Welcome to the future, an entirely new era of workplace tech

How will the workplace of the future look like?

Well, it’ll build on a lot of trends that have already emerged: collaborative office layouts, integrated technology, smart security, virtual meetings, and flexible working policies, to name a few.

Although it can be hard to completely predict workplace trends in the future (you’ve seen how quickly things can change!), the present can offer some helpful clues. Explore how what’s happening now can help you plan ahead.

Trend 1: Smart home tech will enter the workplace

Five to 10 years down the line all the technologies we see in a smart home will be in the office of the future—but they’ll be even better. (Think: controlling appliances, lights, thermostats, and other devices using your phone.)

To make this work, new open-source software will come onto the market replacing walled gardens that prevent workplace tools from talking to each other. These open ecosystems will turn the workplace “on.” This will enable an on-site experience that’s tailored to people’s unique needs and preferences.

Beyond ergonomics, this smart technology will help you find that desk you booked for the day. When you approach it, your desk’s light will start blinking so you can easily find it. With a simple tap of your phone, you can change the color of the light to indicate that you’re doing heads-down work so others won’t disturb you. Like smart homes, this kind of future digital workplace will improve efficiency in all sorts of ways—from energy efficiency to working efficiency.

Trend 2: Telepresence-capability will integrate throughout the workplace

Technology will finally give remote employees a true “in-the-room” experience. Instead of digital meeting room booking, the meeting room of the future will allow people to join meetings using virtual reality devices. They’ll be able to interact with their teammates as though they’re in the same room. There’ll also be a greater variety of meeting spaces, like Google’s Campfire—where employees sit in a circle and remote attendees appear on life-size displays between on-site folks. These meeting spaces will replace the standard meeting room as the most desired place in the workplace.

Just about every surface will be digital—countertops, tables, refrigerator doors, and glass walls will be game. Employees will be able to play on digital game boards during their lunch breaks with work friends. These boards will switch to meeting room screens or digital whiteboards with a tap and a swipe.

Trend 3: Health and safety will evolve from point solutions to the built environment

Today, the market for health and safety point solutions has grown saturated. Infrared thermometers and other touchless technologies are commonplace. The workplace of the future will incorporate more advanced versions of this tech into the physical building. This will go beyond today’s HVAC and green building technologies. Desks and meeting rooms will offer real-time feedback on health and wellness best practices. For example, they might suggest when it’s time to take a break from staring at a screen.

Wearable technology will advance to tell people when they’re sick, so they don’t go into the workplace. If an employee gets ill at work, their wearables will suggest they go home. They’ll also update the employees’ calendars to show they’re WFH or out sick.

Trend 4: Flexible workspaces will replace cookie-cutter spaces—and they’ll respond to employee needs

In 2030, the workplace will look different every time you visit. On days when more people are on-site, there will be more individual workstations. What looks like hot-desking now will soon become a future work desk that can move responsively, depending on how many people registered to work on-site the day before. Furniture will be flexible and change depending on how employees need to use the workplace. If you need more privacy, a robot can inflate a temporary balloon wall in under a minute to give you a pop-up meeting space.

Space management technology will help admins choose a future office layout according to specific spatial needs. Once they’ve decided on a layout, tech-enabled furniture will say, on their displays, exactly where in the workplace they should move. Some will even be able to move themselves, enabling workplace teams to spend their time doing more critical work.

5 ways to prepare your workplace for the future

Adapting to constantly changing tech trends means you have to do more than upgrade your computers and buy fancy desks. You also have to deeply understand how your current workplace operates, listen to employee needs, and make decisions about how to move forward together.

