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Anurag Agrawal, managing director, Canon Middle East, in discussion with Venkat Raghavan – assistant editor of PrintWeek MEA.

Over the past decade, we have witnessed the evolution of offices to become more open, light and comfortable to help professionals relax so that they can be more productive. But visions for the ‘office of the future’ are making a leap in response to rapid technology advancements in automation, IoT and voice activation which are all set to play a bigger role in future ways of working. Here, we look at three ways the office of the future is changing, becoming more connected, creative, and collaborative.

Connected
Humans can speak at 400 words per minute, but we can only type at 40. Until recently however, there had never been too much consideration given to how ‘keyboard communication’ slows us down. But with voice-activated technology rapidly making strides, we will likely evolve from manual to voice interaction with office devices in the near future.  We are already seeing evidence of this with the likes of Amazon launching Alexa for Business.

How we interface with devices in the office has evolved dramatically. A US tech company made headlines last year for microchipping its employees, enabling them to open doors, log onto computers or buy food via embedded IoT devices. Whilst this was largely received as a publicity stunt, connected devices are becoming more ubiquitous in office processes such as monitoring office supplies and self-reporting technical errors.

As IoT devices become more commonplace, they may begin to be used more widely for staff wellbeing. For example, everybody has experienced being too hot or too cold in the office and research suggests that only half of individuals are happy with the temperature at work. Connected workplace solutions are being adopted to optimise the environment for employees, with connected heating systems responding to changing weather conditions and smart desks which warn users if they have been sitting too long.

Creative
According to the World Economic Forum, creativity will be one of the most in-demand workplace skills by 2020 and many roles that were formerly purely technical, are expected to begin demanding it.

Automation is one of the major drivers behind this change. In the next few years, we can expect to see automation and augmented robotics being used more consistently in the workplace, largely to remove the mundane, repetitive jobs that sap time and inspiration. This will leave the workforce free to focus on uniquely ‘human’ tasks such as creativity and logical reasoning, rapidly creating a demand for these skills.

For the last decade, businesses have been focusing on supporting mobile and remote working, aiming to free employees from their desks and enable them to work however and wherever they want. But, as the debate continues over the productivity of remote workers, this vision for the future of work is undergoing rapid changes and creativity is becoming the new priority.
Remote working means employees are working independently and missing out on the collaborative work environment thought to encourage creativity. InfoTrends’ 2018 report notes that some businesses, like IBM, have actually begun to scale back their remote working programmes, in order to focus on creativity and drive workers towards an environment to support that.

Collaborative
In 2017, Workplace exec Julien Codorniou said: “People are entering the workforce, maybe for the first time, without knowing how to use emails…But they know how to use messaging apps, photo apps, video apps.” With Cisco Systems Spark, Facebook’s Workplace, Flock, Slack, and Microsoft Teams all rising in popularity over the last couple of years, communication and collaboration at work is becoming more real-time.

Communication is entering a new stage, referred to as ‘conversational interface’ where employees will do most of their work from inside a chat app, rather than switching between different apps for different functions. This better supports an increasingly real-time ‘always on’ culture, where email is no longer suitable; collaboration is far more effective when response time is seconds rather than days.

Collaborative robots designed to work with humans, or ‘cobots’ first made their debut into the manufacturing industry, being used to revolutionise production lines, and are now commonplace in the likes of Amazon and Ocado’s distribution centres. While cobots have yet to enter the office, we can expect to see them play a part in the office of the future, as production prices fall and they become more affordable.

Conclusion

With plenty of buzz about connectivity, creativity and collaboration, it’s easy for business leaders to get caught up with intangible concepts. There’s a perception that challenges around these factors are unresolvable issues. But that’s not true. Businesses should start by quantifying their goals, and by seeking expert advice on what processes will create value.
Only by doing this can they build a smart office for the future, which delivers a robust return on investment and improves the working lives of employees and decision makers alike.