Adapting to the workspaces of the 2020s

By Holger Reisinger, Senior Vice President Large Enterprise Solutions Jabra
What does the future of our concentration and collaboration look like?
 
When last were you in the concentration zone and able to deliver a seriously productive day? Perhaps a more important question is where – was it at the office or from home? If the previous decade saw the ubiquitous rise of the open office, the coming one will see the complete decentralisation of the workplace.
 
Understandably, the start of the decade has been one of unprecedented global business disruption. As industries and economies are upended, the state of flux provides both challenges and opportunities, with everyone needing to remain agile and adapt to new ways of working.
 
Fueled by globalisation, health concerns, a growing demand for flexible working options and a cluster of other factors, the start of the decade is seeing a new need to entirely reconfigure the spaces in which we work. With this demand for further flexibility comes a different set of challenges with regards to the ways in which a company innovates through collaboration and employees tackle concentration.
 
While previously being challenged by open-office densification, increasingly distributed teams and the resulting challenges to our concentration and collaboration, the 2020s will be defined by a more radically adjusted style of working and greater need for supporting technology to keep up with these deeply impactful changes and accelerated state of change.
 
As we face greater spatial challenges, improving our communications tools can lead to a combination of greater concentration and collaboration, both of which are being tested in new ways through these workspace changes. Technology also offers a way to flexibly future proof your teams or business while safeguarding fundamentals like concentration and collaboration regardless of what the future office or workspace of tomorrow looks like.
 
Coupled with this flexibility, the right technology can also deliver further insights. As the very foundations of how we work change, so too will the data sources we use to make business decisions. While business intelligence will continue to improve the future of smart buildings, it will increasingly become important for companies to gather business intelligence from its remote workers. Certain suitable technology can offer new data streams to help you gauge the effectiveness of these new work environments and make decisions to adapt quickly in these fast-changing times and ensure your employees are productive and engaged.
 
Give employees the power of concentration anywhere
 
Today’s knowledge workers can easily become overwhelmed by the number of tools required by their workflows. HubSpot memorably labeled this phenomenon as “death by 1,000 apps,” examining the particular predicament of salespeople who struggled to manage data across a myriad of applications. Conflicting internal and external communications platforms, added to by the inefficiencies of emails and conference calls, can leave people with no time to focus, and an always-on feeling of interruptions without productivity, not to mention key detail and context sometimes being missed.
 
Though open offices will likely encounter fewer cases of densification in the coming years, some challenges to concentration will still persist in those spaces, while further uncharted ones will arise in home working, in environments that employers have no control over. Training your organisation in effective remote working is one solution, but must go hand-in-hand with giving them the tools to concentrate as well.
 
In addition to giving people the software tools to communicate and collaborate, make sure you also invest in giving people the capacity to concentrate. For bigger businesses this could mean architecting the right spaces and environments, and for home workers, this could mean a budget for setting up their home office.
 
Across any working environment, technology hardware can also play a supporting role, with a bigger monitor, or noise-cancelling headphones with busy-light indicators to let family know if someone is on a call or not to be disturbed. Technology indicators like this are supporting elements that can bring about behavioral change to aid concentration.
 
By giving employees these tools to perform at their best, businesses can create the structures for new social norms, either in an office or home environment. Devices can create positive effects or experiences that lead to cultural changes and aid better concentration.
 
As voice assistant usage grows in enterprises in the future, our computers and headsets will also allow us to augment ourselves with greater intelligence, as these assistants gain further contextual and smart responses to each individual’s way of working. The features will include predictive analytics and greater natural language processing with better speech recognition, machine translation, natural language generation, semantic search, and machine learning, all of which will drive productivity in our future workspaces.
 

Enabling collaboration will be the fuel to innovation

As globalisation, health concerns, real estate prices and a host of other factors drive the exponential rise of distributed teams, every business needs to have the tools that enable collaboration between both individuals and teams across different locations and time zones.

 In offices, that will mean creating meeting spaces that allow for safe distancing, and smarter spaces for people to work, but we will rarely see meetings that are not in some way virtual.
 
Humanising virtual workspaces will become paramount in order to maintain creativity, innovation, teamwork, and the resulting productivity gains in any organisation.
 
Digital elements like webinars, whiteboards and screenshare will become increasingly important functions, further enabled by 180° field-of-view cameras that allow for equal participation and inclusion of participants in a meeting room, and increasing trust through the full room visibility it offers.
 
Body language will also foster more engagement and greater perceptiveness from presenters through these feedback loops, while full duplex speakerphones enable equal bi-directional communication for easier meeting flows and conversation.
 
Overall, virtual collaboration through audio, video and software will be essential for any organisation to effectively run or do business. These strategies should be implemented early on so that external factors that force the need for agile collaborative practices do not in any way slow down businesses.
 
Insights
 
At no point in history have we had as much data as we do now. Data that can be used to drive strategy and help make the decisions that ensure businesses are successful in the future. The global business intelligence market is expected to grow from $15.64 bil (RM70.75 bil) in 2016 to $29.48 bil (RM127.2 bil) by 2022.
 
Businesses can now choose from AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, IBM Bluemix or any number of IaaS (infrastructure as a service) providers, and a host of BI (business intelligence) service providers. However, with so much access to data, we don’t always know what to pay attention to, or how to use it in our decision making. Interestingly, smaller businesses of 100 people or less are the highest adopters of BI tools, using it to remain agile and get a competitive growth advantage.
 
Now, more than ever, we need to find new ways to gather business insights in virtual environments where managers live halfway around the world from their reports, and standardisation is hard to achieve in home-working environments. The hardware you issue to employees needs to be able to gather intelligence for IT teams who are unable to ever deliver onsite assistance. Additionally, future insights around employee engagement and stress levels will become increasingly important to tackle the health issues of remote working and maintaining an engaged workforce.
 
Flexibility
 
As businesses streamline their expenses, and are forced to adapt more stringent spatial measures in offices, many will downsize on their already considerable office space expenses. Architecture and design will play a part in reshaping health-conscious offices, which will lead to healthier and therefore more productive workforces.
 
However, we are also entering a new normal with home working, already fueled by the sharp decline in space per employee in offices and high real-estate costs in many markets. Remote employees can save money, as long as they have excellent communications tools at their fingertips.
 
Overall, different businesses will be able to innovate and adapt based on their unique circumstances, markets, and industries, but at the core of new ways of working will be a need for flexibility. Flexibility to overcome challenges and have teams, managers and organisations who can work from anywhere, and adapt to anything. The external world is changing at a rapid pace around us, and having the right people, and the right technology for them to thrive in any environment, is what will underpin the greatest success stories of the coming decade.

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