We want the latest computers, software and gadgets to make work life easier. However, too much technology can be overwhelming – and nobody likes change for the sake of change.
Many organizations are continuing to invest in technology and digital transformation, despite rising inflation that’s driving up costs, and the economic slowdown. A recent PwC survey shows more than half of organizations are increasing their investment in digital transformation and IT initiatives, despite economic headwinds.
When it comes to investment in innovation, experts say organizations need to balance technology with the culture of the business and ensure a smooth transition when adopting new innovations.
Here are five technologies expected to dominate the workplace in 2023 and some advice on how to integrate them into the workplace:
1. Greater adoption of AI
Artificial intelligence (AI), where computers perform tasks and make decisions traditionally made by humans, continues to creep into every aspect of our lives – and the workplace is no exception.
AI will continue to affect workflow and decision-making across many organizations, says Krista Jones, senior vice-president of venture services at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. AI advancements will continue redefining the skills workers need at all levels and across industries.
“Whether you’re the CEO or the customer service rep, AI – whether it’s the insights, the data or analytics – is going to change your job,” Ms. Jones says.
In customer service, for example, she says AI will be increasingly used to handle common questions, freeing employees to focus on more complex problems, in particular those requiring empathy, judgment or simple human interaction.
Cutting-edge AI applications will become more mainstream in the workplace in the months and years to come, according to Dan Burgar, co-founder and chief executive officer of the Frontier Collective, a group of Vancouver-based tech entrepreneurs and sector leaders that promote the region’s tech industry on the world stage.
Chatbots and avatars are increasingly in use. An example is the popular AI app Lensa, which enables users to generate artistic renderings of themselves. Another is ChatGPT, an integrative language model chatbot developed by the AI research lab OpenAI, which has amassed millions of users since its launch late last year.
These kinds of generative AI applications are fun but there are also more practical uses, for example, using advanced AI and machine learning to run modelling on potential new drug therapies and drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to develop new drug treatments, Mr. Burgar says.
“I think the accuracy and power of this technology stunned mostly everyone and will only get better in 2023,” he says.
2. The 5G connection
5G – the faster, fifth-generation of mobile communications – has become a household name and will continue to drive workplace connectivity. 5G stand-alone networks are expected to double worldwide in 2023.
At this time, core telecommunications networks are still 4G, which means even in 5G-enabled areas the data eventually hits a slower 4G network. As 5G becomes more widespread, data will travel from end-to-end on the updated network, which is when the benefits will really kick in, explains Duncan Stewart, director of TMT (technology, media and telecom) research for Deloitte Canada.
While the changes may not be immediately evident for consumers and office workers, Mr. Stewart says the lower latency will boost productivity across sectors such as manufacturing and resources that can benefit from advanced automation.
“[Older] 4G networks won’t allow companies to place thousands of devices on a factory floor or on a small mine site and have the device react in a thousandth of a second [millisecond latency], but 5G stand-alone can,” he says.
Edge computing, which brings processing and data storage out of large, central locations and closer to the enterprise or organization that is the source of the data, will also allow 5G to meet its full potential, Mr. Stewart says.
5G wireless technology is great, he adds, but if processing needs to be performed thousands of kilometres away in Vancouver or Silicon Valley through traditional cloud computing, the network is the weakest link.
Edge computing puts processing and data storage closer to data sources and results in improved response times and better bandwidth availability.
“Many workplaces could be transformed by better use of edge computing and the list is basically the same as for 5G stand-alone: mining companies, manufacturing, ports and airports, utilities, forestry, oil and gas, and many more,” Mr. Stewart says.
3. ‘Smart’ tech transforms the office
Consumers are increasingly familiar with “smart” tech, which is the use of AI, machine learning and big data analysis to give objects the ability to perform traditional human tasks. Examples include thermostats trained to turn heat up or down depending on the time of day, or lighting that dims when no one is in the room.
Smart tech has much broader capabilities that will continue to roll out into the workplace and become be fully customized to each organization, says Ms. Jones of MaRS.
“Most businesses talk about digital transformation,” she says. “We call this the intelligent transformation … the intersection of the people with the processes and the workflows and the smart, integrated technology.”
Many organizations already use smart tech to automate certain customer service tasks, which frees up employees to deal with more complex tasks. Some companies also use smart tech in the hiring process, relying on advanced analytics to narrow down candidate pools, minus potential human bias that can sometimes come into play, or to track the efficacy of different recruitment efforts.
Smart tech can also help companies achieve environmental and sustainability goals by reducing carbon use by optimizing things such as heating and electricity.
4. Privacy and security in a hybrid world
The shift to hybrid work in recent years has spotlighted the need for protection of client and employee information as it travels from the office to at-home computer systems. Experts like Ms. Jones predict technologies such as biometrics, multifactor authentication, and digital integration of security and privacy will continue to dominate the discussion in IT departments this year.
“In the past, you used to have a badge that when you walked into the workplace, everybody assumed that you were authorized to do things because you could get into the building,” she says. “When you’re no longer coming into the building, where do you get the assumption that you’re authorized to do something? And how do you control things that used to be available inside a physical place that is now digital?”
Still, advances in monitoring technology give rise to questions about privacy and the legalities of such monitoring when home is work and work is home.
A 2021 survey of global employers with a hybrid work force by California-based technology company VMWare found that 84 per cent had or planned to put security monitoring in place and 70 per cent had or planned to do so to monitor employee productivity. That includes monitoring e-mails, web browsing, collaboration tools, keylogger software, video surveillance and webcams.
Of the Canadian companies surveyed, 36 per cent of those who have employee monitoring in place reported increased employee turnover. The report states that trust and transparency are key to the success of a virtual workplace. “Leaders who trust their employees to be and stay productive may enjoy a lasting advantage in the increasingly competitive war for talent,” it states.
5. Meetings in the metaverse
Tech giants including Meta Platforms Inc. (formerly Facebook), Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have all announced work to develop the metaverse, a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with other users within the computer-generated environment.
The metaverse will help foster collaboration and cohesion among their teams in the hybrid and remote workplaces that have become the norm, says Mr. Burgar of Frontier Collective.
“You can jump into platforms like Meta’s Horizon Workrooms, Nvidia’s Omniverse or many other platforms like Microsoft’s Mesh or AltspaceVR and be there with your team in real-time and see their avatars in front of you in 3-D, which allows you to get the feel of meeting in person but from the comfort of your home,” he says. “The mix of virtual and physical in-person collaborative spaces will be prevalent in 2023 and beyond.”
Last year Microsoft launched Viva Engage, a social network for Teams meant specifically to connect co-workers in a more casual way. He also expects to see more shared innovation spaces such as Newlab in New York or Station F startup campus in Paris.
Embracing new tech in the workplace
Hybrid work continues to transform the workplace, requiring organizations to adopt the latest technologies to keep their employees both engaged and productive. Many organizations have committed to investing in innovation, despite the challenging economy.
For employees, the task will be staying on top of the latest tech tools to remain relevant and advance their careers.
Dene Moore, The Globe and Mail, Jan. 12 2023