From artificial intelligence wearables to interactive displays connected to cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms, collaborative technologies are changing the way we work, as well as where we work.
Do you have specialist workers located in different offices in faraway lands? Perhaps your team includes contractors and freelancers who work remotely. More and more companies are moving in these directions, and for good economic reasons.
Problems can result from this trend, however. Does your team feel disconnected and sporadic, and do varying time zones delay the manner in which work is being completed? How does management keep everybody motivated and working together on deadline?
The workplace has become a multifaceted beast, and the interactive technologies that have been emerging during the past decade have made workplaces more flexible, productive and satisfying in order to solve these issues.
In this eWEEK Data Points article, using industry information from Pippa Edelen, global director of marketing for Avocor, we explore the possibilities for both remote and physical teams, making collaboration more possible, remote working more productive and the workplace more accessible for everyone than ever before.
Data Point No. 1: Wearables
As technologies become smaller and more portable, the ability of your staff to carry out business-essential tasks anywhere increases. From apps and virtual assistants on smartwatches to smartphone apps that natively communicate with shared project management systems, it's now possible to monitor vitals while editing and uploading documents.
While artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled wearables are probably still considered to be on the futuristic side of available tech, the speed of change means that transformation is pending, and we don't have long to wait. With augmented reality and AI improving exponentially, the tides are turning and making it more possible for us to work anywhere, in smarter ways, using technologies that are fit for our purpose.
The level of flexibility afforded by wearables is particularly attractive to millennials and Generation Zers, whose expectations of workplace flexibility match the technological progress they've grown up around.
Data Point No. 2: Cloud Services and SaaS
Most of us already use cloud technology in one form or another. Users of Dropbox, Google Docs and Apple iCloud are familiar with the consumer level of cloud services that make the sharing of documents and backup of essential data possible. But cloud services extend way beyond just being a place to store your music and your photos. And SaaS has brought us such innovations as Google Apps, Dropbox, Zendesk and Salesforce, connecting us to business systems using cloud streaming as the portal.
Remote services now allow people and businesses to work in synchronicity—sharing and storing files remotely and powering collaboration tools designed for companies, such as Cisco Webex Teams, Microsoft Teams and Basecamp.
Accessing shared project management systems through the cloud facilitates collaborative working, extending the workplace away from physical buildings. Now anywhere with a decent broadband connection or mobile data service is your office, promoting employee engagement and productivity.
Data Point No. 3: Smart Meeting Rooms
As more organizations adapt to flexible working patterns, the actual design and layout of meeting rooms change. Meeting rooms are evolving from the "boardroom" to bespoke spaces using "smart" furniture featuring integrated wireless charging ports and interactive displays.
Interactive displays offer a visual summation of group contribution, allowing individuals to "throw" data from their mobile device toward a central hub, visualized through the screen. This improves employee engagement because everyone can easily contribute to meetings and development sessions visually.
Interactive displays bring remote workers together with physical teams by natively integrating with video conferencing application SaaS platforms, such as Zoom or Skype for Business. Everyone can join the meeting in HD, regardless of their physical location.
Data Point No. 4: Encouraging Online Social Networking
Of course, this completely goes against the common perception of social networking. However, Ferreira and Du Plessis investigated how social networking affected employee productivity in their book "Effect of Online Social Networking on Employee Productivity," and what they found is surprising: Social networking (LinkedIn and intranet-based social networks, as opposed to Facebook and Twitter) can stimulate productivity through knowledge sharing. Of course, keeping social networking under controlled conditions is essential—so the authors recommend developing in-house platforms, such as adapted versions of Webex (as used by Lloyds Banking Group in the UK).
Data Point No. 5: Workers Want Interactive Technologies
Oblong Industries conducted a survey of IT professionals in 2018, revealing that a whopping 91% of the staff questioned agreed or strongly agreed that "engaging with data and information using interactive, immersive methods can help to solve complex business issues."
Having all of the data at your fingertips, combined with the flexibility of movement, is a significant factor in improving productivity. So, the need for cloud-based project management and document sharing is evident.
For example, Basecamp is a project management tool that provides centralized, real-time chat; a pin-board of outstanding and completed tasks; an ability to gauge project progress instantly; and a one-stop shop for comms, negating the need for messy email threads. The SaaS package aids communication between project workers, made possible over a range of platforms including desktop and mobile environments.
Data Point No. 6: Technologies for Projects
OK, so we’ve mentioned Basecamp, but there’s a whole wealth of interactive project management tools out there designed to make the workplace a more flexible and life-friendly place. Project management tools offer visibility of critical data, shared over a dynamic workspace platform that updates in real time.
This level of transparency gives key stakeholders the ability to make instant, informed decisions, regardless of location. It gives SMEs and larger organizations a competitive upper hand to win clients, develop and progress projects, and bring solutions and products to fruition more quickly.
For example, PricewaterhouseCoopers has introduced interactive technologies into its newly conceived collaborative workspaces in Paris. They curated a massive, immersive visual collaboration room, incorporating interactive displays and online video conference capabilities to bridge complex customer meetings while driving speedy decision making.
Within just a couple of months of implementation, PwC had won massive projects, delivering the certainty that technology is capable of supporting increased productivity and a significant return on investment.
Data Point No. 7: Huddle Rooms
Huddle rooms sound like the unicorn buzzword of 2019, but they're actually proving themselves to be invaluable, interactive resources, bringing teleconference and collaboration technologies together to create highly productive workspaces.
Huddle rooms differ from meeting rooms by their design: They're small spaces designed for transient, creative gatherings—often for upstanding briefings. But they're equipped explicitly with interactive tech for 21st-century businesses. This isn’t to say that the grandeur of the conference suite is dead, but if you want an on-its-feet briefing or an impromptu progress report, huddle rooms more than cater to that need. Most importantly, they keep the workplace moving.
According to Wainhouse Research, there are 45 million small- to medium-sized huddle room spaces in operation across the business world. Huddle rooms use immersive, collaborative technologies to maintain creative momentum, encouraging the sharing of data at every level, helping groups draw conclusions more quickly. By enabling each meeting member to interact and share data and ideas across multiple streams of visual data, employee engagement is improved.
Data Point No. 8: Summary
So, interactive technologies really are revolutionizing the workplace. Interactive technologies are providing improved communication channels while guiding projects and meetings. And they're available from anywhere on the planet with a decent WiFi or 4G connection, helping the workforce address that age-old work/life balance issue. Win-win.
This is an update of an article that ran May 13, 2019, in eWEEK. If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK Data Points article, email [email protected].