Five must-have technologies
1. VoIP phone systems
Desk-based phones are rapidly being superseded by voice over internet protocol (VoIP) systems from the likes of Avaya, BT and Vonage, as they are generally cheaper to run. Furthermore, VoIP software can be installed on laptops or smartphones so staff can take calls from anywhere with their office number. VoIP systems only work with a good quality internet connection though, so it's important to ensure your office internet service can cope with the increased bandwidth this will use.
2. Cloud collaboration services
Cloud-based collaboration tools allow staff to access information and share ideas whether working in the office, at home or on-the-go. They also ensure employees are working on the most up-to-date version of a document – avoiding the hassle of sending changes and amendments back and forth by email. There are numerous services available from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Box, Workshare and Huddle, each offering different features and functions as required, such as data protection, audit trails and administrator controls over who can access specific data. Prices are usually based on the number of users and the types of features chosen.
3. Enterprise social media tools
Enterprise social media tools such as Jive, Yammer (owned by Microsoft), or Chatter (owned by Salesforce) are becoming increasingly popular to help facilitate communication and reduce email overload. Generally these services mimic the layout and functionality of sites like Facebook and let staff share information, ask questions and connect with each other, as well as creating groups for team collaboration. They all have iOS or Android apps too so employees can stay connected with the latest discussions wherever they are. Pricing is highly dependent on user numbers but is generally around £10 per person per month.
4. Video and audio conferencing kit
There's never been a better time to roll out conferencing tools, with video and audio systems for businesses of all types now available. These range from free consumer services such as Skype or Google Hangouts, to high-end enterprise-focused offerings from the likes of Cisco and Polycom. Prices vary from a few hundred pounds into the thousands. Most of these systems are easy to use, thanks in part to the rise in consumer services, but it is important to offer training on setting up and hosting calls in order to ensure staff use the kit rather than letting it gather dust.
5. Social media management services
More and more employees are using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for business purposes – to promote offers, showcase company projects, or handle complaints for example. Tools such as Hootsuite, Sendible and TweetDeck are ideal for staff to manage this in an efficient manner, as they let them control multiple accounts from a single platform, schedule posts, track key mentions and phrases, and reply, all within a single console. Pricing usually spans from free for small accounts with basic features to bespoke contracts for larger organisations that require the full capabilities of the service being chosen.
Five technologies of the future
1. Wearable technology
Tools like Google Glass and Apple Watch may have originated in the consumer world but wearable tech is rapidly entering the workplace too. FedEx staff, for example, use a 'ring' to scan packages, helping them keep their hands free as they work. The Apple Watch now has 10,000 apps that run on its interface, many of which have clear business purposes. Different organisations will find different uses for wearables but this is definitely an area of huge potential, although one that will need to be managed with care to ensure privacy and work/life boundaries are respected.
2. Security tracking software
For organisations with staff working in remote or dangerous locations, keeping track of their movements and threats to their safety is vital. To ensure both management and those at the coalface have all the information they need, G4S has launched its new G4S TravelAware service, which offers real-time alerts on potential dangers based on data from security teams in more than 100 countries. During the 2011 Japanese tsunami it delivered warnings 47 minutes before the wave arrived, underlining the life-saving benefits such systems can offer.
3. Computer-on-a-stick devices
For staff who travel regularly or host a lot of meetings the arrival of 'computer-on-a-stick' devices could be hugely beneficial. Usually no bigger than a USB stick, they allow you to turn any screen with a HDMI port into a computer monitor with the 'stick' acting as the computer. Firms such as Intel, Asus and Lenovo are already offering such devices, running Windows, Chrome or Linux. They can also be paired with mice and keyboards over Bluetooth connections, so you can use the monitor just like a computer to access data, work on presentations, or create video.
4. Light therapy
The winter can have a serious impact on employees’ health and can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD). One solution is ‘light therapy’, which involves using high-energy lamps to create a positive atmosphere in the workplace. “If you’re in a brightly-lit environment there’s enough light to enter the eye and stimulate the brain resulting in an increase in mood and alertness,” notes Vikki Revell, a Circadian clock expert at the University of Surrey. Lamps such as the Brightspark (£115) or Desklamp (£120) from Lumie could be an ideal way to help keep workers upbeat and refreshed.
5. 3D printers
3D printers are growing in popularity as they are a great way to speedily design, test and then redesign ideas and prototypes. So far most uses have been fairly hightech – Boeing using 3D printers to produce aircraft components for instance. However, there is a growing community of sites like Thingiverse offering 3D designs that can be downloaded and used for everyday items – from coffee cups and desk tidies to coat hooks and laptop stands. With the chance to cheaply brand such items, or design them to suit your unique office vibe, it won’t be long before the 3D printer is just another part of working life.