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What does the future of workplace technology look like?

What does the future of workplace tech look like?

The team at 360 Workplace brought together a group of industry experts to discuss the current and future landscape of workplace technology. From the days of dialling into conference calls to holographic one-to-ones, this type of tech has come a long way in a short space of time. And it’s showing no sign of slowing down either. Here are some of the highlights and key takeaways from this insightful event.

Introduction

Guenaelle Watson, Managing Director of 360 Workplace: “This is a very topical subject for us because, post-pandemic, our clients faced the challenge of how to encourage their teams back into the workspace. At 360 Workplace, we believe that experiential design is the key, and technology plays a crucial part in this. On every project, we consider three key elements: space, people and technology. And the latter is something that our clients are increasingly concerned about.”

Rightfully so, when the needs of their occupants are evolving and technology continues to advance faster than ever. But to get an idea of where the modern workplace is heading, it's first important to look back at how far it’s come.

 

The evolution of workplace tech

Orega provides flexible workspaces, virtual offices and meeting rooms across the UK - tailor-made for today’s hybrid workforce. But the company's Head of Facilities, Polly Bryan, remembers a time not so long ago when this type of tech was unimaginable.

“I remember the bridging link for conference telephones where you'd have to dial in - this tech would always fall over,” she says. But after the first lockdown, things quickly changed for the workplace - perhaps, irreversibly so.

“Now every meeting room has to have some sort of Teams or Zoom link-up with video conferencing. Not to mention, decent cameras that follow you around the room and zoom in when you’re talking.” That's because remote participants simply expect great audio and visuals when they’re not attending in person. “Before it was just such an afterthought. Now ‘letting people in’ is just an essential part of setting up the meeting,” concludes Polly.

 

Where workplace tech is right now

Whether you're dialling from home or are physically in the room, you want to be able to see and hear the other participants as clearly as possible. Today more than ever, a seamless experience is necessary for a productive meeting. And that's why companies such as Google, Microsoft and Logitech are continuing to try and make meeting room technology more realistic, says Geoff Goddard, Technology Consultant at 360 Workplace.

Geoff talks about Microsoft Teams’ front-row mode where every person in the meeting room will appear at the bottom of the screen. And in the physical location itself, it’s best-practice to have an extra-wide screen in the room; this displays everybody who's calling-in at eye level. Fostering a deeper connection between both physical and remote participants, the tool allows you to speak to these individuals realistically - as if they were in the room.

“In the future, Microsoft will be looking at releasing holographic technology,” adds Goddard. In fact, Google and Logitech are already working on various iterations of ‘holographic booths’; Google is prototyping Project Starline, which is destined for one-to-one meetings and, although only in development now, could find widespread adoption in the next 10 years.

“This could transform the hybrid experience and make it much more immersive,” adds Guenaelle. And as hybrid working continues, it’s a type of experience that more organisations will be looking to create for their employees.

The rapid rise in immersive workplace experiences

Historically, disguise is a platform which uses real-time technology to drive the visuals of huge live events; U2, Beyonce and the Eurovision Song Contest, to name just a few. However, the application is now being adopted in the corporate workplace environment as companies like Meta look to design more immersive experiences for their employees.

Alex Wills, CEE at disguise: “Increasingly businesses are building these ‘studios’ to facilitate communications, internal comms for employees and external comms too.”

But the technology can go even further than this, Alex explained. He mentioned an auditorium in Atlanta called the Illuminarium which has over 50 large-scale projectors (powered by lasers as opposed to lamps) which create one seamless, immersive and visually-rich experience.

But how is this reshaping the workplace environment?

Alex talks about how disguise is powering London’s Lightroom and mentions that this same immersive technology could be used in a corporate environment - e.g. at the front of an office - to engage both employees and visitors to the space. The software is designed to create a seamless canvas and, although Lightroom has been created on a much bigger scale, the solution is scalable and versatile in its application. “You can see how it could inspire a sense of wonder in the workplace,” he says.

Alex also believes that the next generation of corporate communications is in the metaverse. For example, when you put this type of content through an VR stage, it can create the total illusion that “you’re in another world.”

“You create amazing working environments this way,” he says. “There’s a much better sense of connection than just being on a flat Zoom; you can actually physically - albeit digitally - walk up to someone and have a conversation.”

Despite the tech not being quite there yet, Wills thinks headsets could be the catalyst that brings this platform into the mainstream; especially as we are now seeing Apple pushing their new AR headset for release in 2024. However, he also believes that technology must offer a compelling experience to catch on. That said, the true key to successful immersion will be tying together the virtual and the real to create the best version of hybrid working that’s here to stay. “It’s about making the most fluid user experience that feels meaningful - not flat,” he says.

But can we become too immersed in this type of technology?

 

Immersive technology - danger or opportunity?

