The office of the future promises to bring with it a new approach when it comes to supporting workers. In particular, future workplaces will enable people to interact in different ways using new technologies.
These new technologies are helping employees both in and out of the office environment to collaborate with one another. Employees are finding new ways to communicate. They’re realising, for example, that there are many good, cost-effective audio conference alternatives.
The workplace of the future will be purpose-designed around employees’ needs. The era of cramming as many people into an office to save costs is over.
How the coronavirus crisis has impacted the office of the future
Since lockdown, almost half of the UK’s workforce have been working from home.
Now a return to the office is on the horizon. And as offices plan to re-open, employers are having to reassess things in light of the pandemic. In particular, many are looking at building in more flexible working practices.
Hybrid workplace strategies will be the likely trend. That means the office will still provide a hub around which employees can achieve a better work-life balance.
Offices will be designed differently
As people return to the office, plans are afoot to build wider corridors, install one way foot traffic, and provide better air filtration. Other ideas include touchless lift controls, and - for those thinking of building new offices - they’re being urged to use antimicrobial materials in their construction.
Video-conferencing will no longer be restricted to home working. Instead, it will also play a part within the office to avoid large scale face to face meetings. From office design to fundamental tech including VoIP phone systems for small business, AI, and CRM automation, the workplace will be designed around better collaboration.
Now for some trends driving the office of the future:
1. Unified platforms to enhance the user experience
Technology already exists to control the office environment, from lighting and air conditioning to building management systems. There’s also been an increase in visitor management systems and room booking software. These new technologies have resulted in better productivity and a more seamless experience for employees and visitors.
It’s predicted that in future these types of platforms will start to become increasingly interactive. They will work together to optimise the experience of both staff and customers. From the time visitors look up an office address on Google Maps to the moment they leave the office, they will have a consistently high quality experience.
Employees will also be given greater opportunity to personalise their environment based on their personal preferences. From altering the heating system to an acceptable level (different people feel the cold more than others) to adapting the lighting. All should help give an employee a more enjoyable working life and thereby boost their productivity.
2. A more frictionless office environment
The office of the future is about performance-related design that’s functional and which empowers employees to get on with the tasks at hand.
The increasing adoption of analog and digital elements into the workplace should make working a more seamless experience. For example, using customised furniture like chairs which respond to body inputs to reconfigure themselves and adjust heights.
Another way to reduce friction is to use data-tracking apps that can build a picture of how employees move around and use office space. Then the spaces can be adapted to users in real-time.
Rooms or floors can be switched off due to infrequent use, and staff can customise their own personal lighting and computer systems via apps and sensors. Sensors will provide details of live data usage and steer density or spread people out.
Tools such as GPS can help employees navigate quickly to a conference room or colleague’s desk.
Smart parking technology in the office garage allows drivers using smartphones to send their car to a vacant parking space and pick it up at the end of a day.
3. 5G is a game-changer when it comes to future working practices
Back in the noughties, 3G brought with it the possibility of teleconferencing, location services, and mobile access to the internet. 4G then pushed everything into sharper definition - as we watched smart phones take over the globe with faster speeds and wider data access.
The jump to ‘5G’ is now upon us and this promises a host of changes in the office.
From super fast broadband to an even more enormous network of Internet of Things (IoT), 5G will be the catalyst that fast forwards the office to a smarter and better connected environment.
5G speeds are estimated to reach 300-1000 Mbps or higher - a huge increase on current average speeds.
With 5G available via a fixed wireless access (FWA), an entire office can get a direct 5G connection from a nearby cell. And, within that building every device can access 5G speeds via existing wireless connections. That includes mobile phones, desktop computers, and laptops.
5G has big implications for offices located in more rural areas - enabling employees to upgrade to something that’s superior to satellite.
5G’s power will also impact areas where time lag has been an issue - with some video conferencing systems more prone to lag than others.
Person-to-person (P2P) interactions will speed up
5G will also change P2P connections (when two or more devices communicate to transmit data without a server). Users will be able to transfer hundreds of megabytes of data every second - those receiving can download data from senders as fast as it’s uploaded.
Could 5G put hologram calls on the horizon?
Until recently, AI represented a futuristic world run by robots. Now we better understand how many benefits it can bring to the workplace. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is changing the face of office work - from onboarding customers to aiding recruitment and marketing.
The lines between reality and science-fiction are narrowing further. That’s apparent when we consider that 3D hologram calls are being tested to give a richer experience during business calls.
Also on the cards is the ability to project emails and text messages into the room around you - creating multiple floating monitors to extend your computer’s display.
4. Privacy booths and nap pods
It’s safe to say that the open-plan office has probably had its day.
Not only do people dislike them, but in the current era of social distancing everyone has become more aware of personal space. Privacy booths could offer a solution. These are free-standing private work stations that feature a desk, power outlets, and a ventilation system - as well as sound-proofed walls.
Workers can take calls (for example as a member of a cloud contact centre) or complete work-focused tasks from these booths. Individuals could also host video-conferences without disrupting colleagues.
The focus on wellness in the office is translating to the office space too, according to design experts. Meditation booths or ‘nap’ pods could soon play a part in everyday office life.
5. Office practices
As well as increasing use of separate spaces, things will also change when it comes to cleaning them. Desks and workstations will need to be cleaned more regularly so private photos and personal items may be banned.
Touchless sinks and screens between sinks are a possibility - or even voice activation to open doors. It’s predicted that a new job role will be created too, with an employee in charge of the new rules and equipment..
Ergonomics and technology are creating a new office of the future
Technology has created huge changes in the office. AI and machine learning have transformed how employees interact. Simultaneously there’s also been a push to create ergonomic workspaces that support personal and professional needs, blurring the lines between office and home.
Farsighted designers are reimagining the office of the future with features that address sustainability and ease of work. Much planning is also taking place in order to address workers’ concerns post-pandemic.
Some offices of today already have cafes, comfortable furniture, and game zones. Next on the agenda will be features that will boost employee morale and help staff build relationships, as well as supporting an enhanced visitor experience of the brand.
Competitive salaries - whilst still important - won’t be the only thing future employees will be looking out for when they’re job hunting. They will also be assessing the work environment and flexibility of working to see if they’re a good fit for them.
The office will continue but ‘not as we know it’
Despite the recent lockdown, it’s anticipated that employers and employees will still see the benefit of a physical office space. They will appreciate having a place to collaborate. But changes will need to be made. From cleaner air and more flexible workspaces to new technologies - all will play their part in the office of the future.
To see how far your company has come in transforming your workplace into the office of the future it could pay you to carry out a maturity assessment. This should tell you how far you’ve come and how far you still have to go.
John Allen - RingCentral US
John Allen is the director of global SEO at RingCentral, a global UCaaS, VoIP and video conferencing solutions provider. He has over 14 years of experience and an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs. He has written for websites such as Hubspot and BambooHR.