Technology that’s positively disrupting tomorrow’s workplace
Discover the environmental, societal and structural impact of future tech on today’s businesses.
The printing industry has undergone radical changes over the past few years, driven by emerging technology trends. These game-changing technologies are rapidly shaping long-held “ways of working”, transforming the business landscape and how and where people work.
Renowned global Futurist Jack Uldrich cites a handful of core technologies as being the driving forces behind changes to the work environment, specifically: (1) collaborative technologies such as mobile web video communications (2) the Internet of Things (meaning, our physical world will soon be embedded with trillions of sensors) and lastly, (3) the convergence of “Big Data” and artificial intelligence, for example wearables.
The workplace of tomorrow will be shaped by technology which will facilitate and improve collaboration, limiting distractions and enabling creativity. In part, this change is being driven by the willingness of companies and organizations to embrace the idea of “strategic experimentation”, enabled in part by available technology which is facilitating risk free innovation.
In this Q&A, Uldrich discusses his views on the workplace of tomorrow and delves into further insights in markets such as retail, healthcare, education and manufacturing touching on “predictive” healthcare, online education and the rise of robotics in manufacturing. It is clear that the future is already here and as businesses we cannot afford to be complacent.
Q&A with Jack Uldrich
1. In your opinion, what are the overarching trends driving workplace technology, specifically related to:
c. Organizational / structural
There are three major technologies improving the environment. First, mobile web video communication will continue to transform how and where people work. Specifically, more people will work from home, temporary offices and collaborative workspaces. As a result, traffic congestion will be reduced and the demand for office buildings will decrease. Furthermore, as video technologies improve, people will have an increased feeling of “being with” their work colleagues whether they are in Sacramento, Stockholm or Sydney. As a result, the amount of business travel will decrease.
Secondly, the Internet of Things (the idea that our physical world will soon be embedded with trillions of sensors) will better identify where efficiencies can be achieved in the workplace environment. For example, sensors will control individual workspaces and lighting, heating and air conditioning will not only be tailored to individual’s preferences but those resources will be turned off the moment a person leaves a workspace thus conserving energy and lowering energy costs.
Thirdly, the convergence of “Big Data” and artificial intelligence (super-smart computers) will help people navigate their surroundings more effectively. In the near future, for example, your smartphone or wearable device will not only tell you the best time to run your errands, it’ll tell you the precise order and the exact route to run those errands in order to save time, conserve fuel and reduce stress.
Societally, social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instragram and the emergence of new virtual reality platforms (such as Oculus Rift and Samsung’s Project Morpheus) will continue to allow people to share ideas and information ever faster. This suggests that cultural changes, ideas and memes will continue to proliferate and be adopted at an accelerated rate. Longer term, the new immersive virtual reality technologies will profoundly impact how people interact with businesses, educational institutions and one another by minimizing physical distance as a barrier to communication and interaction.
At an organizational level, the greatest structural change will be the continued development of “sharing economy” platforms such as AirBnB and Uber. In the near future, expect to see similar “sharing” business models transform the commercial real estate business (through the sharing of work offices), the banking industry (by facilitating more peer-to-peer loans) and the health care industry—where a number of doctors and health care professionals will return to making “house calls” in exchange for modest payments.
2. How is technology specifically enhancing tomorrow’s:
In the near future, continued advances in mobile, cloud, sensor technologies, “Big Data” and artificial intelligence will mean that instead of going to the Internet, consumers can expect to have the Internet “come to them” in the form of customized information and tailored retail “offers” that are immediately displayed to their smartphones and wearable devices.
In the past, people waited until they were sick until they visited a health care professional or a hospital. In tomorrow’s era of “predictive” healthcare, technology will identify the onset of illnesses and diseases at their earliest stages. This will allow people to take preventative action. Bottom-line: People will stay healthier and live for longer periods of time.
Online education and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) will continue to improve. The greatest change will be that students of the future will be able to have classroom courses tailored to their individual learning styles. The days of a single instructor educating an entire classroom in the same way are numbered. Individuals can also expect education to be delivered over a myriad of different ways (e.g. classrooms, online, smartphones, virtual reality platforms, etc.) in a manner that best fits their schedule. The classroom of the future will be available 24 hours a day and will be instantly accessible over the course of a person’s lifetime.
Robotics and 3D printing will radically transform the manufacturing environment. Both technologies will continue to improve in terms of price and performance. As they do, people in the manufacturing sector can expect to see safer and more flexible robots working in closer partnership with humans on a variety of tasks. 3D manufacturing (also known as “additive manufacturing”) will have an even greater impact on manufacturing as the type and number of objects that can be printed, including automobile and aircraft components, medical devices and electronics will transform global manufacturing by enabling objects to be manufactured at or near where they are used and consumed. The impact on China and other lower-wage manufacturers, as well as the shipping and trucking industries, will be profound.
3. Looking at the global picture, are there disparities in the pace and adoption of change across different regions?
Yes. North America, Asia and Europe continue to adopt new technologies at a faster rate but this disparity can expect to dissipate as a multitude of technologies, including mobile and cloud technologies, high-speed wireless Internet access, online education and renewable energies, drop in price and improve in performance and capability. As this occurs, the adoption rates of these technologies in other regions across the world will explode. The opportunity for regions such as Africa to “leapfrog” the developed world by not having to develop and invest in large and expensive infrastructural system such as educational buildings, fiber optic systems and transmission grids could be quite exciting. What took the developed world multiple generations to achieve will be created in a fraction of the time by developing countries (Provided a stable political environment exists for development to occur.)
