Great Scott! Let’s Go Back to the Future of Workplace Technology

9 modern office trends that would leave time-traveling facilities managers bewildered.

Tom LeBlanc

If facilities managers of the past invented a time machine that allows them to travel our offices of the future, they’d have two major takeaways:

1.) It must be casual Friday!

2.) Technology has completely changed the ways offices are structured, people communicate and work is done!

A recent CI roundtable discussion, “How to Keep Pace with Rapidly Changing Workplace Technology,” really got me thinking about how drastically work environments continue to evolve. Let’s take stock of how things have changed:

  • Cubicles and offices are both endangered species as open-office environments have emerged.
  • With the emergence of open-office spaces has come demand for huddle room environments.
  • With the emergence of huddle rooms or collaboration spaces, it’s obvious that the definition of “collaboration” has changed and necessitated technology for sharing and collaborating on content on a display either in the same room or remotely.
  • Mobility is increasingly important for workers, a priority that ties back into collaboration. Workers need “ubiquity” when it comes to collaboration, according to InFocus CMO Brady Bruce. “We’re going to have to be able to collaborate anywhere on any device no matter what [device] we happen to have with us,” he said during the roundtable. “We’re all mobile and we work in a mobile environment.”
  • Also with the emergence of open-office spaces has risen a need for soundmasking treatments to improve the “comfort” of employees who now have fewer barriers between their workspaces and coworkers’ noise, said Glenn Dahl, Lencore’s VP of engineering, during the CI roundtable. “You need to have a level of acoustic comfort so you can get your job done.”
  • Hardware isn’t as important as it used to be. “We’re about to go from an industry of little black boxes” to one where integrators “build a dedicated highway of HDMI” and we’re just going to have onramps and off-ramps to sources and displays to get into the existing network infrastructure,” said Kramer VP of marketing Clint Hoffman during the roundtable. “I think we’re going to become more a more software-based industry.”
  • Meanwhile, companies no longer always feel like they need to own their technology and even prefer to not in some cases. Video-as-a-service or cloud-based video conferencing allows customers to pay for solutions on a monthly basis and ensure that they keep their solutions from becoming obsolete.
  • Work is no longer a “place of employment;” it has been redefined as an activity since many people don’t actually go to a physical office anymore, writes Vishal Brown, VP of professional services for Yorktel, in “Finding Agility: The Next Generation Workplace” whitepaper.
  • Work is also no longer a perceived safe haven, unfortunately. Horrific tragedies in workplaces have spawned a demand that’s “absolutely escalating” for mass notification emergency communication (MNEC) solutions, said Dahl. MNEC solutions tend to be extremely custom, he added, since customers have varying and specific needs around social media, SMS, video distribution and digital signage elements of their solutions.

These trends, while all relevant right now for integration firms servicing their customers’ office spaces, are all evolving quickly. In true Back to the Future fashion, Bruce discussed how collaboration will evolve rapidly and that “virtual reality” features that put remote workers in the same simulated environment, seeing what their colleagues see and experiencing what they experience are only “three to five” years from potentially being commonplace.

“I think we’re going to be in a position before long where people will routinely put on some odd-looking pair of glasses or stare deeply into a screen that appears to present three-dimensional data and experience and work together in that space.”

The challenge for integration firms and consultants is to continue to stay a step ahead of their customers and to offer thought-leadership. In other words, be the Dr. Emmitt Brown to your customer’s Marty McFly.

Watch: How to Keep Pace with Rapidly Changing Workplace Technology

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