There is a famous quote by American author William Gibson, who said, ‘the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed’.
Never has that statement seemed more true than over the past year. We’ve seen an acceleration in the adoption of technology as consumers and businesses struggle to come to terms with virtual living and working, an effort described in one report by KPMG and Harvey Nash as a ‘huge and unprecedented spike in technology spending’. In the workplace the initial challenge we have had to solve is one of virtual-to-virtual (V2V) communication, so that we may work together seamlessly while dispersed across the country.
While V2V innovation will continue, technological development is shifting emphasis as we emerge from the pandemic into a hybrid workplace in which everywhere-to-everywhere (E2E) solutions will seamlessly connect the virtual workplace with the physical, fulfilling the World Economic Forum’s prediction of digital connectivity of everyone to everything, anywhere and at any time. Companies such as Zoom understand that their future depends not on remote work alone but how well they can integrate into physical settings; after all, their shares slumped 17% in one day when the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine’s impending roll out was announced. This month Zoom announced innovations to help companies come back to the physical office safely with products to support what they call an ‘everywhere workforce’. They envision an office where the screen in the boardroom is managed on your mobile, rather than a shared in-room controller; where the number of people in any location in the office is monitored in real-time to manage social distancing; where you can track a room’s environment and air quality; control someone else’s desktop when they share their screen; and where virtual receptionists are part of a contactless entry experience to your office building. All technology ready to go today.
Elsewhere, companies are experimenting with future-facing smart office tech to connect their teams in other ways. UBS issued Microsoft HoloLens smart glasses to a group of their London traders to gauge whether it could break down the silos of working from home and ‘recreate the buzz of a trading floor’. Here at The Argyll Club, members can streamline their experience using our app, whether to sync their mobile with their desk phone, or to book a room by the hour, pre-order catering or tailor their experience. Deloitte already use VR for training and on-boarding new employees and have seen uptake of its initially experimental virtual office drastically increase with the pandemic. Holograms are being used by companies such as Canadian firm AHRT Media ‘to ‘beam’ presenters into real-life meetings and conferences that they may not have been able to attend’, and haptic technology is emerging with devices such as Ultraleap’s hand-tracking software indicating a future of interacting with objects such as touchscreens without the need to actually touch them.
In the words of Steve Bates, global leader of KPMG International’s CIO Center of Excellence, ‘technology has never been more important to organisations’ ability to survive and thrive’. We must ensure our workspaces meet the needs of future-facing businesses, as assisting employees to easily connect with remote team members becomes even more of a given. Now that the UK has reached its goal of 15 million first doses of the vaccine administered, we face the next big challenge of making the hybrid workplace a reality. It’s time for businesses to define their E2E strategy, ensuring that all employees, whether working in the office or at home, are seamlessly and efficiently connected.