Technology shapes our lives. What was once the stuff of sci-fi movies – self-driving cars, commercial space travel and wristwatch computers – is fast becoming a commonplace reality.
But while instant communication and free information have radically changed our everyday personal lives, technology is also making its own revolutions in the workplace.
Regus takes a look at a few of the most futuristic innovations in the world of work – innovations that could already be on their way to your business.
No more jackets on the backs of chairs
We know as well as anyone the importance of how you use your office space. With the continuing rise of flexible working arrangements, both businesses and employees are starting to see the benefits of hot-desking, and technology is helping to make shared office space more efficient than ever.
Wireless infrared heat sensors that can be attached to desks are helping hot-desking companies to gather data on how their workspaces are being used. If a worker finishes their pre-booked session early, the sensors know how long they’ve been away and could free up the desk for the next employee.
Of course, it’s not just limited to shared office spaces. It could conceivably be used for more ethically dubious purposes – like knowing when a worker starts taking liberties with their lunch breaks.
Lean, green and clean
A tidy office is the sign of a tidy mind. But one day soon, your office might not be cleaned by a real mind at all. Intellibot Robotics, a manufacturer from Oregon, US, is one of the country’s only providers of fully-automated, robotic floor cleaners.
Through a combination of stored office maps and an array of sensors, these robotic scrubbers and vacuum cleaners can be left to their own devices as they clean entire floors of buildings in one go.
Luckily, they’re smart enough to detect obstacles – including people – and will actually stop to let you pass before continuing on their merry way. They’re also claimed to be more efficient than conventional cleaning methods – reducing labour costs and water wastage by as much as 85%.
It used to be the case that curious customers would drop into your shop, or phone into your office to find out what they needed to know. After that came the online query form. But now, some companies are using artificial intelligence as their first point of contact with their consumers.
In fact, the chances are that you’ve already met one. Pandorabots, an online service for building and deploying customer service ‘chatbots’, has already helped more than 200,000 developers. And Nuance, a global leader in business communications, last year helped Domino’s with their first voice-activated ordering app – which now accounts for 18% of their sales.
But it’s not just the customers who are starting to come to terms with AI software. Touchpoint Group, a New Zealand-based technology firm, is currently developing an “angry artificial intelligence” to help train businesses’ phone representatives to prepare for furious customers.
By pulling together several years’ worth of real customer interactions, the intelligent software will be able to generate millions of challenging scenarios for customer service representatives to test their patience against.The office drones
No, we’re not talking about the employees. Advances in technology have been making it easier to be lazy for hundreds of years: from the horse-drawn carriage to the TV remote control. Even the wheels on your office chair can let you scoot from desk to desk if you’re feeling particularly sluggish.
One creative agency has taken things even further. New York-based ad agency, MRY, recently spent a day at work delivering coffee, food and memos with their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It may have been little more than a fun publicity stunt, but as drone technology becomes safer and more refined, we could start to see miniature messengers performing lots of boring chores around the office.
But are they really the future?
Currently, most instances of robot technology in the workplace are relatively basic. For example, ‘live chat’ customer service AIs are unlikely to pass the Turing Test any time soon.
But there are concerns about the shape of the future workplace. A 2013 study from the University of Oxford predicted that, by 2033, as much as 47% of jobs in the US could be automated through a combination of robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Factory workers and bank tellers have already seen such changes, thanks to robotic manufacturing and ATM machines. But there are plenty of unexpected jobs starting to be seen as at risk – sports journalists, financial advisors, and, more worryingly, even surgeons.
The full effects of technology in the workplace are yet to be made clear. Hopefully, at least, it’ll be a few decades before we’re all out of a job.