8 key technologies for the future of work

As the hybrid workplace becomes the norm, technologies designed to accommodate, protect, and improve productivity for remote and in-office employees will be critical.

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Many would argue that the future of work is already here. Enterprises in virtually every industry have had to revamp their work models in reaction to the pandemic and safety guidelines, giving employees more flexibility than they’ve ever had before.

As more organizations adopt the hybrid work model, in which employees work part of the time at home and part in the corporate office, that flexibility will continue, and this mode of work will likely be the way things are done for years.

Based on what has transpired over the past couple of years, it might be a fool’s errand to try predicting what will happen to work environments in the future. But one thing is sure: the way business is conducted will never return to pre-pandemic times.

For technology and business leaders, one of the biggest questions is what tools and services are critical for supporting workers today and beyond. What will enable them to be productive, connected, engaged, and satisfied, regardless of where they are physically working?

Here are some of the key — and often complementary — technologies that will power the workplace into the near future, and some of the ways they will be used to enhance work environments — whatever or wherever those environments might be.

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Digital employee experience tools

This is the age of digital business, so it makes sense that organizations will be leveraging employees through digital interfaces. Digital employee experience is therefore becoming an increasingly important component of the overall employee experience, particularly with the growth of remote and hybrid work.

DEX is a measure of how effectively employees interact with technologies in the workplace. For example, how easy is it to use digital products such as collaboration platforms? How effective are mobile devices in running business applications? When workers find it difficult to perform day-to-day tasks using the platforms their companies are providing, productivity and satisfaction will almost certainly decrease.

DEX tools, such as those from Nexthink, VMware, Aternity, and others, “allow an organization to understand and enhance employee experience,” says Stuart Downes, senior research director at Gartner. “With the increase in hybrid work, we expect 50% of IT teams to establish digital employee experience strategies.”

The tools provide the ability to measure and improve user experience with their devices, wherever they are. Gartner research has shown that eight in 10 workers view digital technology as essential, Downes says. Those who are satisfied with their technology experience are twice as likely to stay with their current organization, he says.

The continuing effects of the pandemic highlight the criticality of DEX and how it shapes the future of work, Gartner notes in a July 2021 report on the digital workplace.

Unified endpoint management and desktop-as-a-service

It doesn’t take a clairvoyant to predict that the future of work will include an ever increasing number of endpoints, many of them located in remote locations. This is already the case today, and will only expand as more workers rely on a variety of devices to get their work done and more organizations rely on internet of things (IoT) devices for critical data gathering.

This can be a major management challenge for enterprises, and that’s where unified endpoint management comes in. UEM platforms are designed to simplify the management of mobile and desktop devices and also enhance the security of heterogeneous environments.

In a 2021 report on future of work, research firm IDC notes several ways UEM can help transform digital workspaces, including providing users with automated deployments of applications and access to cloud services, and providing users with tools for common tasks and workflows.

Gartner, too, considers UEM a critical workplace technology. Cloud-hosted UEM tools, in combination with advanced security tools, “are providing security for the endpoint wherever it may be,” Downes says. “The challenge with hybrid and remote work is you don’t know where a user will be on any given day. UEM is central to ensuring remote devices are patched and updated, reducing the risk of ransomware.”

UEM tools, offered by a range of technology vendors including Microsoft, VMware, Cisco, and Citrix, are improving IT operations, “enabling easy-to-provision security baselines, and bringing both devices and virtual machines in desktop-as-a-service [DaaS] platforms under a single common management toolset,” Downes adds.

DaaS, a cloud-based approach to virtual desktops, has been the go-to solution to enable secure experiences when devices can’t be trusted, Downes says. “Enhancements in DaaS automation have enabled simpler operations and made DaaS applicable to organizations with limited virtualization skills. By 2024, we expect 80% of virtual desktops served to remote users will be DaaS, up from fewer than 30% today.”

Online collaboration and communication platforms

It should come as no surprise that industry experts cited these platforms, which encompass everything from group chat and videoconferencing to shared documents and task management, as being vital for the future of work. Remote work is now a firmly established model for many organizations — and likely will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

The cloud will continue to play a key role in providing these applications to users. “Cloud collaboration platforms have become the staple for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration, enabling and supporting distributed meetings and co-creation,” Downes says.

