For the white-collar worker, video conferencing is the new norm. It’s even spilled over into healthcare, with telemedicine on the rise due to the outbreak of Covid-19. But there’s more to how technology will change the future of work than video calls and Slack messaging.
It is undeniable that the blurred line between home and office is changing business. One sign of the shift is BT’s launch this month of a new dedicated business unit in the UK to target the SoHo (Single/Small office/Home office) market, which includes more than 95% of the country’s private sector companies.
As early as May 2020, BT had already committed to connecting 20 million households and businesses with fibre over this decade, investing US$14.5 billion (£12 billion) to achieve it. This huge programme of work seems likely to be justified in the wake of the 2020 shock as more businesses downsize their offices and more employees work increasingly from home.
The shift will reach beyond the pandemic; the future of work will be shaped not only by fibre but also by 5G technologies and the new capabilities these things will bring to collaboration, visualisation and connectivity.
How technology will change the Future of Work: Collaboration
A recent GlobalData report on the telco sector notes that the global total of fixed wireless access (FWA) accounts for business and residential were 32.4 million in 2020. While FWA only accounted for 2.5% of fixed broadband lines globally last year, it grew in 2020 at 13.7% year-on-year (YoY). Post-pandemic, GlobalData forecasts growth of global FWA accounts will stabilize to a CAGR of 7.5% over 2021–2025.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has given way to this rise in appreciation for fast, reliable, and strong home broadband as the world continued to operate from home under lockdown conditions,” says Madison Galati, Telecoms Market Data & Intelligence analyst at GlobalData.
“The demand for home broadband led some operators, like BT and TIM Italy, to speed up their fibre network rollout. Furthermore, with employees’ preference for a hybrid/remote working environment post-pandemic, this demand for faster, stronger, and more reliable home broadband will continue and present further monetisation opportunities for telcos.”
Surveys by GlobalData have found that 44% of employees want to work in a hybrid environment between home and office. What this means is more growth in collaboration, one category of the five GlobalData analysts have identified as the framework of the Future of Work in an overarching thematic report.
The analysis notes that Covid-19 has meant a huge boost for collaboration platforms. Microsoft, for example, reported that 44 million people used its Teams software on 18 March 2020, 12 million more than the number of daily active users it had one week beforehand. Following the same trend, work communication platform Slack revealed its revenue for the three months to the end of April 2020 was $201.7m, up 50% YoY.
Collaboration, however, is more than online communication. It also includes customer relationship management (CRM) platforms such as those provided by Salesforce and Oracle.
“The CRM marketplace has become a battleground for vendors, as customer experience is now a strategic imperative for companies of all sizes,” the GlobalData analysts write.
The CRM marketplace has become a battleground for vendors, as customer experience is now a strategic imperative for companies of all sizes.
“Once primarily a solution for helpdesks, sales contact management, and lead tracking, CRM solutions are evolving and expanding to adjacent areas such as marketing and partner management.”
The most active CRM company in M&A is Salesforce, which has announced several major acquisitions since January 2018. They include the $15.7bn purchase of Tableau and the $6.5bn takeover of MuleSoft. These two deals gave Salesforce greater access to enterprise data, no matter where it is stored.
More recently, Salesforce announced it would acquire Slack for $27.7bn. As a result Slack will be deeply integrated into every Salesforce Cloud and act as the new interface for Salesforce Customer 360.
The company to look out for, however, is Facebook. The social media giant’s Workplace software tool is making bold strides away from the consumer market into enterprise, with more than 200 million customers as of May. Within that base are 30,000 organisations using Workplace, including seven million paid subscribers to the platform.
With free trials and monthly per-user pricing currently starting at $4 for smaller organisations/teams and $8 for complex ones, the attraction to Facebook is clear. Competitors will therefore need to prove their worth on factors other than price as collaboration changes in the future of work.
Facebook’s investments in next-stage technologies such as virtual reality (VR) may also dovetail with its business interests further down the line. This is because visualisation is another key element of the future of work.
“Visualization involves the use of images or graphics to convey information or communicate a message,” write the GlobalData analysts. “Workers today are required to aggregate, analyze, and interpret vast amounts of data.”
In the digital era, workers have a new set of tools through which to handle complex tasks and interact with an ever-changing and expanding amount of information.
Data visualisation is one example: tools which incorporate animation, interactivity and multimedia to speed up analysis and facilitate decision-making.
Digital twins, meanwhile, can be used to replicate production processes in the virtual world. While applications in the office are currently limited, digital twins might offer decision-makers an overarching visualization of operations. By making use of a 3D map, for example, a digital twin can provide real-time monitoring of building spaces to reduce energy wastage, optimise use, and even limit disease spread.
Extended reality (XR) may be another answer to how technology will change the future of work. Augmented reality (AR) headsets and smart glasses can be used to access online environments, like Spatial’s collaboration platform in which workers use 3D avatars in a virtual workspace.
Microsoft meanwhile offers Mesh, a mixed-reality, cloud-based meeting app that can allow a person to digitally access a remote location for shared experiences. This enterprise-grade solution is ideal for work revolving around 3D physical models.
Credit: Radoslav Zilinsky via Getty Images
How technology will change the Future of Work: Connectivity and 5G
Almost all of these cutting-edge technologies belong to the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, where a system of connected sensors and actuators control and monitor the environment, and the things and people that move within it.
As Verdict recently reported, IoT is potentially an even more pervasive kind of tech than today’s computers and mobile devices, but it isn’t pervasive as things stand.
Broadscale 5G adoption needs to take off for the next stage of pervasive IoT to happen. The resulting “massive IoT” will entail the use of low cost sensors and long life batteries for smart meters, cities, buildings and homes, along with fleet management across a wide area as opposed to the localised kind of 5G coverage that is currently enabled.
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