Gradation of New Tech
Rather than strictly defining it, we see the new, better version of the workplace as a gradation with a variety of solutions. Gradation can be seen in a watercolor wash as the depth of pigment gradually lightens through the fluid brushstroke; the spoken voice produces a series of musical gradations, notably in language intonations; the Boy Scouts move upward in rank as a series of gradations. New tech will enable the workspace to gradate in response to the human need for collaboration.
Current trends point to an across-the-board appetite for social interaction and in-person collaboration. People are starting to travel again, to reconnect with family and friends and expand their quarantined universe. The focus during the past year has been introspective, with collaboration mostly taking place via Zoom calls, where a head shot is everything. On early 2020 Zoom calls, people sported hats and displayed eye-catching backdrops to add personality.
Tech has advanced quickly: finding solutions to people talking behind masks by using ceiling, table or portable mics; blended hybrid learning environments; teleporting monitors; mobile live streaming; and growth in Microsoft Teams and Zoom platforms, to name a few post-Covid developments.
Considering a return to the workplace, some employees want a 1:1 staff to workstation ratio to avoid sharing space.Cleaning protocols are performed throughout the day, distracting from work but bringing a sense of safety. “Old tech” resides atop the conference room table ready to be used, but staff avoid it. These aversions begin to set the stage for a gradation toward a new tech collaboration revolution.
Cisco Webex’s 2020 research pointed to several problems with the use of tech: 1) collaboration devices that automatically pair with personal devices; 2) wireless screen sharing made easy; 3) meeting equipment not working; 4) booking issues with meeting rooms; 5) the inability to easily share content in a meeting room; 6) the lack of touchless devices; and 7) uncertainty regarding when the room and devices were last cleaned. These concerns create a real obstacle in the use of existing technology. It’s time for a leap into “new”. And with Cisco reporting that 98% of people surveyed predict a majority of meetings with at least one remote participant, there is a strong need for a new hybrid technology that blends in-person with remote staff.
Some people report that their first day back to the workplace was like entering an alien space. Dead plants, individual work areas left as they were months ago, almost as if an atomic bomb had gone off. Psychologically, this reinforces the fight-flight response. The diminished presence of colleagues tends to reinforce the same. Many millennials feel the need for “presenteeism”: their presence might mean being placed on an important project, lest they be forgotten among the competition. Older staff may have more security of position, and therefore less need to be seen in the office.
These in-person desires will be appeased as people re-engage in some of their former meeting places, such as coffee shops and restaurants, ballparks or the golf course. In time, those of us returning to newly defined workplaces will adapt to a new pattern. This pattern will become second nature. There will continue to be a need for meetings with colleagues working from home, or working from anywhere in the world, as they balance their work life through the use of mobile technology. Since travel is often stimulating, those who work from anywhere may increase their productivity as a result.
Tech is always an enabler. We can even wear it now: virtual reality headsets and Google smart glasses are already here, with Apple working on its own version. The question is: can new tech be unveiled quickly enough for this next evolution of the workplace? Will leading-edge versions dramatically influence the workplace? Either way, tech will be a primary driving force behind the gradation of the evolving workplace.
Zoom may be today’s equivalent of the black-and-white television of the 1940s: just a start. Tech is responding to key human-centric initiatives: health, wellness and collaboration, the centerpiece of the new workplace, gradating its ability to uniquely pair with us over time.