The Office isn’t Dead; Just Evolving

Is the office as we know it heading towards a slow extinction, or is it an opportunity for a new “frontier” of advancements in technology and social interaction?

The answer is likely a mixture of both outlooks.

Today’s technology is rapidly shifting people’s thinking on what constitutes a “workplace” as powerful tools built around voice, video and the ubiquity of broadband penetration enable innovations. This is driving collaboration from anywhere, reducing time and capital spent on travel, and enabling (for better or worse) people remaining “on” and accessible for increasing amounts of time.

Generations X and Y certainly have evolving expectations of what work, the office, and collaboration mean.

“This workforce doesn’t know a world without the internet, expects answers instantly, seeks constant engagement, and is comfortable with “connected” technologies like no other generation,” said Garry Veale in a recent piece for TechRadar. Veale is the president of Avaya in Europe, and had some interesting ideas about what is shaping business today and in the future.

The legacy view of networks and technology in the modern workplace will certainly change as these expectations are brought along with people as they assume positions of leadership.

“To accommodate this hyper-connected generation, networks need to be fully prepared. Typical working environments weren’t built to withstand the consumerization of IT, BYOD, and BYOA, and enterprise technology often isn’t capable of delivering the experience we’re used to getting at home.”

Related article: CYOD: Balancing Uniform and Freeform?

A 2013 study by Deloitte Analytics found that only 62% of employees report being satisfied with their work in the absence of flexible IT policies, as opposed to 83% with more options.

With the increase in the variety of intelligent communication and collaborative channels available to employees, the workplace still has the opportunity be a space viewed as a “destination.”

“We’re progressively moving towards much more functional and productive ways of working,” said Veale. “Concepts like the ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘machine-to-machine communications’, which are trending now, will soon become major influencing factors in the future of business.”

As these innovations change work habits and how we view technology, it becomes easier to extend those thought processes to physical office spaces.

“Technology and networks that are self-aware will rise up the agenda as the cost of the sensor technology which enables this reaches an all-time low,” said Veale. “Gartner predicts that we’ll soon reach the point where it’s cheaper to have a communications-enabled system than not. This will lead to a fundamental change in the way companies work – from new ways of developing technology, to better facilities management through an increase in pay-as-you-go billing models for office utilities.”

Getting back to the focus on the worker, imagine a “smart” workplace: The office building recognizes who is coming in, what devices they are carrying, and their level of need for information and physical access. This awareness can translate to personal preference for lighting, temperature and the type of room utilized. Meetings can be automatically set up based the current project and who is onsite with applicable knowledge.

This may sound like a brainstorm from Popular Mechanics magazine, but it’s on the way.

While the scattered nature of today’s workforce can lead to detachment and a lack of meaningful interaction between employees, intelligent systems can go beyond creature comforts in the office and lead to genuine collaboration.

Video is a cornerstone of that opportunity, and videoconferencing has moved beyond US$300,000 immersive rooms to platforms such as WebRTC and other solutions from various vendors enabling face-to-face communication from just about anywhere, and certainly at lower cost.

Veale believes video applications are becoming a key agenda item as businesses realize the cost and productivity benefits.

“Video is benefiting from more advanced hardware, employee hunger for collaboration, more sophisticated networks, and more interoperability,” he said. “Solutions are now accessible and affordable and the advantages of lower travel costs and higher productivity are grabbing the attention of more and more customers.”

The mixture of sharing a physical space, combined with meaningful access to people in various locations across the globe, add up greater collaboration and more productive environments.

That’s a “smart” way to run an office, and experience worth “coming in” for.

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