The evolution of the modern office

Joe Svetlik

Wednesday 4 April 2018

Change is a constant, nowhere more so than in the office. Here are the biggest innovations on the horizon.

Smoother meetings

The modern office has changed dramatically over the past decade. Workers are now equipped with smartphones, and a fair proportion have wearable devices linked to them. Laptops have become more portable and ever-more powerful, and we’ve seen an ‘informalisation’ of the working environment led by technology companies like Google and Facebook. But change is constant, and the innovations we’ll see in the near future will completely transform the office environment.

Chief among these is the ‘smart hub’, and it will be a godsend to anyone who’s ever struggled to get a meeting started.

“You’ll put it in a meeting room, connect it to Skype for Business and it will start a meeting without all the problems we have currently,” says Sylvain Ansart, Technical Architect, EMEA Global Acquisition at Lenovo. “Because it’s connected to the Skype for Business server, it knows when the meeting is. It starts everything up, including the microphone and camera from the computer.”

This means meetings will start in seconds, instead of being the usual farrago of solving technical problems like finding the right dongles and cables.

It will work across all devices too. “The smart hub is a mix of hardware devices and the software capabilities built into Skype for Business and Skype Rooms,” Ansart says. “Because it uses Microsoft’s software, and isn’t proprietary, it will be very easy to set up and compatible with all PCs.”

The rise of CYOD

The past decade has seen the rise of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, with employees using their personal devices for work matters. This could include something as simple as checking work emails on their smartphone or editing documents on their home laptop. However, experts predict this will die out in favour of choose your own device (CYOD), which lets employees pick from a selection of work devices, all offered by the employer.

“Events like the WannaCry ransomware attack have proved that BYOD is a huge security problem,” Ansart says. “Because there’s no way for companies to control which devices employees use, they can’t ensure they have the proper security to prevent such an attack. BYOD is too complicated for organisations to deal with.”

Conversely, CYOD lets the organisation dictate which devices workers use, and hence ensure they have the correct security provisions. Employees can use their work machines at home too. “Instead of employees bringing their personal device into work, they will take their work device home,” Ansart says. “It will work the opposite way to how most organisations do it now. That way, you get the benefits of BYOD without the security threats.”

A flexible future

Ansart also predicts flexible working will become the norm as commuting gets more expensive. As flexible working becomes more common, companies will have to offer it to keep up with their competitors. However, complete home working is unlikely to catch on.

“IBM is currently bringing employees back to the office because they lose contact with their colleagues when they’re not there,” he says. “Their productivity goes down, they lose their vocal network and become less efficient for the company.”

Technological solutions

Those working with two monitors will get a productivity boost in the form of a new software associated to a high-definition webcam Lenovo is working on. “It knows where the user is looking and tracks their gaze,” Ansart says. “As soon as you look at your second display, the mouse jumps to it. It speeds things up a lot, and will make workers much more efficient.”

What about these new technologies that – we’re told – will revolutionise how we play, socialise and work? Augmented reality (AR) is more suited to the office environment than virtual reality (VR), because VR cuts workers off from their colleagues. AR superimposes virtual elements onto the wearer’s view of the real world, so the wearer still feels ‘present’ in the workspace.

It’s also more comfortable. “VR headsets are too bulky and too hot,” Ansart says. “But you can wear AR glasses all day.”

Such glasses could give workers a secondary display that, because it’s only 1cm from their eye, would appear 4m big in their vision. When you see a colleague, the glasses could bring up their name, the last message they sent you, their social media updates and so on, which would help immensely for networking (especially for those of us who aren’t good with names).

But this brings with it a host of privacy concerns. “Maybe they don’t want you knowing all this information about them,” Ansart says. “We saw this with Google Glass. When someone wearing these was looking at you, you didn’t know what they were seeing, or if they were videoing you. It perturbed a lot of people.”

AR would improve GPS too, as you could follow the path mapped for you. Though in order for this to work inside – to find a meeting room, say – the whole building would have to be digitally mapped. Again, this raises privacy concerns.

The office has seen some huge changes in the past decade, and it will continue to evolve along with new technologies and ways of working.


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