It's pretty difficult to foresee the future. Things can shift so fundamentally in a matter of decades that it is hard to understand the full implications of developments, even if we can predict the kind of technology that might come into being.
The 1960's show The Jetsons, successfully prophesied the internet, telecommunications and treadmills and yet with their hair styles, clothing and design, this view of the future really couldn't be anything but the 1960's.
It's a relief that 1984 didn't look like 1984 and a shame that 2001 didn't look like the 2001 of ‘A Space Odyssey’ and I'm guessing that 2019 won't look like the cyberpunk cityscape of Bladerunner unless there is a serious 80's revival in the next three years and the population of Tokyo moves to San Francisco and starts building.
Of course, none of these things were exactly predictions. Yet as technology is transforming our lives quicker than ever before, we need to start thinking about the future in practical terms - to start anticipating innovations and adapting our behaviours and that of our work culture in tandem with the changing tide.
As we discussed in our recent article The State of the Office it's simple common sense that we start re-thinking the office space to align with the changing needs of employees. When we build our work spaces, we hope they will last for a number of years so we need to consider how the state of technology, work and well-being might look in a number of years too.
If we can’t anticipate exactly what the broader implications of certain innovations might be, we can at least look at the innovations themselves and think about how they can change the shape of work in the near future.
Perhaps the greatest change to the fore-seeable future of everyday spaces is the ‘The Internet of Things.’ If you haven't come across the term, it refers to everyday objects which use the internet to fulfill and extend their purposes.
We already use a wealth of smart objects, you may already have a smart phone, a smart TV or a SmartDesk.
Well, in the future you may have a smart toaster, pillow or smart clothing. It’s a modern day version of the gadgets you see in the Jetsons which provide automated breakfast or coffee. But instead of awkward mechanical arms spilling coffee across your carpet the objects will use sensors to collect data about your habits and put the coffee on when you wake up.
The Jetsons, a 1960’s visualisation of a more automated future
Or for an example with more practical implications in terms of business, Daniel Burrus gave this example:
‘Construction companies have begun equipping silos and trucks with sensors that can monitor inventory levels, such as the amount of concrete, and transmit it via a cloud-based platform to speed up deliveries and ensure a steady pipeline.
In terms of the office, not only will ‘The Internet of Things’ free our mind from smaller tasks, streamlining everyday activities, it is even predicted that we will each be followed around by an individual iCloud, adapting lighting, temperatures and opening doors for us wherever we go.
By automating our environment we will be able to free ourselves of more and more tasks and focus our energies elsewhere making us more productive overall.
Seem unlikely? We actually already have app’s providing this kind of service. Flux, for example, changes the colour and brightness of your screen throughout the day. By providing a more natural transition from daytime to evening your computer it serves to enhance productivity and improve your quality sleep.
There are actually a wealth of apps in this vein already available for free, it just isn’t yet commonplace to look for or adopt these customisations.
Change always starts with a few early adopters. If we can get used to keeping up to date on developments as they take place we can help to maximise the effectiveness of our offices.
Ultimately ‘The Internet of Things’ makes the work environment more flexible. Flexibility has become a crucial term in envisioning the workplace of the future. It’s about understanding that one design or one way of working doesn’t always apply to everyone.
Flexibility is crucial for two reasons: The rate at which society is changing has created distinctive generational cultures co-existing in the workplace. We currently have baby- boomers, millennials and it's not long before we see generation Z coming along. Secondly, because in terms of physical and mental well-being people need different things throughout the day whether it’s being social or private, comfortable or concentrating, hot or cold.
Bendr from Futurama drinking Tequila
Another entity we may need to cater for of course, is the robot. Robots aren’t always the most useful characters in sci-fi depictions. From the depressed Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to the fumbling if endearing C3P0 from Star Wars or even the drunk robot Bendr from Futurama. Yet robots are already at large in the workforce performing simple and repetitive tasks.
It is now inevitable that robots are going to revolutionise the workplace and fill certain roles within our businesses. As such, work will become increasingly dependent on individuality, creativity and innovation. These are not the kind of words associated with the kind of work that took place behind desks, within cubicles inside offices. Our offices will need to adapt. Check out our article on the most innovative work spaces for more detail.
Right now VR is already being used in many fields including in entertainment (video games and cinema), architecture, military, medicine and education. Try not to imagine Neo in his fluid filled bubble and focus more on his back bending bullet dodging skills.
As The Huffington Post recently discussed, VR is likely to be used for two main purposes: to emulate situations such as for training and practice, and for making people feel more connected through eCommerce and online services; allowing people to order delivery, shop online, conduct meetings or interview for a job role in an immersive three dimensional environment. It’s a kind of inverse of the early predicted hologram.
With a great deal of investment in this kind of tech, it may only be a matter of time before it becomes an everyday part of the office. Thankfully all of this without plugging any tubes into anyone’s spine!
Even for everyday work we are looking at more immersive working environments. In a recent article for Tech Review, Craig Mundy, Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer discussed the concept of a screen on every surface. As we have seen work-life centered more and more on the screen, it’s only a matter of time before these start to change form.
By having more interactive screens, work overall can be more active and productive. Think about the way that Tom Cruise handles data and content in Minority Report using his hands and arms to flick through screens and focus on certain elements - it’s a much more engaged and less sedentary vision of work that we’re likely to see in some form in the future.
The fact is that some early manifestations of these larger innovations are already functional and available to be used in our office. However we’re not used to looking for them, or for seeing our offices as site for innovation. Even before we have an ‘Office of Things,’ VR, interactive screens or fully functioning robots we can start to change our mindset - realise that technology will be a force for change in the near future and so it’s time to start paying attention to what is available and how it can improve the health, well-being and productivity of our workplaces today.
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