One of my favorite authors, Vaclav Smil, has this riff that he uses in many books. It tells you about a young woman who wakes up and drinks a cup of instant coffee before boarding the subway to work. When he arrived at the office, he took the elevator to the tenth floor and stopped to grab a Coca-Cola from the vending machine to his office. The plot twist is that the situation he describes took place in the 1880s, not in modern times.
When I first heard his riff years ago, I was touched by the familiarity of the scene described by Smil. But when I read it again during the pandemic, for the first time I got the impression that it was describing the past (but not the part about having Coke in the middle of the work day!).
Of all the areas that are constantly being changed by the pandemic, I suspect that office work will experience the most rapid change.
The pandemic has disrupted work in almost every industry, but office workers are in the best position to take advantage of digital tools. The situation Smil describes-where you commute every day and work from a desk in an office-seems to be a relic of the past, even though it has been the norm for more than a century.
As I write this in early 2022, many companies and workers continue to wonder what their “new normal” will look like. Some have already gone on to work fully in person. Some promised to be completely away. Most are in the middle, always trying to figure out what works best.
I’m excited about the potential for experimentation. Expectations in traditional work have been reversed. I see so many opportunities to rethink things and figure out what works and what doesn’t. While most companies will probably opt for a hybrid approach where people go to the office for part of the week, there is a lot of flexibility in what exactly it looks like.
A prediction I made The path to follow so digitalization will create more choices about where to live and move more people away from towns. It doesn’t seem to happen – until the pandemic hits. Now I will double that prophecy.
Some companies decide that office hours are only needed for one week per month. This will allow employees to live far away, as a long commute is easier to allow if you don’t do it most of the time. While we have seen some early signs of this change, I think we will see many more in the coming decade as employers formalize remote employment policies.
If you decide that employees should be in the office less than 50% of the time, you can share your workplace with another company. Office space is a huge business expense that can be cut in half. If enough companies do this, the demand for expensive office space will be reduced.
I see no reason why companies should make strong decisions right away. This is the perfect time to get an A/B testing method. Maybe one team will try one setup while the other team will try another, so you can compare the results and find the right balance for everyone.
There is tension between managers who are more conservative about new methods and employees who want more speed. Future resumes are likely to include information about those who want to work outside the office.
The pandemic is forcing companies to rethink workplace productivity. The boundaries between previously low -key areas – brainstorming, team meetings, quick conversations in the hallway – are crumbling. The structures we think are important to the office culture are already beginning to evolve, and the changes will only intensify in the coming years as companies and employees adapt to new, permanent ways of working.
I think most people will be surprised at the pace of innovation over the next decade as the software industry focuses on remote work scenarios. Many of the benefits of working in the same physical space – such as meeting people in the water cooler – can be recreated using the right user interface.
If you use a platform like Teams for work, you’re already using a more sophisticated product than by March 2020. Features like breakout room, live transcription, and alternative viewing options are already standard on most services in teleconferencing. Users are just starting to take advantage of the many features they can use.
For example, I always use the chat function in most of my virtual meetings to add comments and ask questions. If I meet in person today, I miss the ability to have that kind of high-speed interaction that doesn’t disrupt the group.
Eventually, digital meetings will evolve beyond doubling a personal meeting. Live transcription is a day that will allow you to search for a topic at all your company’s meetings. You can automatically add action items to your to-do list as they arrive and analyze video recording of a meeting to find out how to make your time more productive.
One of the biggest failures of online meetings is that the video doesn’t allow you to see who is watching where. Many non -verbal exchanges are lost, eliminating a human element. Moving from squares and rectangles to other “seat” arrangements can make things more natural, but it won’t prevent the loss of eye contact.
This is about to change as we move participants through the 3D space. Many companies, including Meta and Microsoft, have recently revealed their vision for the “metaverse,” a digital world that both mimics and enhances our physical reality. (The term was coined in 1992 by Neal Stephenson, one of my favorite modern science fiction writers.)
The idea is that you use a 3D avatar – a digital representation of yourself – to meet people in a virtual space that mimics the feeling of being together in real life. This feeling is often called “presence” and many technology companies are working to capture it before the pandemic starts.
If done correctly, attendance can not only mimic the experience of a personal meeting, but enhance it: imagine a meeting where engineers from an automotive company living on three different continents disassemble on a 3D model engine of a new car to make improvements.
This type of meeting can be achieved through augmented reality (where you overlay a digital layer on top of our physical environment) or virtual reality (where you enter a completely immersive world). The change will not come immediately, as most people do not yet have the tools to do this type of capture, unlike how video conferencing works due to the fact that many people have PCs or phones. with cameras.
Right now, you can use VR goggles and gloves to control your avatar, but more sophisticated and less distracting devices – like lightweight glasses and contact lenses – will come in the next few years.
Advances in computer vision, display technology, audio and sensors capture your facial expressions, eye contour and body language with minimal delay. Think about every time you try to chime in a thought in a hot video meeting, and how hard it is to do when you can’t see how people’s body language changes when it’s over. they have a mind.
An important feature of the Metaverse is the use of spatial audio, which makes the speaking sound seem like it is actually coming from the direction of the person speaking. True presence means that technology captures what it feels like to be in a room with someone, not what it looks like.
In the fall of 2021, I put on a headset and attended a metaverse meeting. It’s amazing to hear how people’s voices seem to work with them. You don’t know how unique it is that meeting audio only comes through your computer speaker until you try another. In Metaverse, you can lean over and talk to a quiet co -worker as if you were in the same room.
I’m especially excited to see how metaverse technologies can make more powerful remote work. This is the biggest thing you will lose when you are not in the office. Working from your living room is never good to have an unplanned chat with your manager about your last meeting or having a casual conversation with your new co-worker about a baseball game last night. . But if you all work together remotely in a virtual space, you can see if there is free and approach them for a chat.
We are approaching a point where technology is starting to truly mimic the experience that is in the office. The changes we see at work are the prelude to the changes I think we will eventually see in many places. We are heading into a future where we will all spend a lot of time around and in digital spaces. Metaverse may seem like a new concept today, but as technology advances, it will evolve into what feels like an extension of our physical world.
Taken with permission from How to avoid the next pandemicBill Gates, Allen Lane.