As business leaders grapple with what work might look like in 2023, one overarching question deals with workplace technology: what is needed and what isn't.
“Balancing what technology can do to enable collaboration, innovation and productivity with the need to reinforce trust and advance the culture and the business is one of the biggest areas of challenge,” Anthony Abbatiello, workforce transformation practice leader at PwC, said in an email.
Workplace technology hasn't always had the best reputation. Last year, more than one-third of U.S. employees were frustrated by workplace tech, according to an Eagle Hill Consulting report. Of the 1,000 U.S. employees surveyed, 44% said workplace tech either did not make them feel happy at their job or made work harder.
While many investments made at the beginning of the pandemic were reactionary, businesses have now had time to chart out a plan forward based on what worked and what did not. In the process, employees have grown to expect a new standard of workplace technology.
Investments to improve technology in the office have increased as businesses try to entice employees to come back. And just like in other areas of tech, the maturity of an organization’s workplace technology differs.
Last year, half of companies said they planned to invest more in desk-reservation tools, according to PwC data which surveyed 1,200 U.S. employees and 133 executives.
Many businesses, however, still struggle to implement workplace technology despite having the appetite to invest. Nearly half of enterprises surveyed wanted to implement 15 workplace technologies by 2025, yet 17% did not have any, according to JLL data.
Finding a new baseline
Workers need to know where work areas are located, have access to collaboration tools and more. A frictionless workplace experience would be ideal.
Since 2020, Gartner has seen a 900% increase in inquiries related to workplace technology, according to Tori Paulman, senior director analyst at Gartner.
One of the biggest additions to the workplace tech norm is a system to allow workers to reserve a workstation. Hot-desking, sometimes referred to as hotelling, is a desk-booking software that allows employees to reserve spaces for an allotted amount of time. Hot-desking has become popular among companies with hybrid or remote workers that do not routinely come in the office.
“Room scheduling and desk booking applications are commoditized in the marketplace, buyers now want services for workplace experiences such as intentional visit planning, hybrid schedule coordination, wayfinding, amenities such as smart parking, smart shuttles, smart lockers, lunch ordering and virtual assistants,” Paulman said in an email.
Wayfinding, a system to guide people throughout the office, goes hand-in-hand with hot-desking.
“It’s very frustrating for an employee to show up somewhere and have no idea where they’re going,” Melanie Lougee, head of employee workflows strategy at ServiceNow, said. “It’s a huge moment that matters in an employee’s experience.”
Collaboration tools are also top of mind, with videoconferencing solutions as a must-have for any distributed organization.
Companies have turned to workplace technology to facilitate collaboration, improve productivity and enhance employee experience at the office. Intuit redesigned its workplace strategy based on internal feedback. The end result included spaces designated for collaboration and solo work with utilization sensors that capture data to inform how additional workspaces will be built.
“I think there can be a negative energy around the idea of [hoteling], but when people actually feel the benefit of that flexibility, it actually plays out in the work and in the relationships they’re able to build,” Otto Krusius, VP of workforce and workplace strategy at Intuit, said.
Vendors have also responded to the changing standard of workplace tech by beefing up their capabilities. Zoom, for instance, announced last September that it would be working on hot-desking and wayfinding capabilities.
Slack has released Huddles, a synchronous audio chat tool, and Clips, an asynchronous video, voice or screen recording tool, to boost collaboration among distributed workforces.
There are some industries, however, that have not had the same maturity as it relates to workplace technology, according to Lane Severson, senior director analyst at Gartner.
“Frontline workers or workers who have to be in a hospital, retail location or an oil rig, their baselines haven’t risen equally,” Severson said in an email. “If you can do your job from home, your baseline rose. If you still ‘go to work’ then it probably hasn’t as much.”
What’s to come
Based on companies’ net new investment data, the future of workplace is likely to involve AI, said Brian Jackson, principal research director at Info-Tech Research Group.
“AI is the most disruptive technology in terms of its the new thing that’s getting embedded into so many different types of software,” Jackson said.
Other investments in heat-mapping, sensors, chatbots and AI ticketing service are not as widespread yet, but options are available, according to Lougee.
“I think the most future, out-there [advancement] would be where there doesn’t really have to be much interaction at all with the technology itself,” Lougee said. “I’m not needing to look at a mobile app to do a check-in and find a space; all of that just happens for me.”
For businesses, advancing capabilities needs to be balanced with conversations around privacy and trust, according to Abatiello.
“We’re still figuring out the right rhythms and understanding the impacts on employee and customer experience and behavior,” Abatiello said.