1. Perform a gap analysis

What’s standing between your present office and your office of the future? A gap analysis can help answer this question. Think of it as a study that helps you get from where you are to where you want to be. Be sure to get specific on that “where you want to be” goal so that your analysis is as thorough as possible. For example, do you want a completely technologically integrated workplace? Do you want a clear hybrid working policy? A flexible workplace? All of the above? Once you’ve identified your goal, break it down with these three questions:

  • Where are we now? If the goal is technological integration, what technology do you currently have in place? If it’s hybrid working, what’s your current policy? If it’s a flexible workplace, how is your office currently laid out?
  • Where do we want to be? Clearly spell out your desired goal, like we mentioned earlier.
  • Where are the gaps? If your goal is to be technologically integrated, and, so far the only technology your employees use is email, then you have quite a few steps between now and complete integration. A next step could be hiring a tech consultant, but more on that later.

If you have multiple goals, consider doing a gap analysis for each. What you find in each study can help you piece together a comprehensive plan to get you from the present to the future.

2. Focus on being employee-centric

Altering your workplace isn’t just practical, or smart, or necessary. It can also be political. Employees have adjusted to ways of working and have set their expectations around their jobs. If you change everything overnight to anticipate some vague “future of work predictions,” you risk upsetting, confusing, and frustrating a lot of people.

Remember, at the end of the day, evolving your workplace should help you keep talent and nurture a better working environment. Make sure your people feel heard, involved, and empowered throughout the process. This starts with crystal clear communication and community-based decisions. The evolution can look different for different workplaces; some might choose to convene a board of employees to be involved in all decision-making. Others might send out surveys to gauge what matters most to employees and make decisions. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it involves—and is informed by—your people.

3. Build a solid foundation

Don’t underestimate the importance of careful planning. There are likely many steps between your workplace and the office of the future, and you don’t need to get there overnight. Rather, lay some solid foundations first. Create a clear vision with your employees that can be easily articulated and understood. Then, devise a plan for getting there, broken into discreet, manageable, time-bound goals—each with an accountable leader.

For example maybe by year one, you want to have hired a technological consultant—a goal spearheaded by your IT specialist. By year two, perhaps you’ll have an airtight flexible working policy—a goal assigned to your HR manager. And maybe by year five, you’ll start piloting virtual reality devices in your meetings. The pathway to the future looks different for every workplace. But the better you and your employees can articulate your own vision for the future and lay out a plan for getting there, the easier you’ll be able to turn ideas into action.

4. Roll out changes

With a clear timeline, workstream leaders, and employee approval, you’re finally ready to actually begin making these changes. As mentioned in the prior section, the best kind of change is a gradual one. Rolling out the changes in phases gives employees time to adjust to each step of the process, rather than feeling overwhelmed by an overnight overhaul to their entire workplace.

Start with your first goal; in this case, it was hiring a consultant. In this example, rolling out the changes might look like introducing the consultant to your team over a company-wide meeting, and reviewing the changes employees can expect as a result. That could include new digital communication platforms, laptop upgrades, and blueprints for updated workspaces. Sure it might sound like a lot at once, but if it’s clearly communicated and gradual, it will feel like a natural evolution of workplace culture—and if done right could even strengthen that culture.

5. Monitor, assess, iterate

Of course, change is never as easy as it looks on paper. New programs might be glitchy, employees may feel confused, and policies may feel unclear. You don’t really know what hiccups to anticipate until you encounter them. That’s why a robust and regular check-in process is helpful. Keep a pulse on the rollout so that you can quickly identify what isn’t working and pivot accordingly.

There are many options for monitoring and assessing progress. Perhaps the employee board that you convened in the step two example can take charge of regularly meeting with teams and reporting back. Or maybe it’s simply sending out a monthly survey, or hosting open “office hours” for teams to check in, vent frustrations, and ask questions.

3. The bottom line? Keep an open line

In every step of the process, an open line of communication is most important. Give employees ample opportunity to make their voices heard—and carefully consider what they’re saying. Because after all, at the end of the day, they’re the ones who should be benefitting.

On the technological frontier, the only certainty is change. You might not know where it’s headed, but the more you can learn about your workplace, listen to your employees, and be proactive in your planning, the better prepared you will be.