Consumer technology made the leap into the work environment before we even noticed.
When employees started using their own intuitive devices and apps at work it prompted a seismic shift in organisations’ commitment to and view of workplace technology. Now, as a new wave of even more experiential, immersive and automated technologies arrive, organisations must consider the opportunities and advantages they present and how to harness their power.
To understand the changes to workplace technology is to acknowledge why consumer devices found themselves in the workplace at all. Quite simply, it was the result of a distinct lack of appropriate, personalised and easy-to-use workplace technology because of companies’ out-dated ‘one size fits all approach to IT and their reluctance to make sizeable capex investments in new kit.
The proliferation of consumer mobile devices at work has made the workplace to change from a traditional ‘fixed’ office environment into a more flexible, technology-rich and agile one. The arrival of the Cloud pushed this further and made IT a manageable OPEX rather than CAPEX cost, speeding up new technology roll-outs and levelling the playing field so companies of all sizes could afford and access the same new technologies and benefit from agility and mobility.
New technologies are developing all the time and the next wave to impact the workplace will enhance the user-experience, improve collaboration, heighten efficiency and apply more
The technologies with the potential to transform today’s workplaces and keep changing how, when and where we work are already here. They are:
1. Virtual employees
Thanks to machine-learning algorithms that can respond to basic enquiries, Virtual Personal Assistants (VPA) open up new possibilities in the workplace. Essentially an extension of familiar apps such as Alex and Siri, the workplace iteration will be far more task specific (i.e. training, calendar management, room-booking). VPAs will improve the transfer of information in the workplace and automate basic tasks, helping to better manage both people and place. Already, this technology is being used in the banking sector, where virtual advisors and bank clerks have been introduced. Interestingly, despite the use of voice recognition in consumer apps like Siri, the workplace has been slow to harness this technology. As we speak far faster than we type, VPAs will become the norm at work and be used to take basic commands and capture and disseminate information quickly.
2. Internet of Things (IoT)
The Internet of Things gives everyday objects digital connectivity by sending and receiving data via the internet. Already at work in the some of the world’s smartest office buildings, IoT applications are as varied as: printers that know when they’re low on ink or paper and can automatically order more; air conditioning and lighting that detects employee’s individual preferences; and scanners than can transfer text to computer in record time.
Smart buildings such as Deloitte’s The Edge in Amsterdam show the full potential for IoT as technology has been instrumental in improving employee engagement and reducing absence, halving the amount of space a business of its size would normally occupy and dramatically reducing its energy consumption. The Edge decommissions un-used floors on quiet days to reduce heating, lighting and maintenance costs; identifies when facilities are ready for cleaning or maintenance; allocates workspaces and even loads employees’ individual training programmes in the on-site gym.
3. Artificial intelligence (AI)
Although the broader impact of AI on the workplace is not yet known, this technology has the most potential to shake-up the job market and it is expected to remove 30%  of workers’ main activities by automating routine tasks. However, this is not the threat it seems, as AI can free up manpower for greater endeavour and allow organisations to re-skill employees in high-value rather than low-level, processing or administrative tasks. The legal sector in particular has made early use of AI, using machine learning to detect patterns in data to automate tasks such as document filing. In this context, AI will change how legal professionals work for the better, making them more productive and driving billable hours.
4. Ambient intelligence (AmI)
Described as the ‘new electricity’, ambient technology uses IoT as the infrastructure through which it operates, and it will drive workplace efficiency. Ambient technologies rely on environments fitted with sensors and intelligent systems to deliver personalised services in anticipation of user’ needs. By monitoring the presence of people, recognising their identities and context, acknowledging activities and adapting to changing needs, AmI will make it possible to automatically rebook meeting resources if one meeting over-runs and allocate workspaces based on users’ needs, diary commitments and task list. This improves the user experience and ensures the most effective use of workplace space and facilities too.
5. Augmented reality (AR)
AR will change how and where we interact with others, share information and complete our daily tasks. Already familiar with AR thanks to Google Glass and apps and games such as Snap Chat and Pokemon Go, this technology combines the physical and digital by overlaying what you can see with computer-generated graphics, information and data.
AR will streamline working processes, create immersive experiences and vastly improve communication, with a particular focus on meeting, learning and collaboration. Imagine a workplace where presentations were truly interactive, where taking on a new task could be supported with step by step instructions displayed on an AR headset and where face-to-face collaboration can be achieved remotely. There’s even the potential for employees to come to work through VR and appear as a virtual presence in a virtual office.
AR in particular could change the experience of remote workers and geographically split teams by giving them new ways to come together, collaborate and learn. As US business strategist Tony Robbins said about AR:
“…it represents an entirely new way to visualize problems and solutions. And these improvements will inevitably increase efficiency and ultimately, boost productivity.” 
6. Mobility management
With mobility at the heart of the modern workplace, organisations need to manage the technology experience proactively and ensure consistency and security regardless of location or the devices in use. Giving due consideration to security protocols is key to this, particularly as more and more employees access applications and servers from a number of public locations, thanks to the gig economy and the rise of co-working spaces.
7. Visual collaboration and communication
Until now collaborative technologies have been tools to help employees talk about their work, rather than as a means to change how they work. The proliferation of huddle spaces – flexible, intimate spaces equipped with dynamic collaborate technology – shows how demand for more immersive, pixel-rich and high-tech experience is growing. Traditional meeting room technologies with their hard-to-use systems and poor interoperability are outdated and damaging productivity. At a time when the speed of business is increasing, it is more immersive and intuitive experiences that will improve decision making and dramatically enhance business process efficiency.
Each of these technologies has the potential to bring about significant change on its own. Working together and they have the potential to dramatically change the very act of work itself, allowing us to be more efficient, collaborative, innovative, productive and global than ever before.
These different examples of new types of technology are not in the distant future either, they are being introduced to workplaces now. Not every organisation can be an early adopter and not every employer will want to make use of all of these technologies – but understanding new technology capability is an imperative part of looking ahead, staying relevant and competing in an ever global market place. The tech-tonic plates of the workplace are always shifting. It’s time to ask if you’re ready to unlock even greater potential from your people by catching the new wave of technological change.