From telepresence robots to smart offices…
Businesses have always been quick to embrace digital advancements, turning the modern workplace into a hub of technological transformation, writes Lawrence Lee, Vice President, Incubation & Strategy, Xerox.
As the pace of such shifts in technology shows no sign of slowing down, the evolution of work looks set to accelerate. The next set of breakthrough innovations will exist at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds, creating revolutionary employee experiences played out in the workplace of the future. Below are five examples of how technology will reshape the way we work:
Interactive Augmented Reality Assistants
Today, we can see glimpses of the potential that augmented reality has in helping us to understand the physical world around us. Already, interactive augmented reality assistants are helping industrial training or assisting in simple field work practice. In the not so distant future, such assistants will be able to guide field technicians in diagnosing far more complex system faults and performing repairs in a step by step fashion with a validation of each step before moving on to the next one in the process. This won’t just be limited to frontline workers in industrial applications, the capability will also assist employees in tasks such as using or trouble-shooting new A/V equipment in a conference room through to guiding a group of employees to design a new collaborative workspace together.
Collaborative Authoring Assistants
No one likes the feeling of staring at a blank page at the beginning of a writing process, and time wasted on writer’s block can damage the time efficiency of a business. But what if every employee had a ghost writer? In the future intelligent assistants will be able to recognise the type of document that we are trying to write and develop a first draft to kick-start productivity. Initially this will be limited to common text documents such as proposals, protocol documents, and others that have a consistent structure and format. Over time, this capability will extend to spreadsheets with common financial analyses, and even presentations based on models of layout and visual design. Beyond generating the first draft, the assistant will possess the ability to coordinate the workflow across a collaborative team of editors, subject matter experts, and reviewers, in order to fine-tune the draft into a compelling final document.
Intelligent Conversational Assistants
Smart workplace assistants won’t just be putting pen to paper. Today, chatbots and voice assistants are mostly limited to single-turn question answering or transactional order taking using a structured vocabulary and script. Breakthrough capabilities will require more sophisticated dialogue management and knowledge base construction.
In the future, intelligent conversational assistants will be developed to help employees and customers learn, solve problems and work more productively. Whilst such ‘robots’ won’t have a holistic knowledge of the world like those seen in sci-fi films, such technology will be able to interact with humans in carefully bounded domains where we can model the environment and create a robust enough knowledge base for the automated assistant.
This advancement will transform customer support, allowing a chatbot or voice to interact with customers multiple times in order to understand a problem with a product, diagnose the issue, and talk a customer through the resolution process. Within internal business applications, employees will be awarded with extensive insight into customers, all within minutes. A salesperson preparing for a meeting with a customer would be able to ask the assistant for knowledge of the customer’s interests and constraints. In return, this technology will be able to recommend relevant products and services and receive feedback from the person through multiple turns in a conversation, to reach a higher level of shared understanding between the person and system.
Responsive Work Environments
We are increasingly seeing novel applications of the Internet of Things in the workplace. Sensors can now track availability of desks and conference rooms, and enable employees to reserve them through a location-aware service. So far, companies have focused on lowering occupancy costs and increasing utilisation, but the next step will be to actually improve space effectiveness. For example, sensors will enable conference rooms to adjust not only temperature but also airflow, lighting, audio, and perhaps even scents to optimise the performance of the group using the room.
Even with video conference, it is often challenging for remote participants to be as effective as those attending a meeting in person, yet these types of meetings are steadily becoming the norm rather than the exception. In the future we should expect to see telepresence robots that will give remote workers a physical presence in meetings, and the ability to build relationships with remote workers in informal chats outside of formal meetings.
Currently such telepresence robots are operated by users via remote control but soon they will possess more sensors to enable a better user experience and greater ability to move autonomously. In addition, autonomous security and delivery robots will become commonplace to monitor workplaces and deliver shipments, supplies, and tools on-demand to enable all employees to be productive with the right tools anywhere in the workplace.
As we look forward to the next decade, we’ll observe a trend for a proliferation of new technologies which will operate at the axis of the physical and digital spheres, leading to an unprecedented employee experience. These breakthroughs will revolutionise the way we work, and businesses must continue to be at the forefront of embracing new technological innovations to remain competitive for customers and employees alike.