April 13th, 2021

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From the rise of digitalization to the dwindling of manual tasks, the workplace saw several significant shifts and changes in the last 10 years. Now, with the rise of remote work following the pandemic — what’s in store for the future?

Will these emerging technologies become staples in the modern office? Sure, COVID-19 caused digitalization efforts to rapidly accelerate, but will these changes last? The answer is clear: A resounding “yes”.

There's a sense of urgency and a lot of pressure to stay competitive. Company leaders are leaning on technology to meet today's challenges and investing in solutions for a successful future.

For decades now, we've seen technology speed up time-consuming tasks, reduce error rates, and ramp up the ability to collect and perform advanced analytics.

Still, legacy software and outdated technologies have stubbornly persisted in the workplace. Adoption was low, use was inconsistent at best, and the tech stack became every IT professional's nightmare. 

Yet, when the world was forced to make an overnight shift to remote work, we learned just how possible digital transformation was all along. Particularly at the current moment, when its use is a key part in the fight against COVID-19 for organizations planning a safe return to work.

Adapting to succeed

Businesses have relied on technology to maintain operations, a significant advantage during a severe economic downturn. In some cases, leaders are finding creative ways to use their existing tools to solve new challenges, such as using visitor management systems to manage employees and visitors coming into the workplace for contact tracing purposes. New tools have also aided in contact tracing efforts in addition to streamlining reopening plans, forecasting future needs, and helping to encourage social connections from a safe physical distance.

Work arrangements may be more flexible, but workplace requirements have become more rigid.

Some examples are having touchless technology in the office. Once a convenience, now an important safety measure. The same is true for instant communication — such as notifications about potential exposures or office closures — which is now a matter of health and safety. Occupancy and utilization went from a helpful metric to one that has to be monitored in order to follow public health guidelines and protect your workforce.

Technology helps eliminate the pain points associated with these changes and offers benefits for businesses of all sizes. Automation streamlines work processes, artificial intelligence provides unprecedented insights, and there's an incredibly useful web of connectivity made possible by the internet of things (IoT). 

As we move forward beyond this crisis, emerging technology will offer a wide scope of potential utilization for modern businesses. Here are the emerging technologies making the most impact.

Technologies for a new reality

A new look at virtual reality

Prior to the pandemic, survey results predicted that Training and Education were two of the top three projected markets for growth of virtual reality (VR). Additional findings from IDC's recently released report, Worldwide VR Game and App Developer Survey Insights, show most respondents believe the biggest change to the industry last year was the increase in enterprise interest for incorporating VR into company processes.

Following the pandemic, there's been some indications that VR will be used as an alternative method to in-person training and onboarding. 

Soon enough, it’s likely we’ll see virtual reality accomplish the following goals:

  • Eliminate physical computers and create an exponentially increasing base of remote workers. VR headsets could very likely eliminate desktop computers, allowing workers to simply use the headset and wireless keyboards to complete their work, while still allowing for secure access to a company’s VPN.
  • Reduce operating costs. No more physical desktop computers means far less operating costs at your physical office location.

What’s most intriguing about this concept, though, is the idea of augmented reality. It often gets lumped with in virtual reality but it’s a separate concept.

Modern experiences and augmented reality 

Augmented reality (AR) adds a layer to what you already see, as opposed to virtual reality creating something new entirely.  Even though this type of technology is already available, it hasn't been very widespread in the workplace.

Today, most employees continue to work remotely. Even in the coming months and years, experts predict that remote and flexible work is here to stay. With AR, you can bring digital information to wherever you are — that's especially useful for making a visual experience possible while you work from home.

You may be familiar with "heads-up display" (HUD) and "smart glasses" from all of the media buzz in recent years. Aside from those functions, augmented reality can:

  • Help workers visualize workflows
  • Identify and correct workflow inefficiencies
  • Visualize designs for new products
  • Give workers real-time feedback on their performance
  • Give workers information relevant to their position within a company or about a specific task — at their digestible skill level

There's also some major safety advantages, for example: creating a virtual training system that allows employees to practice a skill in a stimulated, safe environment so they feel confident in their ability to accomplish the job at hand.

Plus, visual annotations can be used to guide workers through a task, navigate a new and unfamiliar environment, or even provide descriptions about what's happening around you in real-time. Some AR tools are designed to provide accessibility resources, such as using facial recognition capabilities and artificial intelligence that can help visually impaired users locate and identify the people around them.

What about wearables?

Wearable technology will play a role in workplace automation as well. Per industry research, future offices will contain roughly 75 million pieces of wearable technology.

For the post-pandemic workplace, wearables offer many advantages. For some, wearable devices are equipped with proximity sensors to help employees maintain appropriate physical distancing in the office. PwC is testing the use of wearables for better understanding and supporting employee wellbeing, using them to collect biometric data — workload information, sleep logs, and exercise data.

According to IDC research, wearable device shipments saw an 82.9% global growth rate last year. Considering their potential uses and benefits, it's safe to say that wearables will be a key part of the workplace experience in years to come.

Emerging technology has become a driver of competitive differentiation

From creating a more effective and robust remote workforce to reducing overall operating costs, virtual reality will change the way we experience — and merge — the physical and digital workplace. Wearable technology will play an integral role in the implementation of this technology as businesses work to streamline their automation efforts.

When virtual reality, augmented reality, and even wearable technology first arrived in the workplace, they felt like science fiction. But even before the coronavirus health crisis, they were becoming popular in major tech and SaaS companies across the country. Now, businesses of all sizes understand the benefits of early adoption and the risks of falling behind.

With rapid advancements made in those technological areas, expect to see a swift move by the business community to quickly adopt these solutions to aid their return to the office. Moving forward it will be incredibly interesting to see where these emerging technologies land and how much of a competitive advantage they'll provide to those who stay ahead of the trends.

To learn more about the future of work, keep up with the most important workplace technology trends.

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