This overlay of work and play wasn’t always the case. The first generation of workplace technology streamlined the back office with mainframe computing and the front office with productivity-boosting tools like word processors. Those who weren’t in the workforce witnessed this revolution in pop culture as the computer took center stage in movies and television shows. Granted, schools soon got onboard with desktop computers like the Apple IIe and the TRS-80. Some families even bought desktops for home use.
As the following waves and generations of technology flooded the workforce, we saw the Internet, web services, big data, mobility and virtual servers turn things upside down in every corner of the office. But somewhere in the early to mid 2000s, the lines began to blur regarding what parts of our lives these technologies were improving.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch a number of different technology trends take shape around the globe. Today, when our team looks at the technologies shaping the future of work, we tend to look at three categories: devices, AI and 5G. There are undoubtedly more technologies impacting the way we work (security is a major one), but I wanted to touch on these three elements because they not only improve productivity but also enable greater creativity and flexibility, two components I believe are now as important as productivity in how we work. The workplace of today and of the future is about connecting people in new and different ways and enabling them to think creatively to produce new ideas and better solutions to traditional problems.
The universe of devices in our lives — smartphones, tablets, desktops, laptops, wearables — is expanding every day. While I’ll always love device design, the increase in computing power and functionality of these devices — smartphones in particular — is the real “wow” factor in this segment. Here are three things we’re watching in devices:
• Improved voice recognition is changing the way we work with our devices. In the ’80s, word processors made typewriters a thing of the past. Today, “voice” is poised to do the same thing to keypads. OK Google and Siri are great digital assistants, but being able to dictate an email rather than typing it is adding minutes back to our days. Apps like WeChat and WhatsApp are letting voice become a mixed medium, which makes relaying information a new and richer experience.
• The mobile/desktop merger is happening. Chromebooks have given us the Android experience on a laptop, but new capabilities inside smartphones like the Huawei Mate10 and the Samsung 8 (with the help of the DEX docking station) turn the phone into a desktop environment when it’s hooked up to a monitor. This functionality bridges the shortcomings phones have traditionally had as productivity tools, giving us a mouse, keyboard and a larger screen. This seems basic, but the implications are big: everything you do during your work day is now a part of the device that you carry around with you. This means you can work from wherever; it means your presentation is always with you; it means when inspiration hits you in the middle of the night, you have the right technology with you to record it that instant, then later turn it into a Word document or PowerPoint deck. You thought that working from the coffee shop was connected; imagine having that desktop with you wherever you go.
• One word: Battery. Improvements in power mean we can consume and produce information for longer stretches of time on a single charge. When we do need to recharge we have options — from wireless charging to fast charging — that make it easier to get back up and running. The not-so-obvious by-product of this is less “charge anxiety.” It might be a small thing, but any reduction in work-related stress is a good thing.
It seems like we’re seeing AI take center stage in everything from the cars we drive to washers and dryers. Indeed, it’s hard to predict what new gadget will be powered by AI, but the compelling thing about AI in the workplace is how it affects everyone else’s job. Simply put, it’s going to help up-level everything.
When we look beyond the hype, what AI does really well is learn basic tasks quickly, analyze and mine lots of information, and help organize and structure things. This has tremendous potential to streamline basic tasks and free people to do more complex thinking. For example, in our industry of integrated marketing, we’re starting to use AI to help uncover new connections between influencers. This enables us to better organize how we approach, and work with those influencers. It can show us where there are holes in media coverage or ad campaigns, tasks that would traditionally require hours of people time. This gives our teams the time back to think creatively about how we’re going to improve campaign strategy or our work with influencers.
It’s hard to say what the future of AI is for sure, but it’s interesting to think about how AI and the IoT are converging. In looking at edge computing or end-point computing increasingly powered by AI, it’s easy to imagine a future where we have a fog of intelligence all around us, thanks to processors and sensors residing across a range of different smaller devices. I anticipate we’re going to see AI become more ubiquitous, going beyond something on a computer, a phone or a watch, to live on thermostats, in wall paint and on wearable patches.
We’re already seeing 5G trials in the US, and we will likely see full scale rollout over the next couple of years, providing all of us with a whole new level of connectivity. At the very basic core of it, you’re going to be able to do more things faster. Think about being able to download entire movies in 60 to 90 seconds. Think about what that speed of download means for work. It’s huge. You’ll never have to wait for a PowerPoint to download. We’ll see other innovations on 5G that take advantage of improvements in latency. You’re never experiencing lag on a conference call. And you know, more importantly, you’re linked in almost simultaneously real time with the rest of your office, so it’s just going to do a lot for collaboration and I think those are the things that are shaping how we work and what we work on.
There are a number of other technologies shaping our work-life blend these days. I haven’t touched on security, big data, chip design, cloud computing, OTA, virtual and augmented reality, flash memory or software — all areas where innovation continues to happen at a blistering pace.
RJ Bardsley is Racepoint Global EVP and Global Tech Strategy Lead. He can be reached at [email protected].