It would be nice to have a Crystal Ball where one could see into the future, but sadly we all have to work with what we see and making workplace technology predictions is often just guesswork based on the the evidence around us.
However, I'm going to give this a whirl with my thoughts on some emerging (and one well established) technology and how I think (and hope) that it will all affect and improve the workplace and our economy.
Tele-Commuting /Remote working
OK, so hardly a new term or concept, but, in my view, the take-up in the UK has been woefully low. And I think this is down to a few factors:
Management by presence - this is where the owners and managers of businesses don't believe that you could possibly be working if you're not in the office. This is an old way of thinking and needs to change.
Lack of trust in the technology - having been an IT manager I can understand this fully. Many technologies around business computing were traditionally very unreliable and insecure. Thankfully the technology has improved considerably, but there's still an underlying mistrust.
Misunderstanding the technology - this is almost solely the fault of the technology industry failing to properly communicate the benefits of tele-commuting.
Having said all of that, I do see a growing awareness of what this technology is about and how it may help even the smallest of businesses. There are cost and time savings that are being realised by those that grasp this concept.
If you own and/or run a small business then this is something you should take seriously in my view. A huge amount of work can be done remotely using cloud-based technologies and all it takes is a shift in thinking (not as easy as I make it sound though).
In our business we employ 2 people who work from home. It would be nonsense to try and make them turn up at an office each day. It would mean additional cost for the business, in terms of office space, and the fact that it would cost them to get to and from work.
And let's not forget that commuting to work is incredibly bad for the environment.
The key here is to have proper measurable working targets and clear communication about what's expected and by when. If a remote worker knows what's expected, has measurable performance standards (just like they would in an office) then I think that tele-commuting should be seriously considered.
I worked for a software company a few years ago and the owners insisted that all staff come into an office each day, even though the all of the business systems were in the cloud. My role could quite easily have been done from home and it's likely that I would have been more productive at times because I would have had fewer interruptions from other members of staff.
Now this may seem like a bit of an odd choice but I see great change for many businesses, especially smaller firms. You see, this technology is getting to the point where many small companies can afford it.
This means that the lead times and costs of product development and prototyping have plummeted.This will enable smaller companies to innovate like they have never been able to before. And I believe that this will drive research and development levels to new heights. You can try a new product or design cheaply in hours rather than days or weeks.
The knock-on affect is that products can be brought to market much faster and with considerably less risk. Another key factor here is that it will enable those who grasp it to win more business, since they'll be able to develop ideas more fully and much quicker than those using older methods. The fast-moving and fast-thinking businesses (typically smaller firms) can outmanoeuvre their bigger competitors.
It's also possible (and highly likely as the technology develops) that 3D printing will enable smaller businesses to start manufacturing in increasing quantities. This would cut lead times, improve profit margins, reduce errors, improve communication and also enable complete product personalisation (how would that impress your customers?).
Social Media Collaboration
Now I know you're thinking something like "But this has been around for ages!" and you're right, it has. But the shift that I see happening is where social media is brought into the business collaboration sphere. This is where you use things like Hangouts to share, learn, and collaborate on work and projects.
Not quite a new concept but this is beginning to happen in big ways as small businesses start to leverage the business benefits of being able to pitch things quickly and securely to a group and get discussion and feedback in a way and at a speed never before realised.
The time and cost savings around this can be significant, especially for smaller businesses who don't have large budgets for testing ideas and/or getting feedback.
In our web design business we have a couple of groups that we use for just this, one group on LinkedIn and another on Google+.
Fewer meetings, more video conferencing (worldwide)
This may sound like a no-brainer but it strikes me that many businesses still insist on regularly getting a bunch of people together (often from far and wide) in meetings. This is a ridiculous waste of time and money, something that I hope this current recession has hammered home.
The technology for people to get together using something like Skype is cheap and widely used generally but still not being fully utilised by many businesses to its potential. This, in my view, is a classic case of 'inherited thinking' where people do it because 'we've always done it this way'.
A good recent example of my own is that I received some business coaching recently and my coach insisted that after the first face-to-face session we would communicate via video call on Skype. It saved time, hassle and money for us both.
Now I know that some meetings are better when you sit with someone (especially early on in a business relationship) but after a while it's more effective for both parties to use the technology.
In my web design business we've favoured work that's close to Leicester (where we're based) because we value face to face time with clients. However, as the business grows and our reach expands that face-time will become increasingly untenable due to distance. Thus video-conferencing becomes more attractive. We won't need to sit in the car for hours for a meeting when you can see face to face over the internet.
So, if you're self-employed or run a business then I hope that these workplace technology predictions have given you some thoughts on how you can improve your processes, maybe save some time and money and, overall, make your business better.
If you have some thoughts on what will happen in the workplace and how the evolving/emerging technologies will affect us then please write in the comments. It would be great to hear from you.