Futurists predict office environment

Drone tea trays, ‘earth scrapers’ and robotic pets? Experts have been making predictions about how the world will look and function in the near and distant future, finds Heather Greig-Smith.

samsungDriverless car stackers, hologram receptionists, folding computers and robotic pets could all feature in the 2030 office, while moon colonisation and virtual meetings are in the 100-year time frame, according to reports released this quarter.

Authored by leading academics, Samsung’s SmartThings Future Living report and accompanying video predict moon colonisation, ‘earth scrapers’ burrowing underground and underwater cities in the next 100 years.

However, when it surveyed 2,000 adults to see which of its predictions are most likely to become reality, work was top of the list. Of those questioned, 48% said the ability to work from anywhere and attend meetings remotely via avatars or holograms is a likely development.

Hologram meetings

“Efficiency as well as development in communication will render the working week almost unrecognisable. The use of holograms in the workplace will become more prevalent. By beaming into one’s home or working environment, this realistic 3D image will remove the need for actual presence in group meetings,” said the report.

This will have massive implications in reducing the need for travel and acting as a major time saving resource. “These elements combined would then facilitate the potential for a reduced working week.”

The report added that, with space at a premium, buildings will evolve into hyper-flexible spaces. Rooms will serve different functions, walls, floors, ceilings will have embedded technology which will allow them to change position depending on the activity.

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Space Scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, who co-authored the Samsung report, said: “Our lives today are almost unrecognisable from those a century ago. The internet has revolutionised the way we communicate, learn and control our lives. Over the next century we will witness further seismic shifts in the way we live and interact with our surroundings.”

samsung 3

Offices in 2030

Meanwhile, broadband provider Plusnet asked 15 experts to help predict how we could be working in 2030. Their visions emphasise the importance of open space and room for collaboration as well as the increasing use of plants and the natural environment to promote well-being.

They envisage employees going to work in driverless cars that will be automatically stacked in car parks. Entrance to the office will be by thumbprint and, once inside, technology will offer a new set of comforts. From the kitchen, drone tea trays will take your tea order at your desk, a rotating biometric fridge will show only your own food, and 3D printers will be able to produce meals.

In the office, the experts suggest fully customisable desks, a wireless environment and full cloud integration will be standard, with 3D printers revolutionising the way things are produced and nanopaints allowing walls to be used as screens. Ergonomic chairs will automatically adjust to make the user comfortable and super-thin computers can be folded away. Meeting rooms will use hologram projections, universal translators and universal monitors (electronic table surfaces).

“Whilst some of the technology is a long way off and outlandish in some respects, it is fascinating to hear and see how the mix of experts suggest workplace environments [will] change,” said Plusnet chief executive Andy Baker. “Areas such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence are exciting and frightening in equal measure, whilst the notion of ‘biophilia’ will also become more important as companies seek to go greener and more energy efficient.”

The company added that a range of well-being measures, such as health treatments, nap space and virtual reality gaming headsets will be used, as will climate controls. Allergies to fur may be cured, they said, meaning office pets (or even robotic versions) could be commonplace.

Office of the Future Full Street View

Experts featured in the Plusnet report:

Ryan Hulland, director of business development, Netfloor USA: “Despite the proliferation of wireless technology, offices and tech centers are more ‘wired’ than ever. Organizations need flexible methods of providing power and data connection points at any location in the office, whether it’s a cubicle, conference room or a ‘quick huddle room’.”

Scott Lesizza, founding principal, Workwell partners: “I would guess that in 10 years what is currently in the office will look much more like what is outside the office. We are already starting to see this with ‘Biophilia’, the idea that humans have a natural instinct to want to be closer to nature. By increasing natural sunlight (perhaps through greenhouse type spaces, and bringing plants, trees and flowers into the workplace), we are replicating what is naturally a less stressful environment, and a more productive one. I think we will see offices dedicate a significant amount of their space to outdoor amenity areas, whether it be through rooftops, or street level work.”

Christopher Barnatt, associate professor of computing and future studies, Nottingham Business School: “Increasingly an office space will be anywhere a high-speed broadband connection is available. Holding meetings in virtual reality, offices that people “visit” by donning a stereo headset, is a distinct possibility five years from now. Alternatively, workers may remotely attend physical meetings by inhabiting a telepresence robot.”

Peter Cochrane, futurist and founder of Cochrane Associates: “Workforces are going to be more mobile, agile, multitalented and transient. We can expect to see companies employing fewer full-time staff and more contractors and ‘one-off fixers’. Also – many workers will never visit company premises, as they will be remote workers in and out of country.”

Glen Hiemstra, futurist, founder and CEO of futurist.com: “The reality is that office 2030 will look mostly like today, just as the office today looks mostly like 2000 – only with flat screens. The bottom line is that we tend to overestimate the rate of change for many things.”

Ray Hammond, futurologist: “Virtual, agile working will be the normal way of working by 2030 and concepts such as “office hours”, “the working week”, and “place of work” will be outdated. People will work when they choose, from where they choose. Office workers will still meet regularly, but the “offices” of tomorrow will be more like clubs in which teams can discuss progress, share ideas and develop strategies.”


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