to activities other than their primary job duties. We report on how the office is evolving to help workers save time, work faster and share ideas better.

The office as a working environment is a fairly recent invention, and although many have sounded its death knell, it continues to be an important part of the corporate presence. The key to its continued relevance are the technologies and design that help shape the office environment to match modern working practices.

Zeus Kerravala, Founder and Principal Analyst at ZK Research, foresees the future of the workplace being powered by three key factors: everything in it will be personalized, predictive and intelligent.

  • Personalization relates to how each user will use a tool differently, and a personalized system will orient itself around each individual instead of treating every user the same
  • Predictive refers to how workplace tools will come to predict what you need, with systems learning and managing actions for you
  • Intelligent will be AI-based systems improving their pattern recognition capabilities and working around your habits, making recommendations it has learned from your work routines

With that in mind, we list six different technologies and practices that are helping shape the future of the office.

1. Video collaboration

To Millennials and Generation Z workers, collaboration is the norm and is expected. Teamwork is important to them: research by IdeaPaint found that 74% of Millennials prefer to collaborate in small groups, while 38% believe outdated collaboration processes damage their company's innovation. Video has become an important part of the collaboration tool mix for these employees, driven by the increasing popularity of consumer video calling applications.

For enterprises, the immersive nature of video helps improve collaboration between office-based staff, mobile employees and those based remotely. According to research by Deloitte, almost 75% of Millennials say a “work from home” or “work remotely” policy is important in their employers. To support this, video-enhanced collaboration in all workplaces will become commonplace and fundamental to supporting the distributed workforce. This is reflected in the rapid growth of video as a service (VaaS), which is growing at 40% year-on-year, according to research by Synergy Research Group.

2. Federating tools

Modern business is increasingly about networks of organizations that work together towards common goals. This means that collaboration tools need to extend beyond the enterprise boundary. According to Mio, the developer of a tool that federates group chat apps, 91% of businesses use at least two messaging apps internally. Your workers are probably using a combination of Microsoft Teams, Slack, Cisco Webex, Skype for Business, potentially Cisco Jabber, and other unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools. And they use them to collaborate with external partners, sharing files, engaging in group chats and more.

As you go on using more and more UC&C apps and your external partners use different ones, how can you ensure functionality and security across corporate domains? The answer is federation, which allows you to link up your own UC&C platforms with those of your partners, including different platforms, to give a user experience as if users were all on the same UC platform.

“Federation of your UC&C tools delivers interoperability, increased richness and enhanced security,” says Stephane Minana, Orange Business. “When workers are using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Cisco and new entrants like Zoom, you need to be able to API one to another and integrate them all together and make them manageable.”

3. Collaborative document editing

The Internet has made collaborative editing on the same document possible. Increasingly, digital whiteboards, video systems and other collaboration tools enable people to edit documents on a shared basis from wherever they are. Interactive whiteboards are a key part of this movement.

These new collaborative editing tools will become commonplace in offices and enable workers to collaborate face-to-face while simultaneously uploading and editing documents with the swipe of a finger on a touchscreen. Workers will be able to edit and continue talking using group messaging. This type of technology will reduce email traffic significantly and give workers the power of real-time co-creation of ideas from anywhere.

4. AI assistants

Of course, humans won’t be the only entities that workers will need to collaborate with. AI-powered, voice-controlled virtual assistants (VA) are already commonplace in the home, with Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana already familiar names with consumers. VA functionality is making its way into enterprise technology as well and could have a big impact on the employee experience. According to Gartner, by 2021, 25% of digital workers will use a virtual assistant on a daily basis, up from under 2% in 2019.

In the workplace of the future, VAs will help human workers by organizing their diaries, booking meetings for them, managing their expense claims, or even, in time, suggesting sensible courses of action to queries. It will begin with simple tasks, but as workers become increasingly used to – and reliant on – AI-enabled VAs, workers will be freed up to focus on areas of the job that are more complex or about which they are most passionate.

5. User interfaces (UI)

As ways of working evolve, so too will our user interfaces (UI). With workplace tools becoming more complex and more high performance, how we interact with them will change. Gesture interfaces could replace the familiar mouse, as you control a tool’s actions using functions mapped to your body. Keyboards will likely always have a place in an office, purely because of their essential functionality, while speech tools are progressing rapidly. Gartner predicts that by 2023, 25% of employee interactions with applications will be via voice.

6. Office design

The office itself also needs to evolve as a space to continue to play an important role in the future. Deloitte has suggested that offices should be built around the reasons people come into the office: some employees just want to get on with their own work and others want and need to collaborate, socialize and network. For client-facing executives, the workplace is an advertising accessory and something that might help close a deal. So it is important to investigate and understand why people are coming into your office and what they want to achieve there; then you can plan how to configure your space around that.

What seems clear is that technology in the workplace will very much not be for technology’s sake: adoption will be driven by factors that make a genuine difference and that workers can use to do their jobs better and be more productive.

Discover our Managed Workplace with the Microsoft Teams collaboration hub, and to help your employees get the most of their collaboration tools, consider our User Adoption Services.

Steve Harris

I’ve been writing about technology for around 15 years and today focus mainly on all things telecoms - next generation networks, mobile, cloud computing and plenty more. For Futurity Media I am based in the Asia-Pacific region and keep a close eye on all things tech happening in that exciting part of the world.