I-Office: The brave new world of work

Tom Carroll
Businesses will have to invest not only in mitigating cyber security threats, but also in ensuring employees are empowered by this new technology in the workplace. (Source: Getty)

It's 3 January, 2030. You get up at 6am, have a shower and get dressed, slipping into your self-tying shoes as you leave the house.

On the way to your first day of work of the new year, you reserve a desk from your icontact-lens and flick through the morning’s emails. In the office, you are greeted by the holographic receptionist who tells you which of your colleagues are in and what your diary looks like.

As you sit down at a desk, the lights and temperature adjust to suit you and a retina scan logs you into your computer. The office AI assistant notifies you that a colleague from New York is currently in the London office and working on a similar project. A meeting is automatically arranged for the afternoon.

Sci-fi no longer

Perhaps this all sounds a little too much like the opening scene of an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror but, in truth, mornings like this are just around the corner.

We are on the cusp of huge change, powered by advancing technology. For office workers, the good news is that technology will make the working day more productive.

What does this mean in practice? Personalised temperature and lighting controls, energy provision management and digital wayfinding (using sensors to find desk space), for example. But, beyond simply providing the latest gadgets, companies will embed technology into the fibre of their buildings to map, monitor and improve the efficiency of people who use it.

i-office building

Most impressively, advances in AI will mean that the office building itself will become an important part of the management team. In the near future, buildings will be able to marry building usage data with information about individual staff movements and work habits and use this data to facilitate interactions and collaboration between staff.

Some corporations have already tested such technology. Take the example of a leading American bank, where sociometric badges were used to identify why some of their call centre employees were more productive than others. Realising that the most productive employees were those that took breaks together, the bank rescheduled employees’ breaks to maximise interactions and saw a 10 per cent increase in productivity.

Protecting your employees’ privacy

In this constantly changing scenario, companies will need to put in place cyber security and privacy policies that reflect the new and mobile way in which their employees are working.

These will need to be flexible and adapt to the evolution of the workplace.

Equally, all this data will need to be protected. An AI with the capacity to suggest meetings between staff in any meaningful and useful way will likely need access to work emails, corporate databases and location data. This could only happen with the employees’ consent and understanding of the use of their personal information.

Businesses will have to invest not only in mitigating cyber security threats, but also in ensuring employees are empowered by this new technology in the workplace.

We’ve come a long way since hot-desking resulted in the office scramble for the best seats, of weak tea and instant coffee, and computer systems that struggled to cope with everyone logging in at the same time.

Technology is making our lives easier and will no doubt continue to do so, transforming the world as we know it.

Tom Carroll is head of Europe, Middle East and Africa corporate research at JLL.

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