Workplace of the Future: Four Things That Are Changing Faster Than You Think

December 28, 2016


While the nature of work and the workplace have changed dramatically in the past 10 years, technology advancement is faster than ever, and the rate of change has increased just in the past year. It is estimated that, in the next five years, technology will advance 32 times from where it is now. This will impact almost every aspect of administration and management– from how businesses attract and retain employees, to where and how employees do their jobs, to how they communicate and collaborate, to the skills they need and tech tools they use at work. Predictions are that we will see substantial change in four key areas of the office-based workplace: the workers (and their expectations,) the administrative skills most needed by business, the design of the physical office space itself and the technology tools used by management and workers.

The Workers

  • The workforce will be more diverse than ever, with up to five generations, multiple physical abilities and diverse cultures and ethnicities working together, if not necessarily in the same space.
  • The number of workers of prime “working age” will continue to decrease through 2050. In order to meet workforce needs the labor pool of those over 55 will actually increase with employees retiring later or moving to part-time. Knowledge workers will be in demand and will become selective in choosing where to work—looking for flexibility, an environment they feel comfortable and respected in and more input into management and leadership.
  • As technology tools like wireless and mobile devices, web conferencing and virtual environments develop, administrative work will become more mobile. Telecommuting, remote work and virtual teams will become commonplace.  At the same time, Information and communication will become even more immediate allowing workers to collaborate from anywhere and heightening the need for interpersonal skills.
  • The entry of “digital natives” into the workforce--people who have grown up in the digital, connected world—will result in new employee demands and expectations from meaningful work and flexible career options to self-employment.
  •  “Portfolio careers” will increase as workers move from project to project or “gig to gig” creating a “gig economy” that is not based on being employed by one company for one position. Younger workers will demand greater flexibility as they increasingly view work as what you do, not where you go. These will lead to work cooperatives, online communities and, even, portable benefits.
  • More flexibility about where and how people work won't necessarily translate into more free time. With wireless technology, admins and assistants will be expected to remain in touch while away. Fortunately, technology will help them work smarter, faster and more efficiently.

The Skills

  • Some futurists predict that five years from now, 35% of the skills considered important will change. Technology advances will regularly change how, where and with what we do the job.
  • Flexibility, adaptability and the ability to learn new skills and master new technologies will be sought-after attributes in employees at all levels. Strong interpersonal, communications and collaborative skills will become increasingly important, as diverse teams will often work in virtual environments.
  • As technology makes tasks easier and less time consuming, the workforce will become more highly skilled and specialized; cognitive, analytical and creative abilities will be in demand. Problem-solving, creativity, analytical and social/emotional intelligence skills will be desirable.
  • In a knowledge-based economy, knowledge workers who are tech savvy will be increasingly valued and in demand.

The Office

  • The office of the future will be increasingly mobile, with technology enabling employees to perform their jobs from virtually anywhere; however, office space is not going away. It will become more flexible and adaptable to meet employee’s needs. Most Millennials prefer to work in an office with an open floor plan as opposed to one with cubicles and private offices, By contrast, less than half of Gen-Xers and Boomers surveyed prefer an open floor plan. 
  • The function of the office design will be to generate ideas and foster collaborative working relationships. Office designs will incorporate flexible, multi-functional spaces, “hotdesks” i.e., desk sharing, open space, both quiet and collaborative zones as well as more greenery and lounge type furniture.
  • Future office design will seek to provide space for employees to be active and move around—which is said to stimulate creativity and inspiration. It will also incorporate the option for employees to work from sitting or standing desks, on a treadmill desk or even lying down on a couch.
  • Smart offices will embrace the Internet of Things (IoT) not only to control building temperature, lights, etc. but also to enable artificial intelligence (AI) and “intelligent agents”-- digital assistants that can search for information, mine data or help with navigation for a visitor.  A sensor on a desk chair may even sense tension in the back and adjust your lumbar support or give a massage.
  • Offices will be equipped with walk-in facilities outfitted with wall-sized screens that project 360-degree views of videoconference participants. Conference rooms will be equipped with intelligent systems that help record ideas, make new connections to existing ideas, provide decision support and communicate ideas to the rest of the organization.
  • For independent workers, coworking spaces will grow exponentially. Coworking involves those who are not employed by the same organization sharing the work environment or office. It appeals to work-at-home professionals, independent contractors, or people who travel frequently who end up working in relative isolation.
  • The physical aspects of space are important, but the underlying technology infrastructure, is critical. Laptops, mobile devices and smartphones are key for every employee, thus, dense, high-speed Wi-Fi that can support roaming anywhere within a building is required. Most workers expect to work in a “smart” office soon. Employees will collaborate with colleagues across the building, city and countries wirelessly, interacting using touchscreens, voice and video so that meeting participants can present materials and make notes in real time.

