Technology for the next generation at work

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It’s almost 40 years since Bill Gates stated his aim of a computer on every desk and in every home and much has changed since then. Today we all carry more powerful computers in our pockets than used for the first moon landing – and they are certainly more connected. The internet has become ubiquitous and many of us wouldn’t know how to get things done without it. With the first digitally native Generation Z set to enter the workplace it provides a good opportunity to look at how this rapidly changing landscape is going to continue and what the impact will be on the employees of today and tomorrow. 

Adopting wearables into the working environment 

We have become increasingly accustomed to using wearables to monitor our exercise, health and sleep levels in our personal lives. So it is perhaps unsurprising then that our recent Workforces 2025 report revealed that 53% of employees would happily extend their use into the office, using them to boost their own productivity at work. This percentage is slightly higher for 18-24-year olds, with nearly two thirds (60%) being happy to do this. Other potential uses for wearables include using them to access work devices (65%) and replacing a work pass to gain access to a building with a wearable (72%). That said, whilst employees are clearly open to the opportunities that this type of technology can bring in making their lives more efficient, businesses must be wary of taking this too far. Employees may be comfortable in using wearables to make themselves more efficient and effective in the workplace, but almost three quarters (73%) would be against employers implementing them to monitor performance.   

Does VR have a role? 

Beyond wearables, the role of virtual reality within the workplace is also being considered, with signs that the next 10 years may see it become more integrated into the working day. Over a third (38%) of employees expect VR to be part of staff training within the next 10 years and almost a quarter (24%) expect to be attending events virtually through VR technology. Client meetings however are more likely to still take place in person with only 19% believing VR would replace this.    

In addition to the growth of VR, the next generation of the workforce can expect to have a slightly different relationship with the office than has been had to date. Evolving technologies are already bringing greater flexibility, which is expected to continue. A third (33%) of those questioned expect to switch between working remotely and in an office regularly. Added to this, just over a quarter (26%) believe that offices in the future will mainly be used for meetings and collaboration, rather than everyday work or administration functions that we are more accustomed to today. 

Enabling environments 

If businesses are going to really get the most out of the shifting technology and benefits this brings to the changing workforce, there needs to be an environment of experimentation encouraged throughout the organisation. This doesn’t mean entirely uncontrolled implementation of new technology or processes but making the IT department rigidly conform to proven ROI and proof of concept before rollout reduces agility. Not only does this hold back the business in taking important steps forward with technology, it also harms an organisation’s competitiveness. It is time for IT departments to become cool again and stand up for innovation, while getting the finance department to accept there will be a margin of failure with IT projects. The way to minimise the impact of unsuccessful IT projects is to gradually introduce it or run in ring-fenced departments or teams until the benefits are seen and bugs worked out – it’s good to encourage the experimentation and innovation. Conversations about expectations and ways to deliver on them are important in all levels of the organisation. It will surprise everyone how much they can learn from each other. 

It’s hard to predict which technology will really take off but attitude and openness to change is key for both employers and workers. In the mid-90s, when AOL instant messaging first made an appearance in the UK, people loved it and pressured businesses to start using some form of IM. We can expect the same type of change as people who have been consuming technology intuitively all their lives enter the workforce. Most of them will be used to voice commands for their tech, a keyboard and mouse will seem very old-fashioned for some tasks. 

The Four Industrial Revolutions:

1. Mechanisation 

2. Mass Production 

3. The Digital Age 

4. Automation  

Not a faster horse 

Henry Ford once famously said, “If you ask people what they wanted they would have requested a faster horse.” The changes we are seeing now are similar – automation is the fourth industrial revolution. We are experiencing that depth and breadth of change. It is difficult to predict which technologies will be the ones that stay the distance and truly make a difference to the workplace. What’s more, employers and employees alike cannot know what lies ahead, but what is clear is that attitude and openness to change will be critical if technology is going to be given a chance to drive an impact. Innovation needs to run throughout the company – going beyond decision makers and the IT department. All employees should be empowered to feel they can bring new ideas forward. This is also vital if they are going to be engaged with all aspects of new workplace technologies and focused on making them a success.   

The move from mainframe, to personal to mobile in computing has been a continual one and businesses have adapted and improved along the way. The prize ahead is a more stimulating work environment for everybody, supported by new technologies and extended global communications throughout the world. The earliest companies to embrace it will be pioneers – exciting times indeed. 

Duncan Gooding, COO of Talk Talk Business 

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