Editors note: My TechDecision’s sister-site Commercial Integrator has teamed up with the IMCCA, the New York-based non-profit industry association for unified communication and workplace collaboration, to produce a quarterly supplement that focuses on all things collaboration from multiple perspectives. Together, the organizations launched Collaboration Today and Tomorrow.
When I was asked to write a piece for the inaugural issue of the IMCCA’s Collaboration Today and Tomorrow on the future of technology and how it would shape our lives, I thought about how difficult a task that is. After all, few of us accurately forecasted how emerging technologies like the internet, the World Wide Web and ubiquitous videoconferencing would change our lives. And, if I could truly predict the future, then perhaps my time would be better spent in the stock market or with a lottery.
With that caveat in mind, what I can share are insights into the trends that Metrigy sees in its research, and how we expect them to impact the workplace over the next few years. Each year, we at Metrigy gather data from hundreds of companies including their three- to five-year plans for technology spending and deployment. Here are the areas where I expect to see significant growth and impact in the workforce, and in consumer engagement.
A Focus on Employee Experience
Employee experience has become a hot buzzword in the last year or so as companies look to figure out how to retain employees and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation no matter the work location. Employee experience initiatives typically fall into two distinct areas:
1. Understanding how employees engage with one another (and with customers) as well as implementing analytics and feedback mechanisms to enable management to understand employee happiness, job satisfaction and well-being.
Collaboration vendors are increasingly providing feedback mechanisms such as dashboards that allow employees to see how they are spending their days and insights into collaboration tool usage. Other vendors are delivering “voice of the employee” feedback tools as well as platforms to enable the building of cross-team connections, allow for collaborative goal setting, and ensure employees know what is happening within the organization.
2. Ensuring an optimal work experience through investments in high quality voice and video endpoints.
This includes the use of business-grade devices including headsets, speakerphones and cameras, along with management tools to allow individuals to customize how they use the devices. Here, AI can enable more than just noise cancelling by allowing for acoustic fencing, backlight compensation, and image enhancements.
Optimizing Collaboration Workflows
The last few years have seen organizations adopt a lot of different collaboration apps including videoconferencing, team messaging, virtual whiteboard, work management and more. However, in many cases those workplace collaboration apps exist in silos, and employees spend a lot of time moving between them.
In the future, these apps and capabilities will continue to converge allowing both internal and customer-facing engagement to happen within a work-hub, with appropriate security and governance controls, and with the ability for employees to leverage low and no-code tools to build their own workflows to optimize whatever it is that they do.
An Exploration of Augmented and Virtual Reality
AR and VR collaboration has been a topic of discussion ever since the launch of Second Life almost 20 years ago. Many companies have tried (and failed) to deliver solutions that would enable collaboration in virtual worlds, largely because the technology wasn’t easy to use, and because human beings generally prefer to communicate directly with one another than with avatars.
Still, a several use cases have gained traction, so has the use of AR and VR in the gaming world. Today, companies can choose from several solutions that provide virtual training and product demonstration capabilities that go beyond what one can deliver in a two-dimensional videoconference.
Vendors and enterprises are investing in building a presence in the metaverse that offers the potential of creating a truly interactive virtual world alongside the physical one. For remote employees, these types of engagement may offer significant benefits, especially in the form of content manipulation, training and the potential to leverage gaming to build social bonds with distant colleagues. While I’m not ready to proclaim that VR goggles will replace the meeting app, I’m increasingly convinced that there is a role for AR and VR applications for a growing number of use cases.
Lastly, the future is likely to be driven by the need for flexibility. Millions of people have found that they can effectively work remotely, and thus avoid the time (and cost) spent commuting. While COVID-19’s impact is diminishing, it is not gone, and the next variant of concern could be lurking just around the corner.
In our research, those companies who embrace work location choice and provide appropriate devices, management support, and employee feedback mechanisms are the ones that are realizing the most value for their collaboration investment today, and they are best positioned to deal with whatever comes along in the future.