The workplace is evolving to be more flexible, with collaboration technology and other IT increasingly built into rooms and office spaces from the start, according to a Cisco Systems executive. The trend is not limited to large enterprises with massive real estate holdings, but also affects small to medium-sized businesses that want purpose-built solutions for their workers.
Speaking at a panel on emerging technology at the Cisco Live 2016 conference in Las Vegas, Mark Miller, business development manager for sales at Cisco Systems, said that over the past few years, much of the focus on the Internet of Things has centered on the consumer and industrial markets. However, in the next five years, he said, that focus is going to shift to the workplace, where the IoT is going to have a transformative effect.
An Evolving Workplace
Several trends are changing the nature of work, Miller said. More millennials are entering the workforce, with different expectations of how work should be done. There are evolving social contracts between employers and employees, with more job sharing, flexible work and contingent workers, which has spurred corporate real estate companies to develop elastic work environments that shrink or expand depending on the needs of a business.
The nature of work is also changing, as work evolves from process-oriented tasks that can be outsourced or automated. More work now requires collaboration and creation, Miller said, but the workplace has not evolved to keep pace. Additionally, an explosion of mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity is also changing the workplace.
According to Miller, Cisco estimates that there is about 20 billion square feet of commercial real estate in the world, and expects that number to shrink by about a third in the years ahead. “The space that will be left over will be very different,” he said. “Collaboration is going to play an incredibly important role.”
Technology’s Role in the New Workplace
Miller said the IoT’s role in new workplace design lies in helping workers get their work done more efficiently, and enabling seamless mobility and collaboration.
Smart buildings are becoming more commonplace, and the technology that underpins them and runs through them is maturing, he said, with lighting, heating, communications and security now increasingly being run through a single, converged IP network.
Cisco has been focused on the changing workplace for some time now, and Miller said the company thinks the market is moving toward delivering “technology enabled” workspaces. What does that mean? Architecture firms and furniture companies are increasingly working with IT firms like Cisco to create prepackaged room solutions that sit on top of IP networks, especially for video conferencing and collaboration.
Big data and analytics — sometimes as simple as the information provided by users’ mobile phone locations — can let businesses know where in offices people are working most and how work is getting done.
Miller said that younger workers in particular want better integrated technology in their work lives — for example, why can’t a calendaring system be integrated with a user’s GPS coordinates on a mobile phone to automatically let colleagues know when someone is running late so they can shift a meeting time? Workplaces can also be tailored to a user’s preferences for lighting and air conditioning based on their presence status, he said.
“This is not an IT problem. This really takes technology, real estate and human resources coming together,” Miller said.
Small Business Opportunity
Miller said that when Cisco started looking at workplace transformation, it figured it would be a solution for large enterprises. “I would tell you that some of the most interesting activity going on right now is in small to medium businesses,” he said. “I think it’s partly a reaction, because they have to. They’re facing the same demands. The same trends are impacting them.”
Small businesses are craving prepackaged solutions, Miller said. “They want the answer at the end of the book,” he said. “They don’t have time to do big prototypes and pilots and proof-of-concepts.”
Cisco is working with architecture firms to create those kind of spaces, in which buildings and technology are designed together, Miller added. He said companies typically refresh their real estate portfolios every eight to 10 years, and that increasingly, business are looking to consolidate and transform their real estate holdings.
“This is a transformation that’s happened, is happening and is going to happen,” he said. “For every client, it’s going to be somewhat different.”