What workplace productivity and collaboration will look like in 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, many business and IT leaders are taking a moment of pause to reflect on the year past — and of course, what’s to come. One thing they’ll consider are the tools that helped (or didn’t help) keep their teams connected and their companies growing.

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Enterprise technology plays a pivotal role in determining the success of modern business. Tools such as chat apps, messenger integrations and cloud services have helped us become more organized, improved our collaboration processes and ultimately led to a more productive workforce. But what innovations are on the horizon for next year that will change the way we work?

Here are four of the biggest workplace collaboration and productivity trends to watch out for in 2018:

1.  Workers have their own AI-powered virtual assistants

With Amazon’s latest announcement that its virtual assistant, Alexa, is heading to the office, there is no doubt that artificial intelligence is set to have a huge impact on the workplace next year.

When you think about virtual assistants for personal use, the potential cross-over to business applications seems endless, and it’s somewhat surprising we haven’t had this sooner. With a number of exciting startups such as x.ai and Voicera also tackling the space, next year we’ll finally be set to simplify or automate several of the menial tasks that slow us down and break our concentration.

For companies that value improving employee efficiency, workers will have their own voice-powered assistant to perform tasks such as finding documents or data, ordering supplies, managing calendar invites, responding to email and much more. Amazon said the first set of Alexa for Business skills will be designed for the conference room, but next year, virtual assistants are slated to penetrate all areas of the office. They will be able to perform the actions mentioned above, as well as have other practical uses such as adjusting room temperature or turning on lights.

Google, Microsoft and Apple have yet to reveal any specific enterprise-related plans for their own respective virtual assistants, but the arms race to virtual business assistant dominance is officially underway, and the workplace will likely never be same.

2. Video conferencing becomes the standard, thanks to WebRTC

The video conferencing industry has continued to make strides and improve access to affordable high quality, reliable enterprise video. However, there still aren’t enough vendors out there embracing the technologies needed to make it the go-to form of communication or available to businesses of any size. But 2018 is poised to become the year that enterprise video will finally become as ubiquitous as consumer apps like FaceTime, thanks to a little-know tech that is finally picking-up steam.

It’s called WebRTC, and it’s an open-source platform that enables web apps to send and receive audio and video. The community-driven collection of protocols and APIs finally provide a standardized experience for vendors to deliver real-time communications where users spend most their time anyway: the web browser.

The software was introduced by Google in 2011, but widespread implementation of this tech is just now happening. It has recently been endorsed and adopted by all the big tech players including Google, Apple, Microsoft, Firefox, and Cisco, among others. And the ripple effects for enterprise video next year will be wide.

WebRTC provides a more reliable video and audio experience, requires fewer network resources and saves on processing power and battery life. The best part: adoption of this software means modern video conferencing providers will no longer require IT admins or end users to download an app. Rather, it will work natively in the major web browsers without plugins. With these changes, staying connected with distant offices or remote teams is as simple sharing an URL.

3. The smart workplace starts to catch-on

We have “smart” everything these days: smartphones, smartwatches, smart speakers and even smart jewelry. But unless you’re involved in commercial real estate, you may have missed a big, new “smart” trend over the last couple years: smart buildings.

These structures are equipped with network-based management systems powered by innovations like machine learning and the Internet of Things, and can do everything from optimize heating and cooling to identifying floors with the most foot traffic. As these features becomes the norm, smart buildings are rapidly evolving into smart workplaces, with businesses leveraging the existing systems to help their employees work more efficiently and safely.

A few recent examples of smart workplace applications include asset tracking for medical devices in hospitals, navigation apps for warehouses, safety detection services for factories, and voice and facial recognition for office security. With more spaces than ever now powered by these technologies, next year is set to spur a new trend around smart workplace innovations and applications.

4. Remote teams and flexible work opportunities continue to grow

Despite reports of some companies calling remote workers back to the office, the growing trend for companies to provide flexible work opportunities and remote options will reach critical mass in 2018.

For many companies, a remote work policy may still be a work in progress, and there are several arguments for or against the practice. However, that won’t change the business need for a geographically diverse workforce, or workers’ increased expectations around having flexible or remote options.

In a survey of 25,000 U.S. workers earlier this year, nearly one-third say they work remotely on a regular basis, while 79 percent said they work with someone who isn’t in the same office. These staggering figures are spurred on by the rise of instant communication tools like enterprise chat platforms and virtual conferencing, which continue to make remote teams and “work from home” options more feasible than ever. Businesses that fail to provide these options (or some kind of alternative) risk losing out on talent to other companies that will.

With the way things are looking, the future for collaboration and productivity in 2018 looks bright. Collaboration should be easier, faster, and more ubiquitous, and businesses should become more productivity thanks to exciting new developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The difficult piece will be choosing which technologies make the most sense for your organization and correctly introducing them to your team.

 

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