The concept of the office of the future has been kicking around since the 1940s and is something that futurists and technology guys like me love speculating on. At the most basic level, it’s about running a paperless office. Since then, it has evolved into something so much more. If you remember Microsoft’s video from 2009, they presented an office where every surface was a screen — where every device you owned was connected and could transmit data from wherever you put it, from your desk to the kitchen bench.
But now, in 2014, where the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets has shown that a world of screens has truly come to pass, what’s next?
According to IBM, the office of the future will be wireless, and we’re already partway there. At the offices I’ve been in, most Ethernet connections generally go unused in favour of WiFi. But soon, leads and wires connecting our devices to PowerPoint projectors and remote displays will also be a thing of the past, allowing us to pick up and go without worrying about how we are going to plug in. For an increasingly mobile workforce, not having to worry if you’ve got enough juice or connectivity to get you through a meeting is a godsend.
But with the great tethering is the changing notion of exactly what it means to be in an office. In its most traditional, the office is the place where you perform your work duties. In small organisations, this could be with a diverse mix of people from a range of functions, but in larger organisations it is most likely with others in your specific vertical function.
2. Collaborative spaces
Organisations like Commonwealth Bank, Microsoft, Pixar and Apple have created work environments that smash through traditional corporate silos and foster greater collaboration amongst their workforce. This is born of a simple understanding that true innovation doesn’t just happen vertically within an organisation, but horizontally too — by putting talented people from different parts of a business in situations where they will interact and learn from each other.
Even the idea of having your own office is fast becoming outdated. Co-working has become increasingly popular. Spaces like Majoran Distillery, Hub Australia and Fishburners are all home to dozens of businesses, from established companies to early stage ventures and freelancers, creating a hive of activity that often leads to the generation of new ideas.
3. VOIP telephony
Even the humble telephony system, long the communications backbone of most offices, is undergoing something of a revolution. As Declan O’Callaghan, Managing Director of telecommunications company Voiteck puts it,
“Many companies already operate a converged network that runs both voice and data traffic. This converged network will continue to evolve until telephony becomes part of the data centre, rather than a stand-alone solution in the enterprise.
Telephony will be a data-networking thing, not a voice-networking thing…[it] brings the ability to layer on video, presence, and other multimedia functions. Calls can more easily be transferred between handsets and other mobile devices than with analog phone systems. And users, with their various smartphones and soft client-enabled tablets, require more mobile telephony features to stay productive.”
With the growing trend toward BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), the day is fast approaching when the desk phone is obsolete, and calls to your office can be easily transferred to our phones via an app.
4. Virtual receptionist/admin
With the steady adoption of visitor management tablet apps, such as Adelaide-born Reception for iPad, which remove the need to have a physical receptionist, and the entire office experience is changing for visitors as well.
So there you have it, just a few trends that are transforming the traditional office environment from sterile cubicles into flexible, dynamic innovation hubs.