Remote working is dead. The office is the future. These are, for once, not the ramblings of Yahoo’s CEO, but the conclusion of a new report from Samsung.
The document, entitled ‘The Smarter Futures Report’, describes a world in which we will embrace the next-generation office, thanks to its liberating technology, which will literally be seeping from the walls.
“By 2025, smart technology will have empowered the rebirth and rejuvenation of the office as an inspiring, interactive, convivial meeting place, controlled by voice and gesture – an environment where millions of us will be happy to work,” says the report.
The paper draws on expert advice from the likes of Ben Waber, visiting scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), global expert on smart sensing technologies and author of People Analytics: How Social Sensing Technology Will Transform Business and What It Tells Us about the Future of Work.
‘The workplace is shifting from a rigid, hierarchical environment into a modern version of the villages we all lived in until the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago,’ says Waber. “It will allow humans to do what they are best at – communicate intuitively, face-to-face, to consult and collaborate to solve the increasingly complex work situations that we face.”
“Smart systems in the 2020s will handle the macro- picture – all the masses of data and scheduling that makes a modern office run smoothly. The net result will be a less stressed, less overloaded workforce that leaves less often, takes fewer sick days, and is lot more positive, healthy and happy.”
The report also envisions a future where data analytics will take over the role over manager, putting together dream teams of staff – the office equivalent of Moneyball.
“Smart systems will build a startlingly accurate picture of our work-life network, and that will revolutionise how and why we configure office spaces and build the teams that work within them,” Waber claims.
“All that data will let managers know where the true, most powerful collaborations are happening. A true understanding of inter-team dynamics will allow us to reconfigure an office to help those teams work more closely and more easily together. It’s much more subtle – and much more effective – than the way we team-build right now because it uses bottom-up, organic connections, rather than top-down dictats.”
Some of Samsung’s prophecies are a little bit out there. The tech giant predicts that computer screens will be ‘invisible until the moment that we need to use them’.
“Interactive smart technology will allow us to use any surface as a screen when we need to, and the rest of the time the technology will talk to us directly as a voice in our ears, the way that our species evolved to communicate,” said JP Luchetti of Mubaloo in the report.
The here and now
It’s a brave company that tries to look ten years down the line when it comes to office technology. But Samsung says that the seeds of what it calls Office 2.0 have already been sown and now starting to flower.
The paper points to the likes of Facebook’s NYC office, which is crammed full collaboration touchscreens; and Commonwealth Bank Place in Sydney, where staff move between activity-based break-out rooms and collaboration spaces linked by smart networks.
Microsoft’s recent launch of the Surface Hub suggests that Samsung is not the only vendor moving some of its eggs into the Office 2.0 basket.
But as with all things in IT, the path that the vendor wants us to travel down, and the path that we ultimately choose are rarely the same.
It makes good business sense for Samsung to convince organisations that the office is where the future lies. After all, the margins on a voice activated smart wall will be much healthier than a 19in monitor.
From a business’ perspective though, the goal is to strike a balance between the needs of the business and the needs of the end-user; and more importantly, doing so in the most cost effective manner possible. Faced with this reality, it’s difficult to view much of Samsung’s report as anything other than pie in the sky divinations.