Unless you've been digital fasting for the past year, you've probably heard about 5G (5th generation) wireless. While most "generations" of technology turn out to be incremental rather than revolutionary, it appears 5G may turn out to be the real deal.
5G wireless will allow data transfers of up to 10 gigabytes per second--fast enough to download an entire HD feature film to a smartphone in less than a second. That will redefine what we mean by "working from home," according to a recent article in Quartz:
"Imagine being able to interact with a full-size "digital twin" of every place and thing that exists in the physical world, all from a home office. A plant manager in Seattle can immerse herself in a factory in Vietnam; she can see, hear, feel, even smell the shop floor. Avatars of executives can appear in a conference room anywhere in the world. Doctors can even assist with surgeries in faraway hospitals, operating remotely using immersive 3-D holograms beamed right into their homes or offices."
However, that vision of the "Office of the Future" assumes we'll use 5G merely to replicate our current workplaces. But just as the PC and the internet changed private offices into open plans, 5G will inevitably do the same. Here's how:
1. Workplaces will be like Minecraft buildings.
Since everyone can work remotely, there will be little or no reason to have any offices in "meatspace." A virtual workplace will free architects to design and swiftly build virtual workspaces that inspire workers, facilitate collaboration, and reinforce brand identity. It's impossible to predict what these virtual workplaces will look like, but they probably won't replicate our current work environments.
2. You won't know what your co-workers really look like.
While the Quartz article suggested workers would have "digital twins," it's highly unlikely people will be able to resist "sprucing up" their avatars. Once this becomes acceptable, you'll have no idea whether co-workers actually resemble their avatars. A co-worker who looks like Priyanka Chopra in the Office of the Future might actually look like Patton Oswald in the real world.
3. Gender and racial bias will become impossible.
Since interviews will be conducted virtually, savvy job candidates will select avatars that match the expectations of that particular company culture. Since nobody will know the candidate's actual appearance, interviewers will be less likely to hire based on unconscious biases. It's even possible that some companies may gravitate toward having avatar "norms," where all the workers look like, say, the Elves from The Lord of the Rings. Or the Trolls, if it's Uber.
4. Avatar theft will be a serious threat.
If you think identity theft is a huge problem now, just wait until the Office of the Future is up and running. Hackers (or corporate spies) will be able to steal your avatar and impersonate you at work. Thus disguised, they could, for example, visit your (virtual) R&D group and steal corporate secrets, or sabotage operations by throwing digital wrenches into business processes.
5. NYC and SF will become ghost towns.
Because everyone will work remotely, companies will abandon thousands of acres of office space, especially in cities where businesses once congregated. The population in the traditional high-rent hub cities will drain away, leaving plenty of vacant real estate. Of course, there may be other reasons that people to want to live there, but then again, if the Office of the Future is virtual, maybe our personal relationships will go the same way.