Are Bots in Your Future? Three Trends Shaping Workplace Technology

David Marks
July 20, 2016
Min Read
Are Bots in Your Future? Three Trends Shaping Workplace Technology

This post was co-authored with Alex Serriere, TEECOM principal, CTO, and Director of Research.

The technology landscape continues to change, each year bringing not only new tech but higher expectations from end users about that new tech. Consumer technology in particular has seen the most dramatic advancement. It’s up to enterprises to deploy technologies that align with user demands that have been shaped by the features and availability of consumer products. In particular, we see three key trends shaping technology deployments in the commercial sector: mobility, advanced collaboration, and responsive workspaces. These trends affect technology selections and space considerations for all modern buildings.

140 New Montgomery TEECOM
Courtesy of Perkins + Will

Trend #1: Mobility

It’s not enough to provide a single desk for today’s employees. Increasingly, staff expect to be able to move easily between physical locations that empower them to do their best work. Sometimes that’s private office space where they can do “heads-down” work. In other instances that’s huddle rooms for one-on-one collaboration. And still other work may require larger groups to gather in open areas that facilitate team-scale ideation for big-picture thinking. The physical aspects of each of these spaces is key, but without appropriate underlying technology infrastructure, they’ll be wasted.

Highly mobile workplaces require mobile devices for every employee. Laptops become primary machines and smartphones are a constant companion. These devices can’t deliver on the promise of increased productivity without dense, high-speed Wi-Fi that can support roaming anywhere within a building. As more and more access points are deployed, additional backhaul bandwidth must be considered and incorporated into the overall network design.

©Jasper Sanidad Photography

Trend #2: Advanced Collaboration

Where telepresence and video calling were once features found only in high-end boardrooms, Facetime and Google Hangouts have demonstrated that video conferencing can work well at a fraction of the cost. Conference rooms of all sizes are being outfitted with video collaboration tools that make it easy to engage team members no matter their location. With the appropriate mobility infrastructure in place, these tools allow employees to start a video call at their desks, pick up their device, wander down the hall and transition to a large display without dropping the call.

Tools like Slack, which have refined the group messaging paradigm to be accessible and user-friendly, can achieve staggering results like 60 percent fewer meetings and a 40 percent increase in transparency. Slack isn’t just messaging. It’s a key part of a more automated workplace, delivering one-to-many communications to the people who can act on them.A key point with many of these tools is that adoption is often user-driven. Cloud-based tools enable sign-up and deployment without assistance from the IT department. And freemium business models mean employees can often incorporate these tools into their long-term workflow with little concern for costs.

Salesforce TEECOM
©Jasper Sanidad Photography

Trend #3: Responsive Workspaces

The proliferation of the Internet of Things has accelerated the push to imbue buildings and workspaces with more and more sophisticated sensing and control systems. Where basic occupancy sensors were once state-of-the-art, today Wi-Fi, low-energy beacons, and other network-connected devices are central to providing physical space that responds to individual needs and enables end users to take control of their space.

From HVAC systems to AV systems, more and more control is being delivered to end users through app-based experiences. These apps enable new levels of customizability and tracking. This benefits the building owner by providing more granular information about how their space is used and allows for better demand-response with regard to energy consumption. For end users, the ability to tailor their space to individual needs means greater comfort and greater productivity.


Future Trends: The Digital Assistant

One of the challenges in discussing future office space trends is that so many of the major developments on the horizon are intangible. Laptops, smartphones, and large LCD displays are all very visible manifestations of formerly future technology becoming commonplace. However, as intelligent software seeps into every aspect of business we likely won’t see dramatic physical changes to the workspace. Instead, we’ll find that the technology can fade into the background and powerful software will help us focus on our most important work.

Bots in messaging systems like Slack, Skype for Business, and others are the first iterations of new conversational interfaces that will help optimize our workflow. These bots are timid first steps toward true digital assistants that will help us accomplish all manner of tasks, including scheduling meetings, aggregating information about team status, and capturing feedback about the firm’s performance.

As we further develop and refine the abilities of machine learning, the capabilities of these bots will grow to help us interpret complex datasets, provide decision support, and guide us through difficult processes. To achieve this, more and more systems will be connected with open APIs that allow for rich integrations, rapid data sharing, and ultimately a better end-user experience. We will start to see applications like in-building search, where we can ask Siri or Google where an individual is sitting, which cafe is least crowded, directions to the conference room, or how do I transfer a call to another room? As these digital assistants become more sophisticated and better integrated into existing tools, they’ll be able to answer business-related questions like what GL code should I bill these expenses to, how do this quarter’s revenues compare to last quarter’s, and what is the overall utilization of our billable staff?

Further, we will start to see conference rooms equipped with intelligent systems that help us record our ideas, make new connections to existing ideas, provide decision support, and then help us communicate our ideas to the rest of the organization. In contrast to the many pieces of complicated software that we use today, the intelligent agents embedded into these rooms will allow anyone to have a conversational interaction that is both intuitive and highly productive.What does this mean for buildings? It means that more systems, sensors, controls, and equipment will become connected to an overall network, sharing information via open APIs and disappearing into the background as spaces start to take on personalities and have conversations with us.