Crowded, cubicle-ridden work environments reminiscent of "Office Space" have proven to be wasteful, unproductive, and outdated. In their wake, forward-thinking companies have ushered in the era of the open floor plan and even the deskless office. But there's ample debate about just how effective these radical workplace redesigns are. Is this the office of the future?

Today's trendy workplaces call to mind beanbag chairs, slides, and ping-pong tables -- features that might be found in a basement rumpus room. What we're forgetting amid design overhauls is that the goal of the future office is to work smarter. In reality, the future workplace is more about equipping buildings with sensors and apps than changing furniture.

If a smart building app sounds gimmicky, think again. As employees arrive to work, an app's recommendations can maximize use of space by guiding drivers to open parking spaces and free workstations. Throughout the day, the building can adjust lighting levels and HVAC settings as workers move around. The results are impressive: In Unilever's U.S. headquarters, a retrofitting team reduced the building's energy use by 50 percent while simultaneously upping its usable space by 28 percent.

Smart office features will power companies with new means of productivity and efficiency, but as we know, not all office tech is created equal. To get the jump on technology adoption, leaders will need to cut through the clutter and focus on the solutions that will actually improve productivity. The following are some of the most promising.

1. Dual reality will reduce barriers to productivity.

PowerPoint as a training tool belongs in the past -- and the formal conference room lecture with it. Augmented and virtual realities will redefine the office itself with their ability to synchronize the outside world and the workplace, whether that be through advanced virtual meetings, new ways of evaluating recruits, or delivering field insights when and where they're needed. They will be the way forward for enhancing group projects and increasing productivity. Recruiters have begun using AR to gamify skills tests and appeal to tech-savvy candidates. AR can also be used to teach soft skills like teamwork and critical thinking by involving workers in scenario-based training.

AR expands insights beyond the cubicle into the field and can be used to learn equipment operation and technical skills. Boeing is testing AR headsets in the assembly process and seeing a 25 percent decrease in assembly time, along with an impressive reduction in mistakes. These improvements could benefit companies of all sizes, but for those with thousands of employees, they could be worth millions of dollars in additional revenue.

2. Everyday objects will become "smart."

Some areas of our lives lag behind the digital age, but they're catching up. As the Internet of Things links ever more gadgets around us, even simple devices like our desks, speakers, and coffee machines (ready to make a temperature-specific cup at the touch of a phone screen) will lend us connectivity.

Saagar Govil, CEO of innovative technology company Cemtrex, points out that "It is 2018, but our workspaces have not evolved like most things we interact with on a daily basis, like our smartphones, smart cars, and smart homes." The Cemtrex SmartDesk, a motorized sit/stand desk with three touchscreen monitors and smartphone integration, will be the company's first step in updating the workplace.

3. Upgraded communications tools will optimize remote work.

Just as the desk phone has gone the way of the dinosaur, communication tools such as email will yield to more social applications like Slack. These tools will enhance the potential for collaboration and ultimately accelerate the trend toward remote work.

Many managers fear that remote workers are less productive, but research has actually shown the opposite to be true. In addition, remote workers tend to be happier and less likely to leave a company and thereby necessitate a costly talent search. At the 2014 Global Leadership Summit in London, 25 percent of business leaders then estimated that more than three-quarters of their employees would work remotely by 2020. Forty-three percent of employees already do.

The office is changing, and it's about time. Fortunately, having a futuristic office doesn't necessitate a costly renovation and a new set of shuffleboard tables. Instead, business owners should focus on embracing the technologies that will actually make their workforces more productive, including AR, intelligent devices, and powerful collaboration tools. With a future-focused mindset, leaders will be ready to usher in the next generation of productivity.

Published on: Aug 26, 2018
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