During the initial phase of the pandemic, when most work was conducted remotely, there was a somewhat level playing field for workers, Downes says. “Workers adapted quickly to the range of collaboration technology,” he says.

As the hybrid work model takes hold, these platforms will need to ensure that both in-office and remote workers have access to high-quality experiences so that no users become disadvantaged participants because of where they’re located.

Gartner notes the emergence of ambient virtual meeting (AVM) applications, real-time collaboration tools that support interactions between team members over a network to more closely approximate a real-world office experience. AVM applications can create a “virtual office” environment in one of three ways, the firm says: through always-on meeting rooms/channels, through gamified social spaces, or through instant connectivity to colleagues via video conference based on presence status.

Gartner identifies Bramble, Gather; Pragli, Remo, Remotion, Shindig, Sococo, SpatialChat, Tandem, and Teemyco as vendors in the market. AVMs emerged from the meeting platforms market in response to the unique needs of remote workers, Gartner says. “AVM apps promote more social and collaborative work styles, encouraging spontaneous meetings — the virtual equivalent of chatting to someone in the office,” the Gartner report says.

AI-based tools

Artificial intelligence is emerging seemingly everywhere in the workplace, and experts say it will play an important role in the future of work. IDC expects to see accelerated deployment of AI-enabled smart devices in office meeting rooms and huddle rooms, says Amy Loomis, research director, Future of Work at the firm.

“We are seeing a growth in the use of smart cameras, whiteboards, and microphones [that] use AI to isolate the faces of speakers who are talking; identify speakers; track, follow and isolate speakers; filter out extraneous background noises; and connect remote meeting participants to collaborators who are co-creating materials in real time,” Loomis says.

There is a whole new generation of digital whiteboards coming soon, in software such as Mural and Miro, with a next generation a year or two behind it, Loomis says.

The use of Natural Language Processing for captioning and translation in online meetings to bring global hybrid teams together is another important improvement, Loomis says. In addition, augmented reality and virtual reality technologies “are aiding in bringing the expertise of workers who are not on a job site to those who are physically present and trying to do repairs,” she says.

For online collaboration and communication platforms, “we see a lot of progress in the announcement of new features and functionality, including using AI [and machine learning] to track collaboration behaviors and networking — at the individual level and in aggregate — to help first-line managers better understand how their team are working and could potentially work better,” Loomis says.

“Increasingly, we are seeing focus on technologies that are geared toward improving the employee experience and giving insight into how effective their collaboration and communication activities are in terms of enhancing or inhibiting productivity,” she says.

Automation technologies

The rise in automation platforms and tools such as robotic process automation (RPA), intelligent process automation (IPA), and robotics is already underway, and these technologies figure to be a big part of the future workplace.

Such products, from vendors such as Automation Anywhere, Blue Prism, UiPath, and others, “are helping to address the need to automate repetitive tasks like forms processing, customer and employee support, cleaning,” and others, Loomis says. “They are also instrumental in helping with the development of more seamless workflows, as employees returning to offices add yet even more applications to their toolbox to safely navigate through office settings.”

Gartner cites hyperautomation, which it defines as the disciplined approach to rapidly identifying, vetting, and automating as many business and IT processes as possible, as a future of work trend.

Hyperautomation activities will be accelerated through the use of fusion teams, multi-disciplinary teams that blend technology such as analytics and business domain expertise and that share accountability for business and technology outcomes, the firm says. Instead of organizing work by functions or technologies, fusion teams are typically organized by the cross-cutting business capabilities, business outcomes, or customer outcomes they support.

Advanced analytics

Organizations need to advance their analytics capabilities to enable more data-driven decision making, so that they can address a number of converging workplace challenges, says John Brownridge, digital workplace leader at consulting firm Deloitte.

These challenges include the ongoing shift toward hybrid work; the “great resignation”; changing workforce expectations; diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; and the increasing emphasis on productivity. Industry research shows that much of knowledge workers’ time is being spent on activities that equate to lost productivity, Brownridge says.

“To begin to understand and address these issues, organizations need advanced analytics tools that can capture, combine, analyze, and visualize highly complex — structured and unstructured — data across many elements of the organization,” Brownridge says. This includes data on workforce experience, sentiment, and behavior, among other areas, he says.

Visier, UKG, and Workday are among the leading workforce analytics providers.

By leveraging analytics and the other key technologies, organizations can help ensure a bright future of work.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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