Offices of the future may change less than we might think.June 29, 2016
Glen Hiemstra has spent two decades studying the future. He tries to understand and articulate the kind of future we want as individuals, organizations, and societies.
In other words, he helps companies better anticipate tomorrow’s threats, opportunities, and competition as a seasoned futurist. One important area where the future will be written: the corporate office or collaborative workspaces where many of us get most of our work done.
How will those change over the next decade? The answer, surprisingly, is that the office will change less than we might think—not more, Hiemstra says. Not because technology will stall during that time. Only that radical change usually requires more than a decade to settle.
Today’s office, for instance, looks more similar to than different from the office of 2006. “But there are substantial differences,” Hiemstra says. “Desktop computers, for example, have largely been replaced by a cadre of laptops, tablets, and corporate issued phones for many workers.”
That’s a trend that will increase over the next 10 years, Hiemstra adds, as workers spend less time at a fixed desk and more time roaming various working spots with laptop and smartphone equivalents. “So offices will continue to migrate toward shared spaces, lounge areas, and flexible meeting rooms." And if the aspirations of self-driving cars come true, many of us will use interior cabins as mobile workspaces while our cars drive themselves.
As you might expect, by 2026 there’ll be more video meetings conducted. But rather than being something we periodically engage in today, video calls “will simply be the worldwide norm” in 10 years, Hiemstra suspects.
The biggest change over the next decade, however, could very well be meaningful advances in artificial intelligence. For instance, rather than just asking our phone’s voice search for the weather, simple trivia, or basic functions like dialing a phone number, they’ll probably assist us with more kinds of work, including planning, logistics, accounting, legal, and more, Hiemstra says.
“Still likely in advisory mode rather than full job replacement, but significantly more than we use today.”
In addition to greater voice automation, we’ll also see early office use cases for virtual and augmented reality, experts predict. This is especially plausible given that 8 out of the top 10 tech companies are already investing heavily in research and development of augmented and virtual reality. Obviously many of those developing VR technologies will end up more like smart eyewear (i.e. not viable, at least not yet) than popular touchscreens or Fitbits. But we should start to feel VR’s presence by then.
After all, new ways of interacting with electronics won’t just stop in the next 10 years.
As for the physical people who populate our offices, some of them might not even be human by 2026. Granted, most experts don’t expect full on robot workers in that short amount of time. But we could see a preliminary presence of robotic assistants by then, reports Fast Company.
Of the majority that will remain human, an increasing number of them will be more gender and minority rich, the same report foresees, thanks to hiring algorithms and policies that help organizations move away from the “old boy network.” Not that men won’t have a place in the future. They’ll just be more evenly spread out among their fellow women.
Last and probably least, paper “will be nearly completely gone from the office,” in 10 years time, Hiemstra concludes. “And as they do now, copy machines will sit idle most of the time.”