The workplace will never be the same as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote and hybrid work are now mainstream, and some of our most integral industries are understaffed, sending employers in search of new technologies to improve conditions, react to new developments, and accelerate the adoption of digital tools that had been in the works for years.
Whether these technologies are reactive or proactive, they’ll be some of the most important trends this year and beyond. Below, we explore six trends that will be the most transformative.
1.High-tech, immersive collaboration tools
We’ve already seen the growth of new collaboration tools and the strength of cloud-based apps to keep distributed teams running, and there’s no reason to expect things will return to normal. Even when the danger of travel subsides, McKinsey & Company estimates that about 20% of business travel may never return, necessitating new ways of communicating across space and time.
Long-distance training will remain integral, and simulation technologies such as digital twinning and VR/AR will become more ubiquitous in everything from retail to industrial manufacturing. As far back as 2019, Gartner reported that 75% of IoT organizations were already using digital twins or planned to do so within a year.
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2.Tech to prioritize health and safety
We’ve seen what happens when employee health suffers and the workplace becomes an impediment to wellness and safety. From tools that help track employees’ vaccination status and COVID-19 test results and aid in compliance reporting to robotic automation and even exoskeletons, keeping employees out of danger is a top priority for employers.
In 2021, a study found that 68% of workers globally did not feel entirely safe working in their employer’s buildings (and the number was 75% for those choosing to work at home). That year,
OSHA issued $3.8 million in penalties for COVID-19-related citations.
From hazard detection technology to visitor management systems that let people know who is coming in and out of buildings, employers are now proactively investing in health tech.
3.Hot-desking and office hoteling
A 2020 CBRE survey found that while 57% of workplaces had assigned seating before the pandemic, only 10% plan to continue formally assigning office space and seating in the future.
One year later, a PwC survey found that 31% of business leaders were planning to reduce their office space altogether. But as employers offload excess space, they still have to find a way to create an agile work environment to accommodate on-site workers without creating cramped quarters or employee conflicts over space.
Hot-desking and hoteling software are two space-sharing trends that can help resolve these issues before they start. Hot-desking lets employees choose any space available when they arrive on-site, while desk hoteling enables employees to reserve a workstation in advance. While the former is more of a free-for-all, both require booking software to ensure availability. Paper seating charts and spreadsheets just won’t cut it, especially when it comes to helping employees plan time for on-site collaboration and the reservation of desks in close proximity or meeting rooms.
Software is more critical for office hoteling, however, and it allows space requests to trigger other workflow tools such as requests for cameras, speakers, microphones, whiteboards, and other productivity tools.
4.Employee experience apps
Managing physical assets and company space only go so far if you have unhappy employees and a subsequently high turnover rate. With labor shortages and more opportunities than ever for workers to make career shifts, it’s in every company’s best interest to do its best to measure employee satisfaction.
Employee experience apps (also known as human capital management (HCM) apps) are designed to help foster engagement and improve retention rates. These apps can include survey and communication tools that allow employees to deliver feedback anonymously so that their employers can take the pulse of their workforce at critical junctures (such as following the implementation of new productivity tools). They can be standalone apps or integrated into human resource management systems (HRMS).
If employers are going to measure the health and wellbeing of physical and real estate assets, it makes sense to keep track of their most valuable assets – people.
5.Supporting deskless workers
Office workers have received the lion’s share of tech tools to make pandemic-era and hybrid work more efficient. Meanwhile, deskless workers – which make up 80% of the world’s workforce – have become more cut off than ever from coworkers, managers, and HR.
Deskless workers cover a wide range of professions – from retail to manufacturing to nursing – and the one thing they have in common is that they don’t sit behind a desk to do their jobs. This often results in less access to company communications and technology in general. Many of these workers don’t even have a company email address.
In 2022 and beyond, the technological innovations that are taking place among office workers (including remote workers) will be extended to deskless workers. An SAP survey found that roughly 52% of deskless workers aren’t granted tech tools by their companies; 83% want those tools, and 87% of deskless workers’ managers believed it would help them support their workers.
As we watch HR tools take off, and companies offer workers digital training for reskilling and upskilling, we can expect companies to find more ways to fold in their deskless workforce to give them the same advantages.
6.Ethical people analytics
Algorithms are increasingly being used to help managers and HR make decisions about hiring, recruiting, promotions, training, compensation, and diversity needs. At their best, these tools can make things more equitable, but managers have struggled to understand that algorithms based on their company’s historical data simply reinforced old habits in the last few years. Now, the focus is on making these algorithms work in favor of equality to close gaps in employment and compensation.
People analytics are also used in employee monitoring tools, gathering data about movement, productivity, and safety. In 2022 and beyond, these are getting an ethical upgrade as well to focus on making employee life better. Employers can use tools to determine space usage, public health needs, and monitor safety compliance, becoming more transparent in the process.
While COVID-19 changed the work landscape in early 2020, two years on, we’re still dealing with both the virus itself and the global fallout across industries. As a result, we can expect to see more tools dedicated to automation, collaboration, and analytics to boost productivity and the well-being of workers.