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Learning to cope with the modern workplace and anticipate future changes

Learning to cope with the modern workplace and anticipate future changes

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After clocking up more than half a century of benefiting from technological progress, Mark Bowen, Editorial Director of Lynchpin Media and Editor of Intelligent CIO North America, considers recent advancements in the modern workplace and outlines how he expects it to develop in the next few decades.

The modern workplace has changed beyond all recognition in the last few years – and I should know having worked in a variety of workplaces for more than three decades.

Mark Bowen, Editorial Director of Lynchpin Media and Editor of Intelligent CIO North America

If there is one thing I can be sure of it’s that the advent of the pandemic changed the dynamics of the workplace overnight.

When I was studying for a degree in history, I came across the expression that ‘war is the mother of invention’.

At the time, I don’t think I fully understood it’s significance but if you adapt the phrase to read ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ it’s not too much of a stretch to understand how it relates to the whole pandemic saga.

With whole workforces suddenly told they needed to operate from home, pretty much at the drop of a tin hat, technology played the part of a courageous calvary charging into a virtual battlefield to ensure businesses could continue to operate but in vastly different ways.

Technology companies truly kept the world on track and who knows what the implications of them failing to do so would have been.

Remote working was suddenly all the rage as businesses scrambled to supply their staff with the right equipment to work from home – all the time hoping that their broadband connections were secure from the threats of the nefarious activities of cybercriminals.

Video communications solutions such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom truly came into their own as colleagues desperately needed to find a replacement for the face-to-face contact that most businesses had thrived on during the previous decades.

Although there is no substitute for being in the same room as someone, video conferencing solutions came as close as you could get – offering a more gratifying experience than an unadorned phone call.

Video calls are far from what I would call ‘total communication’ but the ability to see someone’s face in real time offers a chance to pick up on that vital non-verbal communication that often says much more than the words that are actually coming out of a colleague’s mouth.

In terms of recruitment, there are many implications of where your future colleagues will be located. In the past you could bet your bottom dollar that most of your colleagues would be based within 30 miles of you.

Nowadays, with the old-fashioned physical office seemingly forever out-of-fashion the chances are your colleagues are based virtually anywhere – as long as they have access to a desk and a decent broadband connection.

With colleagues spread out further afield than before, a new challenge has been created – how do you maintain that sense of camaraderie that is often the invisible driving force behind many a thriving business?

The truth, I suspect, is that you can’t, certainly not fully. However, there are lots of different initiatives that I think are worth considering.

  • Hold two company-wide parties a year. Invite everyone – even those in the most far-flung areas you operate in. An arduous journey might make the trip unviable, but the invitation will ensure those employees know they play a vital part in the company’s success. It’s always good to see colleagues interact in a social setting. Such events may cost a pretty penny but the outlay will be worth the increase in loyalty – you can guarantee employees will be much more inclined to go the ‘extra mile’ when you really need them to.
  • Try holding full virtual company meetings at least once a week. Seeing scores of faces staring back at you can be a little unnerving at times especially for those that have to address the congregation, but this is a good routine to get into. It offers the chance for colleagues who do not have the need to communicate on a day-to-day basis to actually see each other and provides the chance to ask questions that do not warrant a special call.  
  • Make the most of the chat facility in your communications software. This comes into its own for those issues that just require a quick ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and the ability to set up specific groups to communicate with is a real time-saver too.

So how do I see the modern workplace evolving? When I was a child, I thought the idea of watching TV on small portable screens was the stuff of science fiction – highly desirable but unlikely to happen any time soon.

But it was part of our everyday lives within a couple of decades due to the revolution within the telecommunications industry. The potential for such all-consuming transformation first came to my attention in the early 1980s when I was watching a Saturday morning show for kids.

A scientist was asked during a phone-in what they thought would be the most important technological development in the coming decades. They replied that they thought phone lines could be used for much more than calls and they were excited about the prospect of computers communicating with each other.

I dismissed these ideas at the time and did not believe the humble phone line had any potential to transform both the way we live and work.

How wrong I was – but it goes to show that whatever might seem unworkable at present can soon become a reality that we all depend on.

As for the future, I expect to see the dramatic expansion of the Internet of Things.

We’ve all read about the potential of the Tactile Internet (sometimes known as the Internet of Touch) where a human can wear a pair of virtual reality gloves to touch a virtual object.

The gloves contain sensors on the fingers and wrists to track movement and the positioning of the hand.

With the advent of more sophisticated AI and quicker network response times, the accuracy of such procedures can be expected to increase

The ability for humans to touch and reliably interact with remote or virtual objects has potentially revolutionary consequences for a whole variety of workplaces.

Such technology is being developed quietly by teams of scientific researchers and once public trust grows in such procedures, I can see the modern workplace being transformed once more.

In the meantime, we can all have a great deal of fun speculating just exactly how it will do so.

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