To survive the unprecedented crisis caused by the pandemic, mankind has turned to technology. With the help of technology we work, shop, study and even socialise and entertain ourselves online. But what is the importance of technology in shaping the workplace of the future?
Protecting the health of office workers
Albert De Plazaola, global strategy director at a design firm, which has worked for Facebook and Yahoo, says: “We’re now hyperaware of health risks…. And employers are hypersensitive about the potential for liability, if people get sick at work.”
Obviously, the open-plan workplace is no longer effective. Some experts favour a return to smaller office spaces and to working from home. The very purpose of the workplace is challenged. According to a recent article by the multidisciplinary professional services organisation EY Americas ‘Understanding who needs to be in the space and how employees are motivated is core to rethinking the need for square footage, where space is located and how it’s designed.’
Technology facilitates alternative working concepts
Technological tools allow employees to remain in contact and to exchange information and data securely.
These include instant messenger, tele-conferencing through Zoom, Skype or Hangouts, and sharing information on a designated, secure cyberspace. Moreover, they are easy to use and new ones are being developed all the time.
Also, specially designed software manages staggered work schedules and shifts to reduce the number of workers in the office at any given time.
The pros and cons of working from home
Without doubt, working from home has many advantages. Among others, it increases career opportunities for people in rural communities, for the disabled and for parents of young children.
According to McKinsey research, eighty percent of people questioned prefer working from home. Forty-one percent say that they are more productive than ever before and twenty-eight percent that they are as productive as working in the office.
In fact, the trend for working from home is so strong that De Plazaola predicts firms will start subsidising the upgrade of home offices, to make them ergonomical and more efficient.
On the downside, people working from home miss the sense of belonging to a team, as well as the social connection with colleagues at the office. These negative feelings can escalate over time and lead to depression and other mental health problems.
New types of offices using technology
To avoid adverse effects on mental health, Amanda Stanaway, a Sydney-based architect and consultant, proposes ‘the distributed office’. This is a cluster of smaller offices, located closer to the homes of employees. This way, workers can walk or cycle to work, avoiding exposure to viruses on public transport.
As Stanaway comments: “Having small groups of people working collaboratively would address the need for connections and improved mental health, but without risking massive exposure”.
The role of technology in making the office a hygienic space
In order to protect the health of employees, offices are expected to borrow elements from the design of hospitals.
For example, materials must withstand heavy duty cleaning agents. While air-filters and ultra violet light will sanitise the circulating air in centrally air-conditioned buildings. Sinks for frequent hand washing will be installed in the reception area, conference rooms, cafeterias etc.
To minimise contact with contaminated surfaces, designers propose the ‘contactless office’. Specifically, sensors, or voice activated technologies, or even commands through smartphones will operate buttons in lifts, coffee machines, light switches, toilet flushes and audio visual equipment.
To prevent sick people from entering the building, the safe workplace of the future will have thermal cameras at the entrance, as used in airports.
How productive can a sterile office be?
The technology is there to ensure facilities and processes are in place to protect the health of workers. Yet, can such a sterile office environment foster creativity, encourage team work, or promote innovation?
Large employers like Twitter and Google, large banks and big corporations have announced that their employees no longer need to return to the office. They can continue to work remotely well into 2022 and beyond.
So, what will become of existing large office buildings?
Traditionally, society has viewed corporate buildings as representations of the history, the personality and the core values of an organisation. An imposing HQ building was a way to establish a good public image for the brand and the products or services it offers, and to attract the best available talent.
However, this is no longer the case. Because, in this digital age, people rely for information on the Internet more than on real life experiences. People no longer walk casually in the city centre, past impressive corporate buildings to admire them and want to work in them.
The most effective advertising nowadays is through digital media: social media, websites, Google.
Therefore, large corporate office buildings, which are no longer used, maybe turned into rental apartments, hotels, or hostels.
What is hoteling?
Another new concept facilitated by technology is hoteling. This involves the allocation, or the rental, of office space for a specific number of hours.
