In a few years, workstations will transform into "working environments." This transformation, which is similar to the shift from analogue to digital, will continue to create workplace efficiencies; but, it will also expose some information technology (IT) challenges.
IT revolutionised the workstation back in the 1990s, however over the past few year’s digital technologies have transformed its usage. Several phenomena - in particular mobile technology and cloud capacity – have accelerated the way that workers transmit and store sensitive company information. Legacy workstations are transforming from simple desk spaces to working environments, the characteristics of which can best be described in the following formula: "Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device."
Where will we be in 10-15 years?
The transformation of the working environment is not only technology-based. At its core, the workplace shift has been mostly cultural in nature, enabled by technology. Numerous studies, like the ones from Arseg (the French Facility Management Association), show to which extent the transformation takes place at every organisational level. Tools, interfaces between the collaborators, company data, office and workspace ergonomics, and even how employers leverage the traditional working day.
Here are some shifts to the current working environment that we believe we’re likely to see by 2030:
Total continuity of workspace usage
Perhaps the greatest shift will occur in the way companies and employees view the work environment. Already, we are witnessing the permeability between the traditional private and professional spheres. Checking professional emails and other means of work-related communication no longer stops the moment someone leaves the office. Whether explicitly or implicitly, employers often expect that as a minimum, key personnel are responsive anytime, anyplace.
Tomorrow’s work environment will no longer conform with the unique and sedentary workstations of the past. The “duty day” is no longer only within traditional 9am to 5pm parameters. Devices and screens can now be shared. Collaboration has become much easier on company information systems as they can be accessed on remote desktops and will reside on secure cloud storage mechanisms. And, as technology advances, the transformation of the work environment will accelerate.
Collaboration and follow up
At the heart of future work efficiency and collaborative performance will be an employee’s ability to access accurate information quickly. Knowledge advances in management technology and collaborative tools will allow workers to share information, fact-check, train and improve internal office communications regardless of the physical location of employees. The working environment will be fully functional whether worker A is in London and worker B is in Paris. It used to be that cubicles or floors separated departments. Now, virtual work environments can allow people to collaborate whether an employee is working from home or from another continent. This is true not only within the company, but also with other organisations; this is a cultural shift that embraces community and collaborative networking. In an era where we are virtually immersed in information, it is becoming more important to understand how to assess an overflow of data and focus on information quality rather than quantity.
Ultra-personalised support to users
A unique and increasingly important characteristic of the work environment transformation is the concept of customization. Technology-wise, even though information systems may be shared between multiple users, individual customization of user profiles must remain flexible and allow for greater user customization. Solutions under development are leaning heavily on the progression of artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives.
At the same time, user autonomy in the way they design their own virtual working environment will increase work environment effectiveness. For those born in the midst of the IT revolution, much of this will be necessary and also natural. If anything, companies will have to resist the urge to limit over-customization. As long as customization does not jeopardise IT security, organizations should push for flexible technologies that allow individual workers to modify their working environment as much or as little as they wish.
IT: New challenges …and new responsibilities
Naturally, this transformation process and concept of a liberal working create new IT challenges. By 2030, IT will be comprised of multiple and interconnected information systems that manage the seamless applications of security, knowledge management, mass storage, and still allow for worker self-customization.
However, the greatest IT challenge in 2030 will likely be the management of access to information within the company. Information must be available to everyone, with specific information being permitted in accordance with professional requirements. For example, in the future it will not be enough to give database access to the marketing department or to install a CRM system in the commercial department. The mechanisms necessary for seamless information sharing across departments, particularly in geographically separated and multinational corporations, represent a significant but manageable challenge. Training on collaborative systems and mastery of communication architecture are ways to mitigate IT challenges. At the same time, complex solutions with simple user interfaces will minimize training challenges and working environment efficiencies will grow if companies invest in ergonomically sound solutions.
Tools will have to be mastered by all business units to allow for optimum efficiency. To enable this, it will be necessary to simplify tools, provide training, and also give control of these tools directly to the organisation’s people.