The Technology Tools

  • The use of AI (artificial intelligence) will make jobs easier and improve productivity. Smart software will draft correspondence and reply to email. Sophisticated artificial intelligence software will help admins manage and “mine” large amounts of data. bots, or software applications that run automated tasks, will perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone, allowing admins to work smarter by performing tasks like writing meeting minutes, coordinating schedules, summarizing key points of a report, interpreting complex data sets and providing decision support.  Workers will ask bots where an individual is sitting, which cafe is least crowded, directions to the conference room, or how to transfer a call to another room. As these digital assistants become more sophisticated, they’ll be able to answer business-related questions like: what code should I bill these expenses to or how do this quarter’s revenues compare to last quarter’s. With chatbots, the goal is to create super intelligent assistants who can converse in complex and unstructured formats, and then take action. Admins and assistants can have their own untiring assistant working for them! Gartner predicts that in the near future, the cost of managed services will fall 60 per cent due to chatbot services.
  • The spread of the ‘Internet of Things’ - the network of physical objects including machines, buildings, infrastructure and vehicles – will revolutionize the office. Smart sensors will monitor buildings and people to improve performance. A printer will sense when it is low on toner and automatically order more. Window shades will adjust to reduce glare, and heating and lighting systems will self-adjust. Managers will see at a glance which chairs are unoccupied at any given time allowing for more efficient space planning.
  • Security issues will get priority. A report by HP says 70 per cent of connected/smart devices contain “serious vulnerabilities.” There have already been smart TVs found listening to keywords in users’ conversations and selling the data to advertisers. Last year, the average cost of a data breach for a large organization was $5.9 million. Passwords are no longer enough.  Multifactor authentication will allow logins only with a combination of factors, such as a fingerprint combined with an employee’s smartphone. Employee badges with embedded sensors will be used for security. Blue tooth entry cards will allow employees entry with their phones every day or allow one time use for guests.
  • Over the next five years, wearable devices will match and likely surpass what is d one with today’s tablets and phones. Wearables will charge your mobile device, BE your mobile device, and regulate your temperature and more. So far, there are not great apps for wearables. In many offices Apple watches are used primarily as meeting/exercise reminders. The Microsoft HoloLens headset debut has been watched with great interest. With HoloLens people can “see” a video-conferencing screen on a wall and move it with a gesture.
  • Office robots and drones: Drones, some as small as an insect and equipped with onboard cameras and navigation systems, will be able to swoop down workplace corridors and stairwells making deliveries and providing security. The larger ones, equipped with video screens, will allow real-time video chats with workers. Robots will help to boost information sharing and productivity.   
  • Kiplinger predicts that soon nearly half of U.S. businesses will move workers from corporate-issued portable devices and desktop computers to letting them use their own devices.
  • Rapid prototyping tools such as 3-D printers will reduce the need to order and then wait to receive certain office supplies and equipment.
  • Watch for LiFi: it is 100 times faster than Wifi data and moves through LEDs. More secure, too, as it can’t be hacked.
  • Miniature wireless communication tools will combine a personal computer, phone, fax, scanner, electronic organizer and camera all in one.

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