It may seem like a bit of a folly to make predictions on what work will look like in five weeks let alone five years, but if nothing else, putting these predictions down in writing will give everyone a chance to have a good laugh in five years’ time at how far off the mark I was.
A quick disclaimer if I may – it is unlikely that all of these things will happen at once, nor all in the same workplace. This is an amalgamation of all the possible technologies that are currently in a nascent state that may reach wider adoption by 2025.
So, with sufficient wiggle room for me to weasel out of these predictions established, let’s get started
The rise of the machines
As physical and cyber threats continue to evolve, and services become more distributed, identity will be key. Offices, machines and applications alike may use fingerprint sensors, facial recognition or other biometrics such as palm-vein identification to establish your identity and grant access to resources.
Like your favourite bartender, you may even be a ‘regular’ with your machines, merging identity with preference so that the office coffee machine knows you prefer a 3-shot oat milk latte in the mornings, dispensing it with one tap.
Once you’re appropriately caffeinated, sensor networks can help guide you to free desks and inform you of teammates or collaborators that are in the same space. They will guide you to them, improving collaboration, and emptying 50% of most team’s WhatsApp chats by getting rid of the need to send ‘anyone in XXX office today?’. With many workplaces and teams predicted to become more distributed and remote, this merging of the physical and digital workspace, guided by identity and interaction will help maximise the impact of both remote and in-person meetings.
When it’s time to get down to business machine learning and intelligent automation will understand your workflow and tasks, and customise your interactions to suit. We are already seeing elements of this in areas such as Microsoft Windows ‘Focus Assist’, but this is just the beginning. Account Managers will have their interactions planned around a customers’ propensity to buy and desire to interact; procurement teams may have work dynamically reassigned based on productivity and queues; and across the whole organisation workflows will become less rigid, especially in knowledge work environments.
"With many workplaces and teams predicted to become more distributed and remote, this merging of the physical and digital workspace, guided by identity and interaction will help maximise the impact of both remote and in-person meetings."
Different environments, different needs
This shift in technology is not just limited to office-based work, however, retail environments will continue to divide in their use of technology, with some taking examples from stores such as Amazon Go to maximise convenience and create the most efficient flow for customers along the in- store purchase journey.
On the other hand stores in the fashion sector, as an example, where dwell and consideration times in stores are longer may look much more different. Assistive technologies such as ‘magic mirrors’ and the twinning of online and physical retail experiences will change how stores look and feel. Some stores may even look to become ‘destination’ retailers, providing immersive experiences and value add services such as customisation using 3D scanners and printers to produce one of a kind items on demand.
The supply chain space is likely to change too. While I am sceptical that we will see widespread fully autonomous (L5) vehicles in just five years, assistive technologies will become more common in logistics. This may mean the use of machine vision to detect tired or distracted drivers, and the use of increased computing power to solve more complex optimisation problems using more data to improve the flow of materials and goods.
Within the production environment ubiquitous sensor networks will reduce downtime through smart, predictive maintenance and provide
relevant information and guidance to technicians through video and augmented reality to reduce time to fix when issues do arise.
Furthermore, machine vision and AI can assist in hazardous workplaces and lone worker scenarios, advising and enforcing best practices to ensure the safety of workers in all environments. These technologies can extend outside of the production environment to a variety of scenarios to identify risks or harmful environments and issue appropriate guidance.
Trust and transparency
The core ideal of many of these technologies is to improve productivity without this being to the detriment of the individual. It is hard to write an article about technology and the future without it verging on the dystopian, and it is true that much of these technologies can also be used with nefarious intent, even if that is not what they were designed for.
I’m often reminded of the character Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, and his famous quote “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”. We have placed a great degree of trust and faith in technology and continue to apply it often with little consideration to the long-term consequences. But as society continues to evolve and understand the implications of new technology on a deeper level, trust and transparency are of huge importance.
Most organisations have IT acceptable use policies and training on the appropriate use of technology yet remain relatively opaque on what is acceptable from the organisation’s standpoint. Often, employees must trust that their employer is acting ethically and responsibly and do so on an implicit basis. Yet even when an employer and its IT function is acting entirely above board, it is important to ‘show your working’. It is common to inform employees of a change to an application, for example a migration to a new HR system, with information on new login and navigation procedures, cut-over dates etc. However, it is less common to state explicitly where this data is moving from and to, what safeguards are put in place, who has access to what information, and what procedures were followed in the selection process.
Meet all needs
By 2025 interaction with technology in nearly any workplace will not be optional, and it will in many cases not be small scale or lightweight. There is an obligation upon employers to safeguard employees from a digital standpoint in much the same way that regulations such as HASAWA have placed a responsibility on employers to safeguard the physical wellbeing of their employees.
Legislation however cannot possibly keep up with technology and those organisations who wish to be excellent places to work, with happy employees and happy customers, should go beyond the minimum requirements in the digital space in the same way they do in the physical space.
No matter how workplace technology evolves in the future, by combining the best technological advancements with strong ethical safeguards and practices, we can create an environment that works for everyone.