The sheer scale of the change that has occurred in office workplaces over the last few decades is pretty overwhelming.
In the last forty years, we’ve moved from typewriters, IBMs, hand written reports and cheques to high speed, electronic, mobile systems of work, which can be accessed via the cloud from remote locations.
The miracle of the Internet means that a world of information is available at our fingertips. So, what’s the next step for technology? What will our offices look like in the near future and will offices, as we know them, still exist?
WiFi Hotspots and Cloud
We’ve already stepped into our future, to some degree, with Cloud and the enablement provided by WiFi hotspots. Cloud storage sounds suitably mysterious and creates an image of information stored in some ethereal fashion, without an earthly manifestation…
The truth, however, is more prosaic given that it’s a way of storing information with a third party, which is easily accessible either in a location with a server or where there’s internet connection available.
Thanks to this immediate communication and easy access, we can now choose when we visit the office – we don’t have to be in an office environment to fulfill our work commitments.
Remote Workers as Robots
A trend forecast earlier this decade, telepresence robots are still yet to take off in the UK office market. There appears to be room for further development with the current models but the public hasn’t shown much interest or confidence in this innovation as a truly beneficial approach.
In other words, there’s an expectation yet to be fulfilled…
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things allows everyday objects to be operated remotely, sharing data and communicating without human involvement (see above). In the workplace, this can involve the use of a number of smart devices and artificial intelligence to improve efficiency.
Office infrastructure has been working smarter for some years with heating, air conditioning, security and lighting able to be accessed remotely, much as in the home. Similarly, a whole range of motion sensors, air quality sensors and voice sensors can be repurposed for the workplace and voice control may well be the standard in years to come.
The world of design changed radically with the invention of the 3D printer. This technology enables 3D objects to be created via a special computer-generated design. Designers can make prototypes quickly, at their desks, speeding up the design process and making it cheaper than using conventional manufacturing techniques.
Whilst 3D printing may still not be a development suitable for the majority of offices, its very existence is symbolic of the rapid and widespread changes currently occurring in the world of technology, many of which will one day affect working practices.
Gesture control devices have been developed which enable users to control computers using hand gestures. This technology can facilitate a natural experience, allowing users to interact with computers, particularly when carrying out tasks such as giving presentations or demonstrations. Again, by cutting down on the time spent performing routine procedures, office workers can focus on the more important aspects of their work.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
This is a gift still to be explored by a lot of corporates but consider the virtues of having the technology available to provide walk through presentations and visuals. Virtual reality desktops could block out unnecessary distractions and VR conferences are already proving effective at uniting workforces and making working remotely an achievable goal.
Virtual and augumented reality could potentially also change the face of training as it’s acknowledged that we learn quicker by doing rather than by reading and studying. This would be a way of providing the resource for safe and controlled practical exercises and experience.
Implications for the Office of Today
All of these developments are aimed at making work easier and more fulfilling. Being able to work remotely and having quicker and easier access to computer technologies are both huge bonuses but we’re a social species and we like the opportunity to gather, if only occasionally, and share the same space.
In fact, what’s most likely, as we continue to move forward, is that offices of the future will become streamlined versions of the offices of today, ideally suited to the challenges of tomorrow.