As great as screens are, “we don't view the world in a flat perspective or through a ‘black mirror’; we see it in 3D,” Alex says.

But as we continue our search for the most realistic version of virtual reality, is there any danger that this type of technology won’t transform the workplace, it will destroy it? We throw it into the room for debate.

“Maybe I’m an optimistic technologist, but I don't think so,” says Alex. He talks about the fact that data entry was replaced by the computer, but didn’t result in vast levels of unemployment - or even back-office functions being wiped out - because of it.

“It’s actually increasing productivity and making our lives easier,” adds Guenaelle. She also mentions how AI has been in our day-to-day lives for a long time. For example, algorithms are powering our social media feeds and helping us shop more efficiently. ChatGPT has been in the news and entertained people with a playful way to create content, but she believes there's a lot more in the pipeline in terms of what this technology can do.

“I think the challenge is that it's moving faster than ever,” says Wills. And one thing we must always bear in mind is that tech must have a good reason to exist.

 

Why technology needs people and purpose

“Tech for tech-sake is never a good thing,” says Wills. People will always need to take centre stage for these types of technology to be useful.

“You must start with designing the experience you want to create - not the technology,” adds Guenaelle. This is something that Geoff agrees with. “At the end of the day, the tech is just a means to the end. It’s creating a solution to a problem, so it must serve a purpose,” he says.

“Humans work so well together,” says Hywel Glyn-Jones, Account Director at Do Digital. He talks about the fact that unless everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of the technology they’re using, it can be hard to capture the creative spark you'd get from actually being in the room together. “Finding that balance in terms of a workplace perspective is so important,” he says.

“It’s about technology blurring” and, if possible, becoming invisible, adds Alex. Saskia Lorrison, Workplace Operations Manager at Convex, agrees: “The best workplace technology is the one that you don't even notice.” And if the technology truly is invisible, you shouldn't even need to educate people about it. “In an ideal world, it should just work.”

 

Future-proofing for generations to come

There’s an argument that some generations expect more from technology than others. For example, “Gen Z already gravitates towards more immersive, tech-driven experiences in terms of the way they interact and game online,” says Guenaelle. So it isn’t a stretch to believe they’ll look for this type of experience in their workplace environments too, she says.

Benjamin Russell, CEO of curated workspace provider Huckletree, believes technology may have “leapfrogged” some essential aspects of the workplace experience. “I wish that there was technology that could actually help people in the room collaborate better.”

“We’re trying to attract more people back to the workplace so they can have human experiences and be creative together,” he says. But technologists seem to completely leap over helpful tasks like getting computers to instantly share without logging into various devices and apps. “Essentially, just making things easier, faster and much more effective.” He talks about real-time screen-sharing technology that would allow people to collaborate without breaking the flow of creativity. “Perhaps if we focused on these things, teams would naturally want to be together because they’d be much more productive and inspired,” he says.

Benjamin argues that holograms and other 3D tech are just substitutes for being next to one another and having a real conversation. “I wish technology would find a way to make this room the best place to be - instead of creating a virtual version.”

Perhaps the best way for technology to do that is to find inspiration from the rooms we already like to spend our time in; ones that actually bring people together, as opposed to simply visualising them around the table.

Finding inspiration from outside the workplace

“We’re seeing a convergence of experiences right now. A merging of the workplace, hospitality sector, and the home environment - although the latter is still a little behind,” says Guenaelle. She talks about how the modern workplace is borrowing from these areas to create an environment that’s enticing to be in, with technology playing a crucial part.

Benjamin believes our roles in this industry aren’t dissimilar to the hospitality sector. Whilst we ensure clients never have to worry about changing tech or their workplace becoming out of date, successful businesses in that industry make sure the customers always have the freshest, greenest and most organic produce. And it’s that future-proofed, end-to-end service which “...leaves traditional office and workplace experiences behind,” he says.

“Your workplace needs to react to, or at least be able to anticipate, your needs before you're even there,” says Noel Brewster, Customer Success Executive at Measuremen. We need to get into the mindset of “who are we designing this for?” - be it hybrid teams or neurodivergent workers. That’s what will make the workplace experience seamless for everyone.

At the end of the day, “workplace experience is about more than just meetings,” says Guenaelle. And if technology can focus on making the space more immersive for people to spend their time in, it will be a much more exciting place to return to.

 

Interested in learning more? Stay tuned for our whitepaper about the future of workplace technology which is coming soon…

Want to talk to us about any of the topics we’ve discussed? Get in touch.

White Paper

Technologies’ Crucial Role in Hybrid Working Environments

Podcast

Your Workplace or Mine? Podcast: Being a Part of the Solution with Fourfront Group

News

How 2023 shifted our focus on the future of work | Q4 Trend Report 2023

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