Comms needs to take ‘giant leap forward’ to address new normal

Ericsson research finds Covid-19 pandemic has created a tipping point for what workers expect of the future digital office

With the concept of both working and socialising from home becoming a “new normal” in less than a year, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a tipping point for what white-collar workers expect of the future digital office, according to new research from Ericsson IndustryLab.

Aiming to investigate the likely landscape of the workplace in 2030, The dematerialised office study sought insights about the sentiments and expectations of white-collar employees. It canvassed the views of 8,400 white-collar workers who are early adopters of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) or virtual assistants from 16 countries, representing about 133 million people, to gather their expectations about the future workplace.

It was also a follow-up to the December 2019 Internet of senses study, which explored the shift from a screen-based internet connectivity to an immersive experience resulting from people’s senses being connected in everyday life. The latest study brought the internet of senses into the business world to see how sensory connectivity through artificial intelligence (AI), AR, VR, 5G and automation can change the work situation for white-collar staff.

There were six key standouts from the study: employees want an internet of senses for work; the pandemic has become a digital tipping point; the sustainable “dematerialised” office; virtual interaction with clients and colleagues; a taste of the future; and security and privacy are key barriers to the proliferation of networks supporting these facets.

Overall, three-fifths of respondents to the study foresee a permanent increase in online meetings and need tools that better support remote interaction. Half of them want a digital workstation allowing full-sense presence at work from anywhere. This would represent a sea change for companies that currently direct funds into maintaining physical office space. In future, respondents hope this will be geared towards improving their home office environment.

After months of working on their computers at home, constantly engaged in video meetings in their home environments, remote workers are also realising that although connectivity is more important than ever, digital meetings need to evolve to become as effective as the real thing. Ericsson said this meant there was simply a need for tools that support remote interaction better.

Just over three-quarters of respondents indicated that an internet of senses for business use would make their company more sustainable. This would most likely be used for marketing and sales, with 59% saying that spatial video and 50% saying digital temperature will be used to have more immersive engagements with customers by 2030.

Read more about the new normal of work

“During this Covid-19 isolation, people everywhere are rediscovering the importance of the smells and the flavours and the sheer physicality of the locations they normally frequent and do business in,” said Michael Björn, head of research agenda at Ericsson Consumer & IndustryLab and author of The dematerialised office report.

“In fact, the pandemic has created a tipping point for what white-collar workers expect of the future digital office. Office work will not go back to the way it was before the pandemic. Instead, employees will spend more time working digitally and, for this reason, drive the need for future technologies on a scale and at a pace that was unimaginable only a year ago.”

But Björn warned that for digital collaborations to be as interactive as the real thing, communications technology would need to take a giant leap forward. “This is about more than just better video meetings,” he said. “It is also about collaborating digitally in the same room with colleagues – which is why interest in AR/VR technology has grown rapidly over the last six months.”

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