The move to decentralised collaborative working has been accelerated by the pandemic, creating significant opportunities for innovation within both office and home environments. Digital work platforms will evolve, and new roles will be created as companies put more emphasis on managing digital experiences within the enterprise and for customers.
These were some of the messages from ‘Embrace change: Prepare for next level collaborative working’, a panel produced by ISE at The Next Web’s TNW 2020 virtual conference on Friday 2 October.
The session was chaired by Amelia Kallman, a futurist and the chair of ISE’s XR Summit. XR (extended reality) is “slowly but surely starting to come into play”, she observed, offering “ways to collaborate that we haven’t seen before”. Application areas for XR include training, generative scenarios, design and strategy, as well as events, including trade shows and conferences. “They’re becoming really important tools,” she observed – and with the pandemic, “we’ve never had such an important time to start to use them.
“We’re moving to a hybrid workforce,” said Kallman. “Some people will want to go back to work, some people will want to stay home, and whether people are at an office or at home, these kind of tools can help to start level the playing field… We have to look at this really carefully to make sure that all these choices are being respected and we’re offering equal opportunities.”
Sean Wargo, Senior Director of Market Intelligence at ISE co-owner AVIXA, presented research findings from the association. The pandemic, he said, has “accelerated and amplified trends that we were already seeing – and this is certainly true with conferencing and collaboration,” which has been the biggest solution area in pro AV for some time. While his team’s projections show a fall in business in 2020, the sector is set to recover in 2021.
He continued: “The question mark underneath conferencing and collaboration is, how much of that, as an installer/integrator, can I go after? We’re seeing an increasing amount of conferencing and collaboration in the form of cloud-based services, moving away from what may have had systems in the past, whether they be video conferencing or audio conferencing. How do you tool up, how do you change your business to go after some of that cloud opportunity?”
Kallman asked Elisa Rönkä, Head of Digital Market Development at Siemens Smart Infrastructure, how company culture will change with the move to hybrid workforces. How can you learn by osmosis, or make serendipitous discoveries, in a digital environment? “It’s an opportunity for all organisations to start looking at other things than just the physical,” she said, “and figure out how can we do this collaboration and communication on the digital experience side… We need to redesign and repurpose the digital work experience platforms that we might already have in organisations, to allow this serendipity to happen.”
She continued: “The most important thing in terms of company culture is communication. Be sure that you have digital ways of constantly communicating with employees, and for peers to be able to communicate with each other. That’s the minimum starting point – if you don’t even have that in place, quickly go and invest in that.”
With office spaces having a less dominant role in the future, there are also opportunities within the home environment. Walt Zerbe, Senior Director of Technology and Standards for ISE co-owner CEDIA, said: “Remote working was long overdue; what’s missing is the networking and the social elements. Human interaction is not the same with today’s technology.” He predicted some advances that would take place to support collaborative multi-site work: “Headsets need to size down, resolution needs to increase, latency needs to decrease, and we’re going to need backbone technology – 5G and edge computing – to help get this going.” Within offices, “huddle spaces will need to become much more immersive to pull off a ‘like you were there’ experience.”
The panel agreed that, while the direction of digital transformation is clear, the precise picture that will emerge depends on decisions yet to be made.
Wargo mentioned that research among North American technology companies has found that people want to get back together in person, but there remains a “collaboration gap”, where the technology falls short of what can be achieved face to face. However, “the opportunity is allowing us to innovate in ways that we’re not even sure what they’re going to look like six months, a year, two years down the road from now – but that creates an exciting opportunity for the space… to reimagine in-person, to reimagine office, learning, all the types of environments that we’re looking at. So there’s a strong period of growth ahead for us.”
Rönkä stressed that, in managing transformation, it’s important to involve the users of office spaces. “How do they want to use it, now and in the future? How does it evolve? What’s working and not working? Too often we see that spaces are designed with some assumptions, or maybe some status quo that never changes. You really need to gather feedback from ‘human sensors’ – what do people want to do in those spaces? How do they feel in the spaces? – and then adapt accordingly. It really needs to be a journey and an evolution, not a snapshot project.”
Zerbe felt that “where we’re headed is, simplicity is the new luxury. Technology is still going in every direction, all at the same time. We’re going to need, as an industry, technical concierges or liaison to manage the decisions – which products to use and how to deploy them, both at home and in business… There’s going to be a lot of opportunity, as a service, for all this stuff to be managed by someone who can tailor it to your needs.”
New roles are likely to emerge to help navigate this changed landscape. In live events, such as tradeshows and conferences, Wargo sees “the need for a role related to virtualisation… managing the digital assets and [deciding] how to curate and offer that online experience as we go forward.” And in higher education and corporate settings, he envisages “new roles around content creation, optimisation and distribution out to the marketplace.”
Rönkä concluded: “We need a ‘chief of experience’ in every organisation.” She explained that although the importance of workplace experience is acknowledged, operations, spaces and digital tools are not generally designed in a holistic way that centres around experience. “Someone who has the end-to-end accountability for experience is key, and HR could be a good home for this role.”