As a futurist, it’s my business to look into the future and think about how it’s going to affect the way that we live our lives, the way that we work at our offices, and the way that society functions. However, I also realise that for most people, peering this far ahead just doesn’t happen. It takes enough to just focus on the present or perhaps the week ahead in our increasingly hectic lives.
For businesses though, it certainly isn’t too soon to start thinking about the future. For IT leaders, the foundations for the services that businesses need in 2025 are being laid right now. Preparations need to start now if businesses are to think big and get the most from their networks. That’s because employees are expecting more from the technology that they use. You can already see the growing divergence between the technology that people are used to using in their homes to communicate with their friends, do their shopping, and watch TV, and those that they use during the working day.
It's perhaps no surprise then that when we surveyed employees across the UK, we found that just 3% described their workplace as ‘leading edge’. By this, we meant that they had high specification computers, laptops, and software, as well as super-fast and reliable internet connectivity and the use of cloud-based software and collaboration tools. Currently businesses are failing to lead the way with the technology that their employees are accustomed to using, and that they know they will need as the ways of collaborating and working become more technologically complex.
By 2025, most businesses will have a new generation of employees that expect even more from their workplace technology. They’ll also be working in a world where teams are more diverse and geographically dispersed. Some may also find themselves working alongside robots and early forms of artificial intelligence. All of these things require stable infrastructure and reliable internet connections.
However, you don’t need to look to 2025 to see how important reliable and stable technology is to be able to use the latest tech in the workplace. Damningly, 47% of employees aged between 18 to 24 years old said that slow computers and laptops were keeping them from doing their jobs. Meanwhile, 48% said that unreliable internet connections were impacting their ability to work. When networks are unreliable, they can’t be integrated into usual working processes. So it comes as no surprise then that just 7% of the employees that we surveyed said that they regularly use video conferencing at work. Meanwhile, just 17% use business grade instant messaging tools.
This demonstrates just how primitive the workplace is compared to how you live the rest of your life. Most of us wouldn’t think twice before FaceTime-ing our family in Australia, or sending a Whatsapp to your best friend arranging next week’s drinks night. The disconnect between the way that we communicate in the office, and the way we do the rest of the time, has become so vast that people now just naturally lower their expectations.
Amongst those teenagers on the cusp of joining the workforce, a more visual form of communication is the norm. As Snapchat has become the main platform for communication, teenagers have become accustomed to written messages being accompanied by the human touch of seeing someone’s face. Yet they face entering offices where faceless and expressionless email is still the primary method of communication. In fact, 45% of UK workers believe that over the next five years, email will continue to be their primary form of communication.
Some businesses might be wondering why all of this matters? After all, email isn’t broken, and you can always phone someone to speak to them. While it is true that these technologies are not going to disappear overnight, they will only be a part of a much greater suite of services that businesses need to offer their employees to work and communicate effectively.
Each new generation entering the workforce is demanding more from their employers and are fighting internally to try and catch up with the way that they’re used to using technology. For many kids today, if they want an answer to a question, they don’t sit down at a computer and Google it, but instead they ask Alexa. How long will it be until this is expected in the office?
If businesses don’t keep pace with the way that new workers use technology, it could become a serious problem for attracting and retaining the best talent. After all, why work for a company where you’ll be constantly fighting out-dated technology when you can work somewhere that seamlessly integrates into how you were already living your life?
Of course, businesses need to ensure that they’re separating out the passing fads from those technologies that will deliver a tangible impact for years to come. However, most business professionals agree that communication and collaboration is crucial, and that not enough happens in the workplace of today.
The year 2025 is closer than you might imagine. Knowing what your employees might need is no mystery. After all, your new cohort of graduate employees in 2025 are the young teenagers of today. Meanwhile, the latest developments in consumer technology give us a window into their business applications, whether it’s VR video conference rooms, or company chatbots to fulfil basic HR functions like booking holiday.
To support these services, the preparation needs to begin now. Otherwise, existing infrastructure risks being totally overwhelmed. Preparing for that future now is not just vital to remain competitive, it’s also critical to survive.
Graeme Codrington, Futurist to TalkTalk Business
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