Looking to the future workspace

Increasingly, the realm of science fiction is becoming science fact. Every day and everywhere, exponential technologies are drastically reshaping our lives, our communities, and our workplaces. Looking to the future with undeniable uncertainty, our workforce, and our children will need different skills to flourish and succeed. Skills ostensibly unheard of in the heyday of our grandfathers. Not only that, but we will need to become adept at driving change - or we will find ourselves in the passenger seat on a journey we can't control. In our new world and workplace, we should expect greater interaction with artificial intelligence, job reengineering, more remote working, and the need to find new ways of forming meaningful social bonds in a world that is increasingly virtual.

Just ask anyone who had a desk job in the 1960s. The workplace of the modern day is almost unrecognisable from that of half a century ago. While there are a number of trends influencing the way that we work in the modern era, perhaps none is more transformative than technology. Examples of tech advancements irrevocably transforming the modern workplace include AI, automation, and the Internet of Things, but alas, we still have light years to travel. Despite our technological prowess, no one holds the undisputed answer on what the workplace of the future will look like. What we do know, however, is that making educated predictions can help us lay 'future proof' blueprints, as we pool our knowledge and resources, and do our darndest to prepare the workforce of tomorrow for what lies ahead.

Looking to the cloud, an educated prediction points to a surge in e-commuting, as more organisations adopt cloud solutions to offer flexible working arrangements for employees. E-commuting also opens the gateway for unprecedented diversity across teams, as workers are no longer required to set deskside within the same office, but can be spread across far-reaching corners of the globe, operating as one virtual organism across different time zones. Recent research suggests that almost 40 per cent of workers e-commute at least part-time, up from a mere nine per cent in 1995. Businesses today are already engaging the tools to access talent from practically anywhere, and as they open opportunities to a global talent pool, they consequently present staff with the freedom to create a life in their location of choice, while not compromising on the pursuit of a fulfilling and flourishing career. What else does cloud technology in the workplace enable? Seamless collaboration between colleagues in real time, lending itself to improved effectiveness between diverse, telecommuting workforces.

No discussion of the workplace of the future is complete without addressing the Internet of Things. The IoT's straight-forward Wikipedia definition is "the network of devices such as vehicles and home appliances that contain electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which allows these things to connect, interact and exchange data". As we hurtle towards the future, the IoT will be poised to play a pivotal part in how we work and how business is conducted. The IoT is responsible for systems that can learn your staff routines and automatically adjust the temperature or lighting based on when they're in or out of the office, hot or cold, or depending on the time of day, to make the workplace more energy efficient. The IoT is also the behind office desks and chairs that detects your working position and posture, and automatically adjust to be physiologically optimal for the user. Even the most straightforward tasks will be streamlined by the IoT in the future, resulting in a faster, easier, and more connected workplace.

When looking to the workplace of the future, there is also no question we must also address the realm of big data, a term that by now most people are now familiar with. As our lives are becoming increasingly, and more comprehensively managed with the digital tools catered by our smartphones, such as apps, streamlined systems of the IoT, our most intimate PA - Google - and the new norm of filing our lives in the cloud, rather than the cabinet, an immense volume of data is being generated every second, providing unprecedented opportunities for analysis and interpretation of everything from consumer's behavioural patterns to employee workplace satisfaction, to colossal socio-economic movements. Armed with information extracted from big data, organisations can apply sharper, more relevant changes to their internal and external systems, whilst simultaneously enhancing the productivity and satisfaction of their workforce. Therefore, the workplace of the next century will indisputably require access to talented individuals with the skills to who can create these networks and applications that will redefine the future.

So in light of these trends, what do we need to think seriously about, today? Technology is lending itself to increased automation of processes globally, trailed closely by widespread fears of catastrophic levels of employment. It is therefore key that we explore the development of human-centred approaches and lead - making the clear distinction between what only humans can deliver vs what AI or robotics can do better.

Further, the pervasive influence of social media and lifestyle apps in today's society paints a clear picture that we must do everything in our power with the tools at hand to promote human balance through building stronger, more supportive "real life" social networks, drive meaningful peer interaction within the workplace, our families, and society at large. We must use the fruits of technology such as AI, big data and the IoT for not only commercial gains, but to promote well-being, tolerance, sustainably and enhanced lifestyle outcomes  for our workforce, our families, and our societies as a whole. This can extend to anything from primary education, to healthcare, to happy and balanced social lives of our teenagers or elderly. It is our responsibility today, to nurture and grow human capital for sustainable future growth, and take control of shaping the very best version of the future workplace.

Matthew Watt