Compared to today, the office environment of the early 90s was a nearly foreign place. If your staff needed to collaborate with the London office, everyone hopped on a plane and met in person. If you needed to take a memo, you wrote a note down on a piece of paper. If you wanted to advertise, you shelled out thousands (if not millions) on TV, mail, magazine, or newspaper ads.

These days are long gone. Over the past 25 years, our office environments have been evolving at an ever-increasing pace--and 2016 went by in a blur of advancements.

In fact, today's hottest technology is ready to shake up office life in 2017. Here are a few of the new devices and trends that could completely change the way we do business next year.

VR used to connect teams, make training more accessible

Virtual reality had a banner year in 2016. The release of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony's PlayStationVR set the market on fire, but this buzz won't end when the year does. In 2017, Microsoft will also enter the VR arena with Windows 10 VR headsets and we'll start to see this technology trickle into the workplace.

In fact, here at Centric Digital, we have both an Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. For us, it's important to stay on the cutting edge of this tech so we can better serve our customers. We've also been using our VR headset to experiment with new software and user experience opportunities for business.

Many other businesses also used VR for training purposes over the year--like the VR live-stream surgery in Royal London Hospital and L'Oréal's VR hair education salon. In 2017, we'll see more instances of companies using VR not only for training, but for meetings and prototyping as well.

Spectacles by Snap Inc.: Sharing perspective

Where Google Glass failed, Snap Inc.'s Spectacles are winning. The price point is reasonable ($130 a pair), the look is stylish, and the use case is crystal clear. Users can capture first-person videos and upload them to their Snapchat Stories--instantly sharing with friends, family, and followers.

The business implications here are numerous:

  • If embraced, these specs could improve interactions between co-workers. An employee could take a quick video of a mockup and send it directly to their manager for immediate feedback--regardless of the manager's physical location.
  • First-person videos could be used to highlight the company's culture via the official Snapchat account.
  • Of course, privacy issues are a concern. The good news is that these specs make it obvious when a user is recording, but guidelines and office rules need to be implemented.

Apple Watch Series 2: Encourage healthy lifestyles and improve productivity

There are several benefits to encouraging employees to adopt more active lifestyles, but how do you get your staff on board? Human resources can offer incentives via fitness trackers like the new Apple Watch Series 2 (which is now water-resistant with a faster processor and other overall improvements). Employees who burn the most calories per day, take the most steps, or swim the most laps using their Apple Watch could be eligible for bonuses or extra PTO.

Plus, the new Apple Watch offers several apps to improve productivity, including:

  • Cheatsheet (note-taking)
  • Slack (team communication)
  • App in the Air (flight tracking and airport exploration)
  • 1Password (password manager)
  • Just Press Record (audio recorder)

Moving toward a paperless reality

With the advancement of all this technology, creating a paperless office doesn't have to be an urban legend in 2017. Each year devices and software like iPads, smartphones, cloud services, DocuSign, Evernote, etc., are evolving and improving, making our need for paper a thing of the past.

Disruption in the smartphone markets

Between Apple and Samsung, it was a tough year for smartphones. The criticism of Apple's iPhone 7 is speeding up the release of the iPhone 8, while Samsung Galaxy Note7 was recalled due to its exploding issue. Most of this stems from the competitive climate in this industry as smartphone manufacturers race to grab market share. As production rates speed up, quality assurance will drop. And now with the release of Google Pixel, manufacturers will experience even tougher competition in 2017.

For entrepreneurs or business owners looking to upgrade this coming year, my advice is to wait a month or two before purchasing any new models.

While 2017 will see several changes to office life, 2020 is the year that many predict to be a game changer. By then we'll likely see driverless cars roaming the streets and VR and AR will be a part of everyday life. If you aren't embracing these tech advancements in 2017, by 2020 your office--and your business--could be completely out of the game.

Published on: Dec 22, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.