“The future is mobile”. In aggregate terms, how many times do you suppose these words have been repeated in tech blogs, marketing copy and in keynote addresses? Unarguably a tiresome cliché at this point, how the consumer relates to this accelerating “shift to mobile” is the subject of endless speculation, analysis and time.
In the corporate space it’s a little different. True, a good amount has been written, usually incorporating catchy phrases like “Bring Your Own [mobile] Device”, but with very little of it – with the greatest of respect to those involved of course – having any great substance or meaning. This is understandable given the comparatively unexciting nature of the corporate, business to business space, but it also presents an opportunity for a painted vision of how, in very concrete terms, mobile devices are going to influence the workplace in the coming years.
Firstly, let’s talk about corporate communications. Great efforts and significant resources are already expended in trying to create a working environment where each worker, each department, each manager, communicates and engages with other elements of the company in some meaningful way. There are of course, entire departments dedicated to this particular purpose, and specific software solutions like intranets, or more recently Enterprise Social Networks.
Tablets and smartphones and mobile app-ecosystems are going to change these approaches radically. They’re going to give communications departments a way of reaching out to the most proverbially “remote” employees and give them a straightforward, pleasant and engaging way of dialling into company news and materials. It’s about leveraging what has worked so well in the consumer space and adapting it to the corporate space.
If you doubt the ability of mobile devices to fundamentally change how people operate consider the impact of e-readers. E-readers have helped to get the population at large reading again – if they can engage more people through sheer ease-of-use in the consumer space, why can this not be adapted for the corporate space?
Ultimately, the substance of the office of the future will exist in the cloud. Cloud-synchronization will join up every conceivable sort of device, from tablets and smartphones to traditional desktop and hybrid devices – and the growth of investment in mobile network infrastructure will mean this sort of information, be it simple PDF documents or 4k video content, will become ever more accessible, be it in the middle of the countryside or the heart of a big metropolis.
These are trends that are laid largely by improvements in real, physical hardware, but its good software that will establish the feel and lay down things like intuitive, stress-free user interfaces. For that reason, you’re probably going to hear a whole lot more about “enterprises apps” in the coming years and, in all truth, because of the speed with which consumers discover practical mobile apps, there’s likely to be a huge crossover between the consumer and corporate markets in this sense. Consider Dropbox, which started out as a consumer-orientated tool and has now become an “enterprise app”.
This illustrates a contrast with the past, where there was a hard-edged indelibility to what differentiated what was either “enterprise” or “consumer” software. In part, IT departments reserved, and still do reserve, the final say over what software can be adopted and what can’t for this very reason.
So, the office five years from now, whilst probably still seeing a dearth of traditional laptop and desktop devices, will be defined by mobile devices and mobile network infrastructures. If you want a visual cue, imagine a scattered workforce who, quite feasibly, don’t need to gather together in person except for regular meetings. Naturally this won’t mean the end of physical premises, we’re not that naïve, but it will mean that the employee gains greater flexibility in where he or she can work from, and that the office itself will be, as default, a transient, hot-desking space.
One obvious question that is going to be reflexively raised by such an assertion is, understandably, how managers keep an eye on their employees given the erosion of the concept of a fixed, five day a week workplace. The correspondingly obvious answer is in integrated tracking systems that give managers a bird’s eye view of who is doing what and when.
Consider corporate training, as app developers we’ve already done integration work that segues our own apps neatly into Learning Management System workflows when it comes to corporate training; meaning in plain English that managers can follow everything from percentage of a particular course completed to how engaged with a particular explanatory on-boarding video an employee was.
So while offices in 2020 will still undoubtedly exist, they’ll be multipolar places that exist, increasingly, more and more in the cloud and are defined more and more by employee initiative and engagement. How management plans to leverage this to drive growth remains to be seen, but the opportunities for enterprising managers are limitless.
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