What does "connecting at work" mean to you? Is it plugging in your laptop and making sure your Wi-Fi works? Or do you think more about the human connection you need to feel engaged, motivated, and accepted at work? If you think more about the latter, you’re on the right track for predicting the future of the workplace experience. Why?
The technology of the future will be all about giving you more time for meaningful work and relationship-building. It will help you form bonds with other people you work with in real life. To paraphrase the song Barbra Streisand made famous—people need people. And technology is there to help you connect.
There’s no question advancing technology has had a massive impact on workplace experience. We can work from anywhere. We automate smaller, repetitive tasks so we have more time to work on projects that are more interesting and more important to the company. As we move forward in time, we can expect to see an even more personalized workplace.
The workplace of the future is all about the human experience—enhanced by technology.
Are robots coming to take our jobs?
The internet is rife with articles about technology advancing to the point of replacing humans; the technophobic "robots are coming to take our jobs" war cry. But that may be a narrow viewpoint. In Singularity Hub’s The Great Myth of the AI Skills Gap
, writer Byron Reese spells out how advancing technology has always created new opportunities and increased human productivity.
"Every fifty years, we lose about half of all jobs (to advancing technology), and this has been pretty steady since 1800," Reese writes. "Yet, for 200 years, with the exception of the Great Depression, unemployment in the US has been between 2 percent and 13 percent. Why? Because new technology always increases worker productivity. It creates new jobs, like web designers and programmers."
While it may be true that automation and artificial intelligence are playing a more significant role in workplace technology, signals point to these innovations working in service to people, not the other way around. In other words, the "robots" are coming, but they aren’t taking our jobs. They’re giving us better ones. That’s why we should be looking for more ways technology can help us grow and make our working lives more meaningful.
Human connection: The workplace paradox
One of the most revolutionary changes to come to the workplace, thanks to advancing technology, is telecommuting. The idea of working from home while working for a company sprung to life in the late ’90s when secure internet connectivity and Wi-Fi became commonplace. The 20-second commute became the antidote for a drab and uncomfortable workplace experience, and many people saw working remotely as the answer to work-life balance.
There’s just one problem.
FOMO. Fear of missing out. Telecommuters sometimes feel disconnected from their co-workers, often left out of collaborative decisions. Working from home can make people feel disconnected and in need of human companionship.
A sense of isolation is something that companies should be concerned about. According to a study by Cigna Health, loneliness is tied directly to engagement, and engagement drives higher productivity. Full-time remote workers lose out on the one thing that employees need most. Human connection.
Personalization, not just perks
If you think we’re suggesting that companies should employ technology to improve the workplace experience so employees enjoy coming into the office more than working at home, you’d only be partially right. The equation is more nuanced. Companies must recognize the workplace experience is not about ping-pong and foosball tables. It’s about honoring employees’ individuality, meeting specific needs, and creating as many ways to build meaningful human connections as possible.
But how can companies do all of that—and more importantly, why should they?
The job market is a seller’s paradise right now, and employees know it. Instead of wondering where they can find their next job, they research and study companies to determine where they’d like to work. Employees are now consumers, and companies know that the best ideas, highest productivity, and longest retention from workers means providing the best experience possible.
Technology solves a big part of the obstacles to building a place where people are excited to come to work. Still, you can overcome a lot of challenges with simple logistical changes from a humanist point of view. For example:
Objection #1: "I can’t concentrate in the office. It’s too noisy."
Solution #1: Set up quiet zones in the office where people can go to get their "heads-down" work done. Sensors in the room will "know" the individual’s lighting and temperature preferences and automatically set them.
Objection #2: "I’m always too cold in the office, but some people are burning up!"
Solution #2: Use emerging workplace technology to create climate-controlled "neighborhoods" where employees can work at temperatures comfortable for them.
Objection #3: "I need to be home by 3:00 so I can be there when my kids come home from school."
Solution #3: Make it easy to work from anywhere. Allow flexible schedules, and make video conferencing the default for all meetings. (If you do need to be in the office for a meeting, sensor technology is emerging that will enable rooms to monitor optimal temperature, oxygen, and C02 levels for the number of people in the room.)
Objection #4: "I’m on a sugar-restricted diet, and my food options are unhealthy."
Solution #4: Expand the food and beverage program to include healthy meals, snacks, sugar and dairy-free as well as gluten-free options.
Objection #5: "I haven’t sat in a comfortable chair since Sunday night. If I need to do a 1:1 with someone, I want them to be relaxed and comfortable. Come to think of it, so do I."
Solution #5: Soft couches, comfortable chairs, and coffee tables can easily replace formal conference tables and stiff-backed office seating. Create a living-room-style atmosphere to foster not only a sense of ease but a cool place for employees to hang out and share.
You should look forward to technology that will solve the age-old problem of finding and booking appropriate meeting rooms. You won’t have to make a trip to the mailroom to see if your package arrived because you’ll be notified the second it does. The office itself will realize when you’ve come in the building, regardless of the time of day. It will automatically adjust your location to your pre-set preferences without you even having to ask. When you work remotely, your workplace technology will be equipped to give you the same experience as if you were in the office.
The ultimate connection: people
You can never underestimate the value of human connection. We’re hard-wired to be social creatures, so we thrive in the company of others. It’s impossible to automate away problems that we can only solve when we’re face-to-face, looking each other in the eye. No technology will ever exist that can replicate genuine trust, respect, and friendship.
People like being next to each other. Working alongside others creates camaraderie and contagious excitement. We love to feel that we’re on a team because it enhances our sense of belonging. Bottom line: technology can’t replace human relationships. Humanity naturally overrules it. If anything, technology will create more space for human connection, and give us more opportunity to work together while acknowledging and respecting our individual needs, desires, and preferences.
Want to know more about the smart office of the future and how it will foster human relationships? Check out our interview with Envoy’s Head of Workplace Technology, Matt Harris. Part 1 discusses evolving office workplaces. In part 2, discover how to build a smart workplace.