The last (almost!) two years have turbocharged us into a new way of working, with the concept of ‘working from anywhere’ (WFA) becoming a compelling component of the modern workplace mix. In fact, a whopping nine out of 10 organisations are jumping on the WFA trend, saying they’ll be combining remote and on-site work post-pandemic, according to a recent McKinsey & Company report. Closer to home, a study by Swinburne University of Technology shows that a hybrid work model – a mix between remote and in-office working – is set to become the workplace norm in Australia.
With this comes an equally supercharged need for spot-on tech that offers flexibility, and is targeted towards the wellbeing, productivity and portable mindset of a newly remote workforce. Ready to get your business on the front foot of WFA technology to stay ahead of the pack? Read on to find out how.
When hiring talent, getting your tech balance right could be crucial in securing the candidate you want, says Nina Mapson Bone, managing director of Beaumont People.
“We’ve definitely seen a shift in the last six months or so, and it’s really playing into the [current] talent shortage,” she says. “One of the factors that candidates are asking about when they’re looking for a new role is if they can work from home and work in the office and have that flexibility of both [options], and what technology is provided for them at home if they do work from home.”
In fact, it can be a deal-breaker for some – she recently saw a client miss out on a preferred candidate because a company-provided laptop wasn’t part of the offer package. “Between two job offers, that was the difference between one and not the other,” recalls Mapson Bone. “So [technology is] influencing people’s decision-making.”
Be it a cafe, a co-worker’s kitchen table, a shady beach shack or yes, even the office, workers are increasingly embracing the ‘Anywhere’ in WFA. And they’re looking for the portable and flexi products to match. Think portable, light and compact tech to pop into a satchel that’s also public-transport friendly.
Wireless connectivity will be key for productivity (and sanity) in the new WFA era, with laptops with 5G enabling employees to work without the need for Wifi. Lenovo’s ‘Go’ range features a collection of wireless accessories designed specifically with the ‘Anywhere’ worker in mind. The warm and tactile design of this range, which includes an ergonomic mouse, split keyboard and portable speakers, has a more relaxed style at the core: think fluid lines, cork finishes and soft edges.
‘In transit’ portable tech tools such as digital notebooks will also be key in ensuring efficiency, as workers switch between the home and office. High-tech must-have accessories such as charging docks and wireless charging pads will also look less ‘techie’ and more like a style piece. Case in point: the Swiss-designed charger that’s compatible with Apple products from sustainably-focused design company Yohann, and US brand Moshi, which creates chic, tactile and very necessary tech accessories. See Also: Getting WFA Right Flexi Tech to Take an Office Anywhere
According to trend research company WGSN’s Work Tech Forecast 2023 report, the line between laptops, smartphones and tablets will increasingly blur as any smart device will have the potential to become a portable desktop. While the concept of laptops converting to tablets isn’t new, look out for the latest iterations, such as Microsoft’s Surface Book 3, which makes the transition even easier (this one comes apart with a press of a button).
Other flexi innovations from leading tech companies such as Samsung include smartphones that ‘roll out’ to become almost tablet size, and ‘do-it-all’ smart screens that boast independent, mobile connectivity. There is also tech talk of Apple working on larger iPads that could compete with laptops.
Mapson Bone says she’d like to see a melding of the best qualities of laptops and desktop computers, so portability blends with the advantages of a bigger screen, a separate keyboard and a mouse. “It’s kind of been either mobile devices or fixed devices,” she says. “So I think the challenge for the computer-makers now is actually getting something that is the best of both worlds, rather than being a hybrid of the worst.”
One of the greatest challenges of a hybrid workforce is keeping up the human connection. Another is conducting successful meetings with some people in the office and others at home: imagine no line drop-outs, decent sound and knowing exactly who is speaking! Imagine no more: new tech is leading the way to make hybrid collaboration work better.
Recently, Microsoft announced it would introduce 3D virtual avatars in its Teams chat system in the first half of 2022. The move will allow users to present a 3D version of themselves on-screen during meetings, meaning no more public bad-hair days (and no need for the not-so-friendly, initials-only, camera-off mode). The avatars will use AI to imitate movements and even make mouth fluctuations when the mic picks up a participant speaking. This follows on from the company introducing its “Together mode” function, where an IRL office (or university lecture hall) can be replicated to make the virtual meeting space more lifelike.
Other tech companies are leading the way in boosting virtual connection. According to Gartner, global spending on IT for remote work is set to hit US$332.9 billion this year. Associate professor Yvette Blount from the Macquarie Business School’s Centre for Workforce Futures says, “What’s really great about the technology is that we are able to have virtual meetings, and that’s good because it can make it more inclusive – we’ve got to think about how we include everybody.”
The latest conferencing hardware aims to offer high-quality visuals, automatic zooming in and re-orientating to speakers, as well as whiteboards that can be easily seen by attendees both in the office and via Zoom. Developed by US-based robotics experts Max Makeev and Mark Schnittman, the Meeting Owl features a 360-degree camera that aims to make everyone feel like they’re in the room. New video-conferencing bars are also taking their lead from sleek soundbar design, such as Jabra’s PanaCast 50, which also intelligently focuses on whoever’s speaking, just like you would in person.
As for those key notes captured on the whiteboard? Remote staff can get in on the action too thanks to Logitech’s Scribe whiteboard camera, which uses AI to broadcast whiteboard content into video meetings.
Smart-thinking employers are adopting tech that has the wellbeing of employees in mind – and tech companies are responding. “Technology needs to be used to enhance somebody’s work and their work life,” says Blount. “It shouldn’t be used to intensify work or have people work longer hours.”
According to WGSN, a boom in work-wellness tech is coming with products that help workers monitor their screen time and encourage breaks. Case in point: the Singapore-based Everdesk+ Max features a built-in countdown that can be preset at desired intervals to encourage workers to take a break.
Focus boosters that enable workers to work in short bursts are also on the rise. Amazon Alexa’s ‘Focus Time’ supports workers by playing 30-minute sessions of focus music, while US brand Neurable’s smart Enten headphones actually track how focused its users are at different times of the day and auto-mute notifications to minimise distractions. So it’s easier than ever to wave goodbye to Slack and email pings… at least for a little while.
No matter what tools and tech you adopt, one thing that won’t change is the need to set communication and ground rules for work-related tech. After all, just because new compact and portable tech can take workers anywhere doesn’t mean they should be contactable 24/7.
Mapson Bone agrees. “[You need to] make sure you have communication rules to get that balance right – when you agree what’s okay and what’s not okay, so everybody is on the same page,” she says. “There’s quite a bit of work that leaders should be putting in.”
Portugal’s Parliament is reportedly considering making it illegal to contact employees outside of work hours, except in exceptional circumstances. While we’re not quite there yet in Australia, Mapson Bone suggests managers should still be taking a close look at how technology is used in a work-from-home environment. “The risk is [that] you invest in new tech and give everyone the freedom to [work remotely],” she says. “But it can actually impact on culture quite negatively if you don’t put those communication rules in place.”