· 3 min read · Features

Five top workplace tech trends

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We explore the emerging technologies likely to be coming soon to an office near you, and the implications for HR

Enhancing the employee experience by providing an enjoyable and efficient working environment is a common goal for most firms. Technology is a key part of workplace design, but new systems or devices must be properly considered, taking into account the impact on all employees.

Here’s a lowdown of five of the top tech trends making their way into workplace design.

5G

What is it?

5G is the next evolution in cellular network for mobile devices, with speeds of around 600MB per second and very low latency. At present 5G rollout is in the early stages and is limited to certain handsets, but soon enough it will be as common as 4G.

How will it affect the workforce?

The increased speed of 5G
could enable significant advances in the use of collaboration tools, such as high-definition video conferencing and potentially even holographic meetings. Vodafone has demoed this in public and the potential is huge – from meetings and catch-ups to complex training scenarios or professional development courses.

What should HR do?

As the public moves to 5G networks new services using them will no doubt appear. HR should consider how these could be used to speed up processes in the workplace.

White noise tech

What is it? Also called sound masking, white noise tech involves introducing audio into a work space to provide a continuous background noise to mask other distracting sounds or create privacy for conversations when in public spaces.

How will it affect the workforce?

The technology could become common in large open-plan offices to help avoid sound overlap between different departments.

Penelope Harrell, marketing lead at Remark Group, which provides this, gives the following example: “If the sales team is directly next to the accounts team their areas can be split into two zones, and the sound masking within the zone that needs most confidentiality can be turned up to provide more privacy.”

What should HR do?

Environmental psychologist and honorary senior lecturer at University College London Nigel Oseland says HR could use this tech to get around the challenge of balancing the collaboration and networking benefits of open-plan offices, with concerns around keeping confidential conversations private and employees free from unnecessary or unwanted distractions.

“It could be good where you want to reduce speech intelligibility in open-plan spaces or in rooms where you want privacy,” he adds.

Li-Fi

What is it?

Li-Fi, or Light Fidelity, is a wireless connection that uses LEDs to transmit data incredibly fast. It’s also secure as the data is transported by light and encoded in subtle changes of brightness that humans cannot detect.

How will it affect the workforce?

The security benefit of Li-Fi is its biggest selling point, as Bharat Mistry, principal security strategist at security firm Trend Micro explains: “Li-Fi is significantly more secure than other wireless technologies because light can be contained in a physical space or room and cannot pass through solid objects such as walls,” he says.

“Both the light source and device must be visible, not hidden or covered in any way. This makes Li-Fi ideal for environments where sensitive data needs to be shared between wireless devices but confined to a physical room.”

What should HR do?

Sensitive employee and HR data can be kept more secure on a Li-Fi connection. However, given the need for proximity between devices and the Li-Fi source, HR may need to reconfigure office layouts and desk locations so
the benefits of the technology can be realised.

Voice assistants

What is it?

Voice assistants such as Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple HomePod are already common in homes, and businesses may start deploying similar services.

How will it affect the workforce?

Workers could ask voice assistants to print documents, remind them of forthcoming meetings, or control environmental functions in offices such as lighting, heating and air conditioning.

What should HR do?

Introducing these tools into office environments while maintaining privacy and minimising distractions will be the biggest issues to consider, although workers are likely to adapt quickly to using them, says Oseland. “If people were shouting out requests HR might have to introduce a sort of ‘light touch’ office etiquette guide. But in time it would probably become the norm and people would adapt to it.”

Virtual reality/augmented reality

What is it?

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) systems such as headsets and gloves provide immersive experiences that accurately mimic real-life scenarios.

How will it affect the workforce?

VR and AR’s potential within training is huge – enabling complex training to be undertaken remotely, or for product designs to be assessed in 3D environments from anywhere in the world.

Jeremy Dalton, head of VR/AR at PwC, adds that there are other HR applications beyond training. “HR can assess applicants in a data-driven manner as they solve complex problems in a virtual environment [or] new joiners can take a tour of the office they’ll be working in. The potential is vast.”

What should HR do?

HR will need to consider where VR and AR systems would be installed, especially as they could take up a lot of room, Oseland notes. “The issue we have in the UK is that space is at a premium, so will organisations have sufficient faith in the benefits that they will invest in the space to put them in?” he asks.