Six predictions for the future of work


From extended reality to disposable desk covers, we predict the future of work.

As startups continue to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, several new work trends are beginning to emerge. Here we look at developments from around the globe and highlight how some startups are helping shape new ways of working and what you can learn from them.

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The 6 Feet Office

Now that businesses around the world are returning to the office, attention has shifted to ensuring a safe environment for employees. Preventing airborne infection and surface contamination is particularly key, as is allaying any fears workers may have. Global real estate business Cushman & Wakefield has come up with a vision for our office spaces to help do just that.

The 6 Feet Office is a concept designed to help businesses manage space and people flow in a safe and cost-effective manner. It consists of six core elements, from workstation management to safety certification. Features include dispensers to provide hand gel on arrival, lifts demarcated to keep people apart and directional floor arrows to prevent people crossing paths. Plus, everyone picks up a disposable desk cover as the enter the office each day. Take a video tour of the 6 Feet Office to see the theory in practice.

Wearables will help keep us safe

Socially distancing is vital to minimise infection rates and new ways of working may well include wearable devices to help keep us safe. UK-based robotics startup Tharsus, whose customers include Rolls-Royce and Ocado, is developing a technology that alerts employees when they are getting too close.

The Bump is a small pendant worn on a lanyard that alerts wearers via light or sound warning if they go within a set distance of another wearer. Tharsus plans to produce 2,500 devices in May, with commercial use from June 2020. Ford is experimenting with a similar device to help reopen idle manufacturing plants.

Elsewhere, researchers at Northwestern University have produced a wearable device the size of a postage stamp that is stuck like a plaster on the neck. The device monitors a range of data including breathing rates to help detect signs of infection.

Security will be an ongoing challenge

With a surge in work-from-home activity, startups will need to rethink their longer-term security practices. Cybercrime has risen during the outbreak of Covid-19, as criminals seek to exploit the disruption and fear.

New language has evolved to describe various malevolent and mischievous activities, such as unwanted intrusion into Zoom video conferences designed to disrupt meetings. This cropped up overnight and became such an issue that some organisations banned use of the platform, giving competitors a chance to catch up and regain market share, illustrating how security breaches can hit the bottom line.

Remote working is here to stay and startups will need to ensure that they, and their precious intellectual property, are protected.

Employee monitoring may become a contentious issue

Around 16% of US organisations currently passively track employees via methods like virtual clocking in and out, tracking work computer usage and monitoring employee emails and chat, according to a new study from Gartner. This trend may be set to rise as employers seek to monitor and manage remote workforces.

However, it could become a contentious issue for business of all sizes. For example, Zoom came under fire for its new ‘attendee attention’ tracker feature, which identifies whether participants have clicked away from an active Zoom window. It has since been removed but drew attention to the issue of worker attention, productivity, privacy and wellbeing.

Startups will need to tread carefully and explain to employees if and how they are monitored and why it is beneficial.

Extended Reality will be fast tracked

Extended reality (XR) refers to the mixing of real and virtual worlds via technology, particularly through wearable headsets. For example, a team member might don a XR headset for a meeting and the avatar of the person calling will be displayed as a 3D image within the room. With face-to-face meetings essential even in our pandemic world, it will likely increase in use.

New York and San Francisco-based startup Spatial is already well ahead of the curve with its technology, allowing colleagues to sit in a virtual room and post virtual sticky notes on the wall, before raising virtual glasses to celebrate their success.

AI will handle even more customer interaction

New ways of working are set to massively accelerate the shift to technology-driven customer care. While some call centres have managed to operate with remote workforces, other businesses moved chatbots to the fore.

BM saw a 40% increase in traffic to Watson Assistant from February to April and Google launched a new Virtual Agent solution to meet booming demand.

AI has also been used to help alleviate some of the pressure on medical and insurance services, triaging the huge volume of enquiries prompted by Covid-19.

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