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It is difficult to picture an office environment without the various technologies we rely so heavily upon today, such as desktop computers and multifunction printers. However, in the not so distance past, office-based technology was rather rudimental and rarely more advanced than a typewriter or telephone.
If the rate of progress from 50 years ago to now continues at a similar pace, the future office worker could be interacting with the kind of technology we currently consider state-of-the-art on a daily basis.
In fact, the following 6 cutting edge technologies aren’t that far away and look set to shape the office of the future.
At an enterprise level, virtual reality has been described as a ‘game-changer’ because of its ability to differentiate businesses from their competitors by showcasing products or services to customers in an immersive and interactive way.
“Probably in the mid-part of the next decade we’ll see the major part of this impact on the market,” says Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group. “You need the technology to mature enough and that will probably take about five years, and then you need another five years to adjust to it. So enterprises might really be putting this to work for them in the mid-to-late 2020s.”
But while virtual reality has the potential to let customers visualise products and services in ways never before thought possible, it can also afford a number of advantages in the office too.
“Whether training soldiers on a combat field or sales reps at the customer location, virtual reality provides the ability to enter the world to train and get better, without ever leaving your office,” notes Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst.
Other possibilities for virtual reality in office environments include stronger relationships with remote workers and reducing expenses for business travel.
2. Wearable tech
Image credit: LWYang via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
Wearable technology has long been heralded as the next big thing, with consumer products such as the Nike+ FuelBand and Apple Watch starting to gain more and more traction. By this same logic, it is only a matter of time before wearable technology becomes commonplace in offices too.
“One of the most practical advantages of wearables in the workplace is that they enable employees to reduce their dependence on clunky devices and screens,” believes entrepreneur and Forbes contributor John Rampton. “Instead of perpetually having to lug around a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, workers can move around more freely without feeling disconnected.”
Rampton also feels wearable technology could be used to monitor physical movement in unique environments and track fitness levels to keep the cost of private healthcare schemes down. However, he is quick to note that barriers to adoption do exist, such as privacy, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies, and technology costs.
“These are issues that early adopters are currently encountering, and industry experts expect further clarity in the near future,” he adds.
3. Telepresence robots
Image credit: Intel Free Press via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
In order to see and hear colleagues on the other side of the world, today’s office workers must rely on email, phone or platforms like Skype. But a lot of the time it is difficult to interact and collaborate with just a screen for company. This is where telepresence robots come in.
“It’s best described as an iPad on a Segway because, well, that’s basically what it is,” says James Vincent, who trialled a telepresence robot for his employer the Verge. “You log in like a Skype call — either via a mobile app or website — and then you’re presented with controls to move the bot around, while a loudspeaker attachment lets you sound your barbaric yawp over the cubicles of the world.”
It might sound a little rudimental right now, but telepresence robots will undoubtedly evolve and develop into machines that are effectively the physical embodiment of a remote worker.
“One of the benefits of the robots is that they enhance the sense of agency, of being an agent, in the remote environment,” believes Ken Goldberg, a professor of robotics at the University of California, Berkeley. “You are not just a passive conversationalist; you can actually move around and explore.”
4. 3D gesture recognition
Image credie: Intel Free Press via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.0
3D gesture recognition is already a popular technology in the gaming world with consoles like the Wii, giving players a more entertaining and interactive experience. But by taking clues from the film Minority Report, it could end up being used by office workers too.
In this 2002 sci-fi fantasy flick, a police detective played by Tom Cruise uses a special glove featuring gesture technology to sort through a set of images. By borrowing the same set-up as modern-day video consoles, there is no reason why offices can’t capitalise on gesture technology too.
“Depth perception sensors embedded in cameras that can be fitted to computers, allowing users to make the same kinds of command gestures they currently do with touchscreen technology, but without having to actually touch the screen, are already in production,” reveals Jane McCallion writing for IT Pro.
“Although they are not particularly widespread, it is easy to foresee this kind of technology quickly overtaking touchscreen for a variety of reasons – no fingerprints are left on the screen, for example, and it is more hygienic in a situation where multiple users interact with any one device.”
5. Flexible screens
Image credit: Screenshot taken from The Verge YouTube video
In addition to 3D gesture technology, McCallion also talks about flexible screens, which are also currently being developed, primarily by smartphone manufacturers.
One of the main motivations for pursuing the possibility of flexible screens is the convenience they could afford. For example, a flexible screen that rolls up into a cylinder-like shape could be carried around with the greatest of ease and then unfurled as a display when required. LG have already made such a prototype as can be seen in the video below.
“In an office context, this could eliminate the need to carry either paper copies of presentations or space-hungry devices like laptops and tablets,” notes McCallion.
“Combined with wireless technology like Bluetooth, documents and graphics could easily be shared among meeting participants using their own flexible screen devices or more traditional tablets and laptops or hybrid devices.”
6. The Internet of Things
Image credit: Pixabay
Seeing as the Internet of Things (IoT) can refer to any networked device, from smartphones and tablets to thermostats and even coffee pots, this technology is already alive and kicking. But with projections suggesting there will be 1 trillion networked devices hooked up worldwide by 2025, the IoT looks set to play a big part in future office environments.
In addition to automatically maintaining temperatures and brewing coffee before staff arrive, the IoT will “change the organisation of work and our workspaces in substantive ways,” according to Jim Long, director at Herman Miller Creative Office.
“A future with a different emphasis could be called the ‘era of assistants.’ In this future, algorithms embodied as robots or avatars provide solutions to problems, facilitate decision-making, measure performance, and in general, take care of most routine tasks.”
Mani Zarrehparvar, president of mobility technology firm Visage Mobile, believes that the IoT will get to the point where an employee’s device will know its user so well that few physical interactions will need to take place at all.
Some of these scenarios might sound a little far-fetch or perhaps even unnecessary in a typical office. But when you consider the rapid rate at which technology progresses as well as the early adoption of things like virtual reality, wearable tech, telepresence robots, 3D gesture recognition, flexible screens, and the Internet of Things, the office of the future might be completely detached from what we know today.
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