The modern workplace barely resembles what it used to be a couple of decades ago. There is no need to clock in anymore. There barely is a clock, save for the posh offices where a nostalgic designer might have found a vintage item and hung it on the wall for aesthetic effect.
Come to think of it, wrist watches have radically changed as well. Now they measure our sleep, our heart rates and the hours we spend sitting down. The smarter ones even scold us for being too sedentary or not drinking enough water.
And the work desks hold very different items these days – I haven’t seen a pencil sharpener in ages and post-its are mainly used to label Tupperware, as important tasks and to-do lists have moved onto portable devices some time ago.
How emerging technologies are going to shape the workplace
And yet, at the rate things are moving, in no more than ten years today’s offices will seem old fashioned and obsolete. While telling the future is not an exact science (or a science at all for that matter), there are some already obvious digital trends that will shape the workplace.
It’s not a surprise that the actual digital revolution started with people and it will only become the natural state of things with the majority embracing it.
Digital technology has long left the realm of programmers and IT help desk specialists. With almost every individual having in his pocket a device hundreds of times faster and more intelligent than the personal computers of some years back the world has become increasingly artificially intelligent.
Something new comes out almost every day and digital dexterity refers to the willingness and enthusiasm of members in an organisation to constantly try out and embrace these developments. Adaptability has always been an important skill but lately it has become an absolute necessity.
The smart workplace
This is already happening with internet connecting various apps and gadgets that are able to operate heat and air conditioning, save power and predict vulnerabilities. Since the ultimate purpose is to generate a better human experience, smart buildings and office spaces will be able to gather data about it and find the optimal ways to improve it.
These smarter apps will be able to assign parking spaces and work stations, adjust luminosity and heat, monitor the quality of the air and schedule the various maintenance necessities. Of course this means that all employees will become increasingly digitally savvy and able to evaluate and give feedback so that the mainly automated and autonomous workplace keeps running smoothly.
Virtual personal assistants will become common
Secretaries used to have the main task of typing things after dictation and scheduling meetings. Then they turned into ‘assistant managers’ or ‘personal assistants’ and did pretty much whatever was necessary around the office.
With the extraordinary advancements in machine learning algorithms, VPAs (Virtual Personal Assistants) will become a regular occurrence in the modern organization. People are already familiar with virtual presences such as Siri or Alexa in their lives so scheduling a conference or training session with a VPA will come very naturally.
And there will probably be no miscommunication (no double booking the same room for example) between the different virtual secretaries since they will all be programmed to use the exact same language.
Read more: 4 Benefits of using VR in training
A gig economy
The concept of ‘gig’ economy is not new. With the world going completely digital, more and more workers act as individual contractors. In some fields this has always been the case but the future will bring more of this “project-based” approach.
Gigs in an organization can be both internal and external. The internal ones will be rewarded with bonuses and career advancement while external ones will be remunerated according to terms and further collaboration may or may not take place based on need, availability and quality of delivered results.
Certainly this will require a radical re-thinking of intranet platforms as freelance contractors will need some level of access on their own devices, most probably from remote locations.
I have already mentioned the impending generalization of the Virtual Personal Assistant. Apart from it, a number of jobs that allow for full automation will be taken over by intelligent software or state of the art robots. What was the stuff of science fiction for years will quickly become the norm.
Apart from the natural worry that people will lose places of employment, this may prove to be a blessing in disguise as humans will no longer be required to perform daunting, repetitive tasks. Instead, they will become more specialized, thus increasing their chances of advancement and better pay.
Progress may not always be welcomed but it is necessary and ultimately generates positive results.
All in all
Odds are you won’t be going to the office tomorrow and find R2D2 working next to you. It’s also highly unlikely your badge is collecting data about your screen time and your level of comfort at work but the future is most certainly digital. And bright.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.