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Like everyone I've had some time on my hands with the latest lockdown and I've really enjoyed watching lots of history documentaries.In all honesty, they’re not my usual taste, but they have got me thinking about innovation in a crisis, about needs must, about technological leaps during times of need, and about how we might be heading for a second ‘Roaring 20s’. So, I decided to write down some of my thoughts about what our own 2020s might look like, and here’s what I think is coming...
The pre-war industrial advancements fuelled the First Connective Revolution: telegraph lines, railways, electricity, and telephones. Collectively, they made the world a little smaller. The Second Connective Revolution came in the 50s, with mainframe computing and the internet. International flights were also more affordable and comfortable. You could now speak to, even visit, most of the world.
Now, I believe we’re on the cusp of a Third Connective Revolution. This one won’t be fuelled so much by technological innovation, but by global behavioural change. Some of it will be health-focussed, to curb the spread or return of the virus and to generally adopt a more sanitised lifestyle, and some of it will be people-focussed, to finally acknowledge that if the talent is right for the job, the location doesn’t matter.
The tech sector has been leading the way in remote working for some time, but even we’re going to have to pull our socks up. Just like the resources of the world were brought to bear on the vaccine, so will they be harnessed in making this new globalisation a reality. Issues with long-distance workers will be ironed out, new processes will be developed, software will spring up, and exemplars will emerge.
One of them will need to be in Distributed Working.
Offices, as we know them, are going the way of MySpace.
I think they’re going to get smaller, and change direction. We’ve already seen them becoming studios, more for drop-in meetings or project work. The vast majority of us can do the vast majority of our work from home, where it’s safer, there’s no commute, and we can be more productive. When your 3 year old throws chocolate mousse at your monitor, you start to question this, but it’s true nonetheless!
But home working will beget co-working, because people will look for their social fix from the new ‘hub’ style of offices, or just for some time away from the dessert flinging. These are already a staple of the freelance and entrepreneurial world, but I predict that they’re going to become the norm for everybody.
But there are three challenges I see:
The first is practical. Less office space means that resources will be shared and rotated depending on who’s in, essentially a large scale hotdesking project. There will be a lot of people, for a long time, who won’t be happy with the sanitary implications of that, and so a new system will need to emerge. This could surface as a connected cluster of self-cleaning smart desks, with a light system showing when they’re booked, who by, and for how long. It would need to make use of UV cleaning, like the wands they developed for airplane cockpits, and there would probably need to be an app which showed the physical layout of an office, to avoid unnecessary wandering and searching for a free desk. I think people are going to be mindful of the virus for years after the vaccination programme has completed, so at the very least this system will deliver peace of mind for productive working. Condeco are closest at the moment.
The second challenge is behavioural. Remote working is hardest on new or junior staff - as they’re missing out on so much talent development opportunity and experiencing the true culture of a business. Consider how much you learned from eavesdropping on senior colleagues’ conversations or meetings, from looking at their computer over their shoulder, from sitting at the back of a workshop and absorbing like a sponge. We have pieced together a virtual office from the best that Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet has to offer, but it’s still quite a siloed existence. With no reason for marketing and accounts to meet, the gulf between departments gets bigger, and the benefits realised from open plan offices starts to reverse. We need a real virtual office, with all the trappings of a real one, to give us the benefits too.
(Look at the video on this page for a very crude version of how a virtual office, with multiple open zones, could work. It’s for a digital rave...but use your imagination.)
(But if you have the resources, the really impressive example in this field is Spatial. You have to see it to believe it.)
The third is looking after your team’s mental health. How can we pick up on the nuances of wellbeing without signals like body language or physical behaviour? The technological solutions already exist in wellbeing apps (like Daylio for home, Wellspace for work, and even industry-specific like Etho for healthcare), but we need to consolidate. There’s no reason why an all-in-one solution can’t emerge - desk booking, better digital offices, wellbeing check-ins, and more. Workday is probably the closest at the moment.
Before the pandemic, convenience was an ‘added-value’ for customers. Not all retailers delivered, not all pubs offered queue-less ordering via an app, and not all restaurants took table bookings. But now, in 2021, who wants to go back to the old way of doing things?
We were already moving this way before the pandemic. Think about the movement in digital banks, where Monzo, Revolut, and Starling were harnessing the power of the cloud to successfully disrupt a centuries-old traditional high-street model. When the Post Office launched their ‘print-at-home’ labels, supermarkets started online shopping, and Deliveroo gave us restaurant food in our homes. The pace of change is going to pick up, and businesses which don’t adapt will be left behind.
I’ve been trying to channel my energy in a positive direction during these tough times, but when it comes to the behavioural and technological developments of 2021, it takes no effort at all to be excited. I genuinely can’t wait to see what comes next, and how CloudM can be a part of the solution to these new problems.
What big changes do you think we’re going to see in the next few years?