Technology and the Future of Work — Where Are We Headed?

by Alan Lepofsky

posted on 08-29-2016

For the past few decades, we’ve been busy adding new tools into our business workflows. We expanded communications beyond just email to now include group chat, and social networks. We’ve gone mobile, and even cloud based, but the reality is, in recent years, little has actually changed in the way we get work done. In fact, all we’ve really done is build layers on top of what we already have. Real change — the kind that fundamentally redefines how we work, create, share and discover — is coming soon. We’re likely to see it impact the toolsets we use today in three major areas: context, collaboration, and user experience.

Are we headed for a matrix-like workspace? Will everyone be sporting giant VR headsets in the office? Not likely. However, the everyday tools we use today — whether it’s mobile, cloud access, or even basic email — will change as technology evolves. The expectation is that change will be positive, increasing efficiencies and helping us get the job done.

  1. Context — A Universal Taxonomy Across Tools

Context provides the framework for everything we do. At work, even a simple phone call has context. Was an email sent to coordinate the call? Will there be a presentation to share? What is the output of the call? The tools we use today are unable to link all of the pieces or context surrounding work in a way that’s accessible and easy to use.

Today, finding context requires going back through old emails or scrolling through endless blog posts to find relevant information. The technology of tomorrow can create a universal taxonomy across all tools to ensure that — when clients contact customers or finance departments creates budgets — they are able to extract all relevant context across a topic. From emails to calendar entries to phone calls, imagine a simple dashboard that showcases everything at once.

  1. Collaboration — Artificial Intelligence That Really Helps

Artificial Intelligence may be a buzzword, but it’s really about assisted collaboration. For the first time, our tools will actually help us do things — not just provide updated versions of the tools we already have. We’re already seeing some of this in action with Gmail proposing responses and customer-relationship management (CRM) systems reminding us to contact customers we haven’t spoken to in a while.

Smart tools and machine learning will help us in two ways: by filtering through information and taking action on our behalves. We’ve all experienced information overload or social fatigue, to combat this, artificial intelligence will help us prioritize and focus on the things that matter most. Smart tools will make recommendations such as, “This is the best time to have a meeting,” or “These are the customers you should contact today.”

Imagine the intersection of the Internet of Things (IoT) and collaboration. An Apple Watch or camera on a laptop could monitor biological signs, like heart rate and breathing, to calculate unique stress levels — or even better, interest levels. If tools can use data as facets for information — like stress level, for instance — the crowded inbox could be filtered to show only those messages that don’t spike anxiety levels. If the tool knew which contacts caused stress, it could filter the inbox accordingly.

  1. User Experience — Augmented and Virtual Realities

Today’s user experience is pretty simple. Sure, we have mobile apps and responsive design, but for the most part, you click an icon and interact with a program. The next step from many vendors is software that leverages chatbots that create interactive conversations that can help people do things like plan events or find hotels without having to leave an application. Also, a significant change in experience is coming in the form of augmented and virtual realities.

Look at what we’ve learned in just the past few weeks with Pokémon Go. We’re not thinking about the next mobile app; instead, we’re marveling at how an interactive app can immobilize tens of thousands of people in 48 hours. Imagine collecting files in three-dimensional space. Virtual and augmented realities of the future will not be cumbersome as many predict, but rather, completely manageable with information displayed in a way that will help us get our work done.

Practical Applications and the Future of Technology

It’s fun to think about the future of work-related tools, but it’s quite another thing to envision practical applications. How will future technology look in the workplace, and how will these new realities impact the workforce? Today, we’re constrained by our computer screens — whether on mobile devices or laptops. In an augmented- or virtual-reality world, there are no physical constraints.

We talk a lot about technology, but at the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that none of this matters unless people are getting the job done. Old-fashioned or new, unless technology helps you work better, faster, or with more accuracy, it’s useless. Context, intelligence, and user experience must come together in focus, and practical applications are important. Where does technology fit? As we move beyond the cloud — into virtual and augmented realities and IoT — work, as we know it, is going to change.

Hungry for more? Check out the full session from Adobe’s Future of Work Think Tank.

Topics: Future of Work