The Future of Work: Six Technologies That Will Change The Workplace
In the past decade, we’ve witnessed the introduction of technology like smartphones, tablets, social media, and more that has revolutionized the way the enterprise — and society at large — operates. What will the next 10 years bring?
According to Maribel Lopez, founder and principal analyst at mobile-market research firm Lopez Research, the next decade of technology will actually — finally! — feel like “The Jetsons.” Think employees using augmented-reality glasses; screens on walls and furniture; and machines carrying out self-assigned tasks. But it will also be about learning new ways to use current technology, integrating devices seamlessly, and launching today’s new technology from infancy into mainstream applications. Here’s a preview of the future.
A New Reality
Augmented reality (AR) can be seen today in video game systems, and Google has tinkered with augmented reality glasses. But in 10 years the technology will be just as ever-present as today’s smartphones are, Lopez says, as people tap into AR for instant access to web applications, search, email, and other business necessities.
As mobile technology becomes an increasingly seamless experience, AR glasses will be another component to the complete circle of the mobile-device ecosystem. For instance, we usually look to our smartphone when walking away from our laptop or desktop for continued communication and information. AR glasses will be another extension of that, bringing up information right in front of your eyes. Users will be able to check email and browse the Web using a pair of glasses — real glasses, no clunky sci-fi goggles — and use sensors, cameras, and powerful processors to participate remotely in meetings or get real-time directions.
Combining mobile data with location services could greatly enhance experiences for businesses and customers, helping devices and machines carry out tasks based on the data trends of a particular user — like tailoring phone service for employees who are constantly on the move.
New types of software, Lopez says, could someday literally understand that a user is driving to the office for a meeting by integrating the context of motion, location, and calendar data. “Once the employee has entered the building, it could automatically transfer the call to the employee’s desk,” Lopez says.
Lopez refers to this as “right-time experiences” — combing data from previous transactions and current contextual information to identify what a person is doing, and determine what would be helpful to them.
Flat Screens as Furniture
Not only will we have smartphone, tablet, and computer screens to stare at all day, but screens will be placed in furniture, walls, and floors for even more connectivity. Each of these screens will have touch, voice, and keyboard interfaces for greater interaction and usability.
Tech giants like Hewlett-Packard, Corning, and Microsoft have already begun creating these computing systems, which will be built into buildings and even homes, Lopez says.
Interacting Over Video
Video streaming has become huge in recent years, but the days of merely watching it on a tiny screen will be gone. Video will become much more interactive and will be widely used for sharing information or teaching, not just watching cat videos.
Co-workers will be able to interact with one another virtually — in fact Microsoft is already working on a system called MirageTable, which uses a 3-D video projector and camera sensors to allow two people to interact with virtual objects. An early demonstration of MirageTable showed two people in different places using the technology to create a design together using virtual building blocks.
“The interesting area in video is the notion of not just face-to-face chat with small windows,” Lopez says. “It’s more of video to show someone how to do something, and video to share the experience of a surrounding in real time. It’s not just to replace voice, but to augment the communications with something that is truly enhanced with visuals.”
The New You: Telepresence Robots
Telepresence robots, used to create a physical presence in the office for remote workers, are just getting started now. Expect more in the future — and more ease-of-use in terms of right-time experiences. Telepresence machines will have the ability to deliver information between two parties quickly and easily, for instance determining meeting schedules from calendar data or project information from business software.
“The main change in the workplace will be the removal of communication barriers,” Lopez says. “Today, technology is still difficult to use. It’s proprietary. It’s expensive. It only works well within a company, not across companies. What really changes with telepresence and the robots is the notion of creating a right-time experience. It’s easy. It automatically connects. It actually can predict what you need based on context, which makes it easier to use.”
Beefed-Up Biometric Security
An important part of an increasingly wireless world is security. New forms of verification will make their way into the enterprise, Lopez says, making logging into mobile devices more secure — and seamless.
“Security will be easier as we add and integrate a combination of biometric security mechanisms together,” Lopez says. “For example, fingerprint scan, facial recognition, and voice recognition can all be combined into a mobile device. Instead of 18 passwords and clunky VPNs, we’ll be able to seamlessly log into our services.”
The Bottom Line
What it all comes down to is integration, Lopez says. The line between enterprise, consumer devices, and software will blur significantly, thanks to cloud computing and the ability to sync devices across the board. Enterprise apps will look and feel like consumer apps in terms of ease-of-use, and syncing various devices will be much easier. The bottom line? Technology will have greater capabilities, allowing for a complete technological circle from the moment you wake up to the second you go to bed.
This is Part I in a three-part series on the Future of Work. Coming soon: The Future of HR, and The Office of the Future.
Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user mightyohm.