4. What does “future” mean for technology in your opinion? / Because technology is changing so quickly, what advice would you give to companies looking to keep up?
The science fiction writer William Gibson once wrote, “The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.” I agree. The future is here. To find it, I encourage businesses—and individuals—to look to the fringes of society and listen to diverse voices. I also believe people need to take more time to just to think. To this end, I advocate that business leaders take an annual “Think Week” and use this time to focus on those things that they don’t know.
To keep up, I also encourage companies to stay curious by adopting a policy of “relentless questioning.” Question your assumptions about your business, your competitors, your customers and your business models. We are transitioning to a period of constant transition and the key to innovating into this exciting future is to ask better questions. Better questions inevitably lead to better answers.
In the final analysis, however, I remind all of my clients that the only way to accurately predict the future is to create it yourself! To do this, companies and organizations must get comfortable with the idea of “strategic experimentation.” No one fully knows what will work in the future so we must constantly be willing to push the envelope and try new things. Experimentation is risky but the pay-off is that experiments can help reduce uncertainty about the future by helping to create the future.
5. What are the top 3 ‘disruptive technologies’ in the future workplace?
The convergence and continued growth of cloud computing, mobile communication technologies, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and Big Data will be a paradigm-shift of historic proportions. We are transitioning to a world of abundant data, information and knowledge. Instead of “going to a computer,” think of the world of the future as being a place where you live in a computer—or, more aptly, the computer will be all around you—and information finds you only where and when you need it.
6. How will the process of ‘unlearning’ help drive efficiency, productivity and innovation in the office environment?
Interestingly, many people still believe the colors of the yield sign on US and Canadian highways are yellow-and-black even though the yield sign has been red-and-white since 1971. I mention this because once something is learned it is often hard to unlearn even though the signs of a new reality are present. In this same way, mobile video, virtual reality, Big Data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and sharing economy platforms are rapidly transforming the workplace but many people are reluctant to even acknowledge these changes because they haven’t yet unlearned the old ways of doing things. Often, “unlearning” must take place before people can adopt new and betters ways of doing things.
7. What role will Millennials entering the workforce play in technology adoption?
By being the early adopters of many of these technologies, the Millennials will serve as instructors and tutors to the older generations of workers. On a more pro-active level, I’d encourage Baby Boomers and Gen Xers to find “reverse mentors” among the Millennials and seek to learn from them. More senior individuals should, of course, continue to serve as traditional mentors to Millennials but because the younger generation better understands today’s new and emerging technologies and have different perspectives on how these tools can be effectively utilized, the Millennials offer a great many benefits to older workers with enough humility to accept that they can—and need—to learn from today’s younger generation.
8. Why do you think the paperless office hasn’t materialized?
For the same reason that microwave ovens didn’t replace all traditional ovens and incandescent light bulbs didn’t eliminate the candle industry. Every technology has unique and tangible benefits, and paper is no different. Arguably, paper is the greatest instrument ever invented for conveying, sharing and disseminating information. In fact, recent scientific studies have demonstrated that people understand and retain information presented on paper at a far higher level then information presented electronically. For this reason alone I believe paper will maintain an important place in society well into the future.
9. Why do you think there is current a shift from laser to inkjet printing in the workplace?
Price, versatility, functionality, maintenance and a smaller form factor all favor inkjet printing and have contributed to its widespread acceptance in the workplace. Furthermore, the fact that the quality and speed of inkjet printing continues to improve suggests this trend will continue to grow into the future.
10. Overall, what does the workplace of tomorrow look like? How do you envision the role of technology in the workplace of tomorrow?
Ironically, although there will be more technology in the workplace of the future, it will be far less conspicuous. The technology of the future will work to facilitate and improve human interactions and collaboration instead of hindering and distracting us. Rather than habitually and mindlessly checking your devices, technology will notify us only when our attention is needed or warranted. Lastly, while the distinction between work and home life will continue to blur in the future, I don’t think of this as a bad thing. Consider than even as recently as one hundred years ago most people lived and worked on farms. In this sense, there were no “work-life balance” issues among our great-great grandparents. They worked as required and balanced family, friends and community in the remaining time. In short, work and home life seamlessly merged together in a sustainable manner. In this same way, I think we will return to a 21st century equivalent where our work and non-work lives are not separate, distinct entities but rather two halves of a whole—and the sum of these two parts will be greater than the whole. It is one reason I’m quite optimistic about the future.
Jack Uldrich is a renowned global futurist and author of 11 books, the most recent of which is entitled Foresight 20/20: A Futurist Explores the Trends Transforming Tomorrow. He paints a vivid picture of what the world might look like in the near future, exploring how “the internet of things”, big data, social media, robotics, artificial intelligence, collaborative consumption and renewable energy will change everyday life for us.
Uldrich founded and holds the position of “chief unlearning officer” of The School of Unlearning, an international leadership, change management and technology consultancy dedicated to helping businesses, governments and non-profit organizations prepare for and profit from periods of transformation. He has previously worked with Fortune 100 companies, venture capital firms and state and regional governments as well as hundreds of other businesses and organizations across five continents.
He is a regular contributor to publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, the Scientist and The Futures Research Quarterly. Uldrich speaks frequently at events and on television (including CNBC, MSNBC and CNN) on the topics of technology, change management and leadership.
A former naval intelligence officer and Defence Department official, Jack also previously served as the director of the Minnesota Office of Strategic and Long Range Planning.