In a hoteling system, searching for an office space, booking, paying, checking in and out are all handled centrally, using specially developed software. Similarly to the services of a concierge at an actual hotel.
Employees check in and use the reserved space, which may be a single desk or a large conference room with audio-visual equipment etc. The system arranges for the provision of IT access, and takes care of special requests.
In fact, hoteling is becoming so popular that there are consulting firms advising how to ‘turn facilities and workplaces from cost centres into strategic business assets’.
A similar approach to hoteling is ‘hot desking’, a system that assigns office space on a first-come, first-served basis, also operated through special software.
Adapting to change
Whatever the future of the workplace, the pivotal role of technology in keeping us connected in difficult and in good times will continue.
As a result of the measures for the pandemic, millions of people embraced videoconferencing and other forms of digital contact with excellent results.
With tele-work organisations can attract talent from anywhere in the world. They can adopt innovative processes to boost productivity. In fact, they can create an even stronger workplace culture, while significantly reducing costs.
This is why advanced technology is very important for the workplace of the future, whatever form it may take. Online meeting spaces with video conferencing technologies can replace conference and board rooms. Also, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) technologies will promote brands online. Whilst corporate websites will replace corporate buildings as representations of an organisation’s culture and values.
The digital age brings technology and computer science at the forefront. Hence, demand for well-trained professionals in IT and web design is growing all the time.
Choose an Information and Technology (ICT) related career
So, if you find digital technology and computers fascinating, why don’t you apply for a relevant Bachelor or Master’s qualification? It may help you launch a great future career.
If cost is a challenge, you can apply to Unicaf for a generous scholarship and easy, monthly payments of fees. Unicaf also helps working professionals to keep their job and salary and study online, in their own free time.
The Unicaf digital platform hosts a state-of-the-art Virtual Learning Environment, which facilitates online study. The VLE provides everything a student needs from enrolment to graduation. This includes, access to study materials and the e-library 24/7, as well as interaction with internationally qualified tutors and students in 156 countries.
Apply to Unicaf University’s technology study programmes
Unicaf University is a pan African, multi campus institution offering quality higher education.
The University is one of Unicaf’s partner institutions.
Its programmes, coupled with generous Unicaf scholarships, are offered online or on campus, in different locations across Africa.
Unicaf University degrees are internationally recognised and accredited by local educational authorities. In addition, the Malawi and Zambia campuses of the University are also internationally accredited by the British Accreditation Council, based in the UK.
The Unicaf University BSc in Computer Science
Computer science is a rapidly growing field of the Information Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Computer scientists develop the systems and software that enable computers to operate. This requires an understanding of algorithms and associated mathematics.
The programme provides students with the technical skills they need to launch their career in this field. Furthermore, modules on management, innovation, entrepreneurship, and e-business train graduates in the management and business side of the ICT sector.
During this four year Bachelor degree students study a variety of modules. These range from Computer Organisation and Operation, to Programming, Statistics, Data Structures and Algorithms, Database Management, Software Engineering, Web Technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Network Security, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
The Unicaf University MSc Web Design and Development
This Master’s programme studies in depth the principles of Web Design. It imparts all necessary skills and knowledge to create professional web designers and web developers.
Students learn how to design and develop high quality websites, which are user-friendly, efficient and attractive. Upon graduation, they can work as free lancers, or as employees in the private or the public sector.
The programme’s modules include Content Management, Applied Art for the Web, User Experience Design, Social Media and Search Engine Optimisation, Programming and Scripting, Cyber Security and Web Technologies.
The Unicaf University MBA Management Information Systems
This MBA programme provides the technical expertise and business skills needed to secure advanced positions in the IT and business sectors.
Graduates gain advanced skills in software and hardware, network administration and database systems to prepare for a successful managerial career in the industry.
Modules include Finance and Strategic Management, Theories of Management, Business Function and Procedures, Strategic Development, Strategic Leadership and Practice, Web Design and Development, Business Data Communication and Security, IT Project Management.