Mobility will be the guiding force shaping the office of the future, from a communications perspective. In the future, workers won’t have assigned desks or even offices to work at. Work will take place where and as it is needed, and workers will do their jobs as much online as they do in person today.
Expert Jennifer Magnolfi explains that, "we used to define ‘work’ by crossing the threshold of a physical building that we called ‘the office.’ Once we did that, we entered into this mindset that we were at work, and we were doing work. Today that same passage happens when we connect to our work-related data on our smartphones or other tools."
What is driving this trend is the need for businesses to increase productivity, while limiting investment. Global productivity is waning, and has been since the financial crisis of 2008-2010. Mobility boosts productivity by enabling workers to produce all the time, wherever they are, and it doesn’t involve hiring more people or buying new machines.
A recent survey conducted by Motorola found that 7 in 10 industry decision-makers look to mobile and wireless solutions to streamline operations, bringing the skills and the information together wherever they are needed. So mobility is already a dominant priority for companies, and that means shrinking office space and lots more online communication. As Magnolfi points out, in the future all work will be project-based, and workers will be tapped for skills as needed. There will be more work, and leaner workforces with broader skillsets.
Companies like Telenor are already adopting "hotdesking" to get workers to meet and mingle. Workers have no desks, only notebook computers that they bring to work with them or store in a locker on the premises. They simply join teams which are formed to fit the projects underway.
In practice, this leads to a different kind of organisation. For example, a plant manager working through a product quality problem has to coordinate manufacturing engineers; quality assurance, testing, and plant operations; and factory floor workers to troubleshoot the problem and get production back online. In the past, this would involve a series of meetings to exchange information – we all know how long that can take.
In the future, the information needed is provided online in seconds. All the workers involved, from the engineers to the factory floor workers, join in a video conference that can take place in minutes from when the issue arises. Problem solving becomes rapid, and that means that fewer workers are required to make it happen.
Of course, to support this kind of mobility, workers have to be able to depend on Unified Communications, so that they can tap the information they need from any source, and collaborate effectively. This places a great burden on the CIO who has to ensure that the corporate network has the bandwidth to support all this activity, and systems that can manage a vast number of different devices and vastly increased traffic.
Even more important will be making it easier for workers to communicate online. At present, 38 per cent of telecommunications decision-makers state their employees are unaware of Unified Communications services, and 28 percent say many employees are not on the system, according to a survey by Forrester Research.
This is largely a function of corporate culture: Workers do not believe that what they do remotely or online will be viewed in the same way as what they do in the office. Top management has to change this, and it is a priority already at many companies. Clearly the quality of the Unified Communications system is also a key factor: it should provide an intuitive user interface that supports adoption.
As offices get smaller, online communications increase, and companies become increasingly dependent on mobility, the quality of Unified Communications systems will become a key factor in enterprise success. To make the office of the future function, companies will rely on flexible communications systems which are easy to use, simple to manage, and which will provide all the features needed to support total mobility. This puts Unified Communications at the center of management strategy for the years to come.