Workplace tech for the office of the future

  • The way people want to work has changed and offices now need to cater to remote and in-person staff. 

  • Technology is poised to make work life easier for employees, utilising AI, Machine Learning, automation and cloud.

  • Technology planning for the future should be holistic, multi-faceted and above all, adaptable.

A lot has been written about the future of work. Will people come back for good, to socialise, to get things done without distraction? Or will they eschew all those things for the flexibility of working from home and to get respite from the daily commute? 

With remote working common, emerging technologies evolving at a rapid pace and acknowledgment that data is both a liability as well as an opportunity, planning technology requirements for the future is more complicated than it once was. Software licences, laptop leasing and a few webcams isn’t going to scratch the surface – employees now have these as standard, and a heightened technology experience in the office will be a must to entice people in.

To empower people in such an environment, and build the office of the future when it may not even be a physical place, a holistic technology approach that is multi-faced, adaptable and flexible will be needed. 

The best experience (and why it matters)

With low unemployment and economic pressures, being able to find and keep the best people is no longer a given. Quiet quitting, a great resignation and a widening skills gap has led to a scarcity of talent, and people who, post-COVID, want different things from their employment

For these reasons, experience is critical to satisfying employees and attracting new people to fill widening skills gaps. It is a matter of productivity and competitive edge. In Pwc’s What Workers Want survey, conducted in October 2021, experience ranked as the third most valued workplace preference by employees when evaluating potential employers. And in this year’s Balancing Act report, a majority 69 percent of people said they wanted to work hybrid, compared to just 4 percent who still desired full-time, five days a week work in a physical office.

Good workplace experiences and engaged employees lead to better customer experiences and in turn, greater productivity and profitability. And just as customers know when an experience is good, so do employees. It’s therefore necessary to make sure your future workplace is set up, technologically speaking, to provide above average experiences, in the office or at home.

So what might this future office look like? Let’s imagine:

1. Collaboration in the cloud

The future workplace will require an environment that is cloud-first, modular, interoperable and agile, allowing technology and infrastructure to scale where required. Cloud-based collaboration tools will be absolutely essential for organisations to function with employees working remotely, across multiple devices. A combination of applications will be needed for true collaboration and could include virtual whiteboards for remote brainstorming, document creation and sharing suites, and unified communication tools such as instant messaging, group chat, corporate social media, and audio/video conferencing. Standardisation and training will be key to ensuring technologies are used to their full potential.

2. Secure solutions

With data being moved outside of the confines of the office, remote working comes with its own security challenges. Organisations will have more endpoints, networking and software to secure. In the future, technology teams will use ‘Cyber AI’ –  artificial intelligence programs that can identify risks, threats and respond to attacks in their earliest stages – to meet the challenges ever increasing network-connected devices bring. AI-driven cyber detection programs could also enable organisations to anticipate potential breaches or hacks, as well as respond in time to limit damage.

3. Supporitve AI

Machine Learning and AI will enhance many features of the workplace for employees. Targeted and personalised support will be available both remotely and in-person with virtual smart assistants helping employees organise meetings, diaries and deliverables. Automation of complex workflows for job efficiency will be standard IT fare and low code/no code applications will allow staff to automate basic workflows themselves (both these will be a considerable achievement given only 26 percent of those surveyed in PwC’s Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 said their employer was automating or enhancing work through technology).

4. Making it personal

For those businesses who haven’t already embraced a seamless hybrid workplace, a unified experience will allow employees to work across physical and virtual environments no matter where they work from. In the office, collaboration architecture will be standardised. All the information people need will be at their fingertips through touch screens and, for greater ease of access, on their personal devices. AI-enabled language assistance will help employees access information in the language of their choice. With bring-your-own-devices, wearables, virtual desktops/laptops and follow-me print and scan ability, the workplace will be uniquely personal, no matter the needs, or whereabouts, of the individual staff member. 

5. Interactive – and safe – activity

The office of the future, being post COVID-19, will need to be one that is both safe and healthy. While it will be interactive, it will also be important for it to be less physical, using screens, facial recognition and touchless buttons to minimise the need for touching surfaces (such as security passes, doors etc). This will apply to room and desk booking, access control, no/low touch visitor management for safe and easy entry, and environmental comfort through smart lights, air filtration and thermostats. Meeting rooms will be equipped with state of the art technology, such as intelligent video conferencing (single-touch microphones and cameras) and interactive screens that allow for virtual as well as in-person collaboration. Biometrics and personal devices will allow employees to unlock the office via their smartphone or even facial recognition.

6. Ultimate Immersion

Some organisations will go even further to create the ultimate in experience, leveraging virtual reality and the metaverse to provide immersive, differentiated experiences for training and bridging gaps between geographically dispersed employees. VR training will be able to upskill employees four times faster than traditional training and with greater emotional connection to the content, leading  to better retention and confidence in knowledge application.

The virtual, interactive office

No matter where employees end up working, it is vital – given current employment trends – that their experience isn’t hampered by geography. 

For those working remotely, whether at home, interstate or overseas, accessing the comforts of the office – be that personal support, immersive experiences or collaboration tools – should be as easy as on location. For employees coming into the physical workplace, technology may need to step up and be better than ever to justify the commute. 

One last point. While we talk about the future, all the above-mentioned technologies exist now and can be implemented today. Thanks to a pandemic, the future of work came early and workplaces were forced to expand the definition of ‘at work’ or come to an abrupt halt. It’s time for the technology of ‘the office’ to catch up.

Interested in learning more about the technologies changing society? Visit PwC Australia’s Digital Transformation hub.

No search results