Imagine life without your mobile devices – hard to consider, right? Yet of course there are many professionals working in offices today who remember how different the workplace was just 20 years ago.
So let’s look ahead another two decades, if we dare…after all, workers are already getting worried about the so-called ‘rise of the robots’. Will our working life actually survive the full-scale arrival of AI? And where will the flexible working revolution take us?
There’s no doubt that the awe-inspiring progress of mobile technology and mobile application development has dramatically transformed how people interact in the workplace in the past 20 years.
Go back to 1998, and employees were using chunky cell-phones and slow, bulky computers with limited features. Mobile communications? We called them beepers…and fax transmissions spewed out of machines in giant rolls.
Well, we called it progress then, and so it was. But look at now – employees can work from home, in a coffee shop, or simply on the go, and enjoy the same communication on their mobile devices as they can on a PC back in the workplace.
Cloud communications are truly putting the flex into flexible working. Employees who need to book a meeting space or an agile-working desk can now do it on their mobile, via an app, in a single transaction, if their workplace is supported by the right kind of meeting and resource scheduling technology.
According to surveys, this kind of personal control over your working environment contributes to productivity and wellbeing – and helps organizations tackle the important issue of talent recruitment and retention.
So what about those darn robots heading towards us over the hill? Will we need to be afraid by 2038?
I don’t think so. Our modern working lives have already been quietly transformed by automation, which is taking away many of the mundane, boring tasks that not only take up valuable time but also are open to human error.
For instance, it’s been shown that utilization of valuable and timesaving workplace innovations such as video conferencing can be hampered because people just find it tricky to set up, particularly when multi-locations and different time zones are involved.
A modern meeting scheduling system automatically allows for all of that – and if any of the meeting details change, it informs all invitees automatically. No human intervention needed. That’s simply doing a job that no one actually wants to do – and doing it well.
By 2038, AI may be carrying out a lot more of this type of function for us – but as Microsoft predicts on the basis of a recent survey, it’s more likely to enhance rather than replace human jobs.
The tech giant says: “The companies we surveyed – in 13 manufacturing and service industries in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America – are using AI much more frequently in computer-to-computer activities and much less often to automate human activities. ‘Machine-to-machine transactions are the low-hanging fruit of AI, not people-displacement.”
So in the 2038 office, Microsoft feels the greatest gains from AI are likely to be in back-office functions such as IT and finance/accounting, where there are a lot of computer-to-computer transactions.
It will give the human element of any organization more time to leverage its talent and innovative skills – something that will remain hard to program into a robot.
We’ll certainly see an extension of the astonishing usefulness of sensor and beacon technology by 2038. This is already making a real impact in our homes – think Alexa – and in the most digital-savvy of today’s office environments.
That’s because one of the biggest changes since 1998 has been the arrival of the flexible meeting space.
No longer do companies necessarily have a boardroom and formal meeting rooms that are infrequently used. They are more likely to have multi-purpose spaces, breakout areas and huddle spots where people can get together and collaborate quickly and easily.
Step ahead and this trend is likely to be even more important. Wireless technology will enable a truly flexible workspace with moveable walls that’s reconfigured regularly to meet the needs of a mobile workforce connecting via the cloud and booking private or communal space.
Today’s sensors monitor occupancy of desks, booths and meeting spaces, and display it in real-time on digital screens. It means workers can see at a glance what spaces are available, and book them via their app or an in-office kiosk.
And beacons are already amazing. By detecting – with permission – who is near them, they can route calls to where you are, or even start your videoconference as soon as you walk into the room.
We’ll see mobility taken out even more widely by 2038, with the definition of ‘our office’ broadened to include driverless cars, welcoming coffee shops or shared co-working spaces – anywhere, in fact, that a person can do some work. Technology can make all a bookable, usable part of the valid working environment.
For facilities managers, this could be headache, just as desk booking can be today if it’s not properly organized. But meeting and resource scheduling technology will continue to make the huge progress we’ve seen in the last 20 years and keep well ahead of the game.
This kind of technological advance is already creating benefits for everyone. Workers get to work where they want, when they want, and their wellness grows in accordance.
Companies, capturing data on exactly how their costly workspace is being utilized, can respond to actual needs (head office will be a far smaller place by 2038) and know that their workers are all the more productive because of it.
We may not be working on Mars by 2038. And probably no one will have yet come up with an easy answer on how to get kids to do their homework. But thanks to technology, ‘going to work’ may have a sense of freedom about it that today’s employees can only dream about.
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