Picture this: A product manager is rushing to complete an internal report at a café, but needs a file on the company’s server, which he cannot access remotely. He asks an intern to send him the file over Skype.
To collaborate with colleagues in other countries, he has to use corporate audioconferencing. The product engineers can only describe a new product verbally, instead of demonstrating it via video.
He goes through the day lugging the bulky office laptop, whose batteries last just half a day, a far cry from the sleek, light personal laptop with advanced power management.
While technology has transformed the way employees work and given them some measure of mobility, recent advances can enable them to do even more. The question is whether employers are willing to implement these new avenues for improving productivity.
In recent research conducted by Dell and Intel reported in the Future Workforce Study 2016, nearly half (45%) of employees in Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) have reported that their workspace is not advanced enough. In China, for example, 63 percent of employees say their offices are not smart enough, while a larger majority of employees in Japan (40%) and India (30%) feel the same way.
The Future Workforce Study also revealed that 37% of APJ respondents report that slow and glitchy devices or software have inconvenienced them at work, while a further 15% report that they waste time on fixing broken technology. This lag in advanced workforce technology adoption could eventually result in unhappy employees and prevent companies from remaining competitive.
Employers who cannot keep up with employee expectations of workplace technology stand to lose good people. According to the research, 42% of millennials stated they are likely to leave a job with sub-standard technology while 45% of APJ respondents expect to work in a smart office within the next five years.
Millennials are also driving the preference for advanced technologies at the workplace, and for the work style changes that they facilitate, according to the research. This is particularly significant for Asia, as a joint study by the Singapore Tourism Board, Visa and McKinsey & Company revealed that approximately 60% of the world’s Millennials reside in the region.
It is now possible to work remotely with mobile tools that provide a similar experience to being in the office, and employees like the flexibility of working where they want as it can give them a better work-life balance. The research shows that 80% of India employees and 70% of China employees predict that better communication technology and remote teams will make face-to-face communications obsolete. In response, employers are beginning to offer flexible work arrangements which can include mobile work, flextime, part time, job sharing, and compressed work weeks.
Despite these findings, there is still some way to go towards changing corporate cultures and mindsets, especially in developing countries. More than 90 percent of Chinese employees say face-to-face interaction is essential for relationship-building, and most prefer it. In fact, majority (92%) agree that speaking in-person with colleagues is necessary for a productive, professional work environment.
In India, attitudes are similar. 87 percent of Indian employees say in-person interaction is critical for building relationships, with 46 percent preferring to converse face-to-face.
Employees also expect enterprise devices to undergo the same frequent upgrade cycles as in the consumer world. Commercial products that have a similar look-and-feel, materials and ease of use as their consumer counterparts are now available, with added security, manageability and reliability that businesses need.
Security solutions are essential for businesses. For workplaces with laptop infrastructures, implementing the latest malware prevention solutions is paramount. Employers are also realizing that their employees need secure access to data in a variety of locations and scenarios. Authorization solutions are available to allow access to corporate information remotely while ensuring that lost or stolen devices cannot be breached.
Emerging technologies which can potentially transform the workplace and positively impact productivity include artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) as well as the Internet of Things (IoT). One in five (21%) of APJ respondents in the Future Workforce Study say that they are looking forward to using AR/VR for skills acquisition, and the same number (21%) say 3D visualization via AR/VR can help them come up with new ideas or solve existing problems. The majority of APJ respondents also agreed that AI can make work easier, while IoT predictive maintenance solutions can address operational challenges such as unplanned downtime, overall equipment effectiveness and return on assets.
In contrast, Japan is more conservative withjust 14 percent of Japanese employees excited about using AR/VR to solve work problems. 23 percent say they cannot think of how they would use AR/VR professionally. But they did echo the rest of APJ with 45 percent agreeing that AI could help make their jobs easier.
Employers should consider a multipronged approach to transforming the workplace, not only to enhance productivity and retain talent, but to ensure they stay ahead in a digital future. The key is to find the right strategy and policies specific to your organization that will bring business benefits while maintaining security:
• Create a long-term plan to evolve the workplace in line with new technologies which can create new efficiencies for the organizations. Focus on open, future-ready solutions.
• Allow employees to work where they want to, and with the devices they are most comfortable with.
• Consider deploying the new crop of consumer-inspired business devices.
• Use digital technologies like cloud and virtual sharing from established vendors to gain productivity benefits.
• Implement a solid end-point security strategy, so there is visibility and control on who is trying to access data, what data is targeted, and why the person is trying to gain access. Cloud client computing allows data to be securely housed in the data center instead of the endpoint, providing easy access by authorized employees.
• Introduce projects for IoT, AI and AR/VR that use devices and data already on hand, if possible.
o Identify realistic use cases and use projected ROI as a guide.
o Leverage on available technical and domain expertise.
o Start small and build fast, refining the work as you go.
Existing and upcoming technologies have a part to play in equipping the modern workplace and enabling smarter environments that employees are happy to work in. In the hands of enlightened employers, the workplaces of the future will ensure that employees have the best tools in hand to maximize results, helping their companies stay agile and ahead in a world where doing business is constantly disrupted by innovation.