Ditching the physical office – the company of the future is here

  • The holographic receptionist
  • Tele-presence robots in virtual conference rooms
  • The augmented workspace can be anything you want it to be
  • Smart desks and treadmills – the end of sitting?
  • Fading the lines between work and leisure

The 20th century office is ready for disruption and the company of the future is here. Imagine an office that looks like it’s been taken straight from a science fiction movie. Think holographic receptionists that welcome you into the building and smart desks that know when you want to stand up. Let’s have a look at the company of the future.

The holographic receptionist

Walking into a workplace or conference room will never be the same again. In the future, a holographic receptionist will make use of biometric technology such as iris identification to make sure you are who you say you are. Then she will greet you by name, sign you in, give you access to the meeting room and wish you a nice day. She can also activate security scanning, behavioural analysis, intent prediction and lie detection technology – just to make absolutely sure.

Think the above is a little too sci-fi? It’s not, actually. The unique and highly interactive PRSONAS hologram receptionist is already being used in various companies. Her features are based on realistic, computer generated images and she interacts with customers through artificial intelligence as well as proximity sensors. Built-in motion sensors alert her to people approaching, so she can react and engage with them. She receives deliveries and notifies employees when they have a visitor. She can deliver video chat support, send out marketing content and handle commerce transactions. Cloud-based portals enable the user to change how the hologram receptionist looks and sounds and even customise the way she interacts with clients.

A hologram of a woman standing in a lobby with a screen next to it
The unique and highly interactive PRSONAS hologram receptionist is already being used in various companies.

Tele-presence robots in virtual conference rooms

Only a few decades ago, the concept of virtual offices was more like science fiction than a potential future scenario. However, more and more organisations are jumping on the remote working and virtual office bandwagon. In the near future, we won’t need a conference room anymore. For important meetings we will just sit down – or stand – with our tablet and VR headset and wait for the others to join the virtual conference room. Across the table from you is your co-worker John, who is working from his home office in Zurich today. To the right, the CEO of the company is joining from Japan. To the left, there’s your colleague, who is currently in Chicago. Tele-presence robots have been successfully used by various companies. They roll around on squat wheels and have a telescoping pole that can extend from 1m to 1.5m. On top is an iPad or other tablet type device to show the remote colleague’s face. Some would argue that teleconferencing this way isn’t really any different from a Skype call, but others say that the tele-presence robots offer the advantage of ‘physically’ – bot not actually – being there. These wheeled robots can also leave the room with you and other co-workers to join in the conversation around the cooler or the canteen.

In the future, people might not even use tele-presence robots anymore, but take part in meetings by projecting their holographic selves. Star Trek and Star Wars may actually have been onto something. Remember their 3D projections? That’s no longer sci-fi! Like the receptionist in the previous example, we will be using 3D holograms in a lot of other ways as well. Members will simply be beamed into meeting rooms as if they were really there.

The augmented workspace can be anything you want it to be

With augmented reality, a small, plain room can be transformed into any type of environment you can dream up. Imagine an office space with only people and some desks and chairs. No windows and nothing on the walls. This room could easily be transformed into multifunctional spaces. With the use of AR headsets, the walls can be instantly replaced by digital whiteboards that people can write on with their fingers. The room could be voice-commanded to keep a copy of your brainstorming session (video and audio footage). Then, you could completely transform the décor and turn the space into a multimedia showroom to present your company’s latest product designs.

Smart desks and treadmills – the end of sitting?

The office of the future will see more and more flexible, open plan and portable work spaces. The standing desk trend will very likely become more prevalent; some will have adaptable footrests that enable you to shift your position and weight. For those who prefer a little more movement throughout the day, treadmill desks could be the ideal solution.

To research the effects of working in various positions, architects Ronald and Erik Rietveld, founders of the Dutch architect firm RAAAF, developed an experimental work landscape in which traditional desks and chairs are replaced by large 3D shapes in various heights and widths. The different angular surfaces transform each piece of furniture so that it can be explored to try out different standing positions. Some shapes are perfect to lean against or sit on, while others provide the ideal laptop support. The components can be grouped together to form different spaces. With desk workers’ number one complaint being the lack of physical movement, our future offices and meeting rooms will see a significant transition from sitting to standing or walking work spaces

Another development set to gain popularity in the future is the Smart Standing Desk – the obvious solution to those who prefer a combination of sitting and standing. Its smart keypad remembers your standing and sitting heights and comes with a voice controlled, artificially intelligent personal assistant, wireless charging pad, Bluetooth speaker, and memory pad. Not only can the AI assistant of the desk control lighting and heating systems and a host of other connected devices; it can also remind you of important meetings, give you weather updates and answer questions.

Fading the lines between work and leisure

The greatest ideas, most groundbreaking innovations and inspiring breakthroughs often happen outside of the traditional workplace. They happen through unusual situations, chance encounters and unforeseen circumstances. To encourage creativity, motivation and inspiration, work spaces are seeing ever increasing shifts towards areas and office furnishings that promote exactly that. Casual conversations in a relaxed atmosphere often bring people closer together and encourage teamwork. Think, for instance, comfortable ‘loungey’ furniture and even playrooms where people can play games of have brainstorm sessions in an informal setting. In the future, more emphasis will be placed on maximising employee health and wellbeing and the new workplace will increasingly incorporate green spaces, standing or walking meetings and events like wellness days.

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The company of the future

The company of the future will see whiteboards replaced by virtual and augmented reality and teleconferences replaced by holograms. The future office environments will promote creativity and wellbeing in comfortable, more natural settings. Companies will offer workers greater flexibility in terms of start and finish times, shared work spaces and the ability to work from home or other locations. Physical offices will increasingly be replaced by virtual ones.

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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