In 2030, the way we work will be noticeably different from today. Emerging technologies will improve the employee experience, enabling a more flexible and dynamic way of working. To get to the workplace of the future, enterprises must evolve their relationships with IT leaders and increase their investments in IT spending. The rise in hybrid work has started to move companies in the right direction. To meet the needs of this flexible model of work, IT spending is expected to exceed $4.6 trillion just in the next two years alone. Just as important, hybrid work has elevated IT’s role from operations support to essential business partner.
To make the most of these advancements, IT leaders need to stay ahead of workplace technology trends. In this ebook, we’ll look at past trends to understand how the workplace has evolved to where it is today. We’ll also explore current trends driving work forward and how they’ll lay the foundation for the future workplace of 2030 and beyond.
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
1. How’d we get to where we are today?
Technology has been a catalyst for change and innovation in the workplace. It enables new ways of working and helps us imagine where the future of work might lead us. In our search for new technologies, we can learn plenty from the past. So before we dive into current workplace technology trends, let’s take a look at how we got to where we are today.
The 1980s: Technology gets personal
In the 1980s, personal computers arrived in the workplace and the modern office began to take shape. Today, it’s hard to imagine work—let alone life—without computers. Personal computers boosted productivity and employers began to invest in training their employees to take advantage of this technology. That same decade, the first mobile phone hit markets. But mobile didn’t impact work or the workplace in a significant way until later.
- The local area network (LAN)
- Personal computer boom
- Mobile phones
The 1990s: A new way of work is born
The 1990s introduced widespread adoption of the internet. With it came the first content management systems (CMS) and the rise of email. Employees could access the resources they needed to be productive, no matter their location. Because of these technologies, companies including American Express, IBM, and AT&T, began to test telecommuting options.
- The world wide web (WWW)
- Content management systems (CMS)
The 2000s: Goodbye, cubicles. Hello, telecommuting
In the 2000s, computers were faster, more affordable, more portable, and, as a result, more common. By 2005, 1.8 million US employees were telecommuters. Cloud-based communication tools grew more popular and made remote collaboration easier. Meanwhile, cubicles began to grow out of fashion, replaced with open spaces that emphasized collaboration to improve productivity. Coworking spaces where employees could interact with like-minded people also became more popular.
- High-speed internet
- Cloud-based communication tools
The 2010s: Millennials make their mark on workplace culture
A decade into the new millennium, email, smartphones, and the rise of social media enabled an “always-on” work culture. Employees could bring work home with them, blurring the lines between home and work. For younger employees who valued work-life balance over job progression, this was an issue. To keep up with employees’ demands, companies began to invest in a workplace experience that attracted and kept talent.
- Cloud storage
- Collaboration tools and apps
- Wearable technology
Looking at past trends like computer adoption, better internet connection, and cloud-based technologies, the move toward a more flexible model of work seems inevitable. Technologies that enable remote collaboration and productivity became embedded in employees’ daily workflows. But the 2020 pandemic rocket launched companies into a remote-by-necessity work model. Luckily, the technologies of the past laid the groundwork for enterprises to act fast and set employees up for remote work success.
Since then, we’ve seen a rise in hybrid work. In fact, in a September 2021 survey, 79% of employers said their organizations plan to adopt a hybrid work model. Let’s dive into how technology will adapt to support these new working models.
2. The trends shaping hybrid work
When companies around the world went remote, the technologies that enabled employees to be productive from home became business-critical. Now, people are headed back to the workplace. As the hybrid work model is gaining in popularity around the world, organizations must invest in technologies that enable both on-site and remote collaboration.
A successful transition to hybrid work requires investment—especially for enterprises where rolling out new technologies at scale is complex, detailed work. Gartner recently forecasted that worldwide IT spending will increase 5% annually over the next two years. As companies focus on making the hybrid model work, Gartner predicts that spending on enterprise software alone will grow 8.8%. With bigger budgets and a completely different model of work to support, let’s explore the trends IT teams must focus on to support today’s employees in the workplace.
Trend 1: Technology that supports hybrid work
Hybrid work is here. Enterprises rely on scalable technologies that enable hybrid work to stay in operation. Before hybrid work, IT’s focus was on the technologies needed in the physical workplace. When the pandemic hit, that focus shifted to supporting the transition to remote work. Now, under a hybrid work model, IT teams must support both on-site and remote setups—often with limited resources.
With fewer people on-site on any given day, workplace teams need to be more thoughtful than before about how to use their space. Every aspect of the workplace can be designed with purpose, based on data. In the past, companies used many disjointed technologies to access data on how people use the workplace—if they could access it at all. Now they can get key metrics from a single workplace platform to make data-driven decisions about their space. For example, an analysis of more than 220,000 desk bookings revealed that nearly half of companies have at least one desk that makes up 10% of total bookings. Workplace platform data can show admins which desks are underused so they can make better use of their existing space or cut real estate costs.
Under hybrid work, teams also need new ways to collaborate with employees who are remote and on-site. This starts with installing high-quality audio and video in every meeting room. Folks who are remote have access to computers with built-in cameras and noise-canceling headsets. On-site, 360-degree cameras can create the experience of in-person participation for remote employees. In a survey of over 400 workplace leaders, 40% of respondents said their organizations invested more in conferencing technology, such as monitors, cameras, and microphones.
Even hosting brainstorms virtually has become less painstaking. Meeting room cameras can enhance what’s written on physical whiteboards for remote participants. Better yet, virtual whiteboards like Miro allow meeting participants to draw and ideate as though they’re in the same room. Platforms like Google Workspace can connect people’s calendars, email, and digital file storage—making it easy for employees to create meetings, communicate, and work from anywhere.
Of course, none of this is possible without connection to high-speed, reliable internet. In today’s high-tech workplace, poor internet can kill employee productivity fast. Enter networking solutions. Investments in these solutions, both in the workplace and remote work environments, is an investment in efficiency, productivity, and workplace equity. Of course, “work from anywhere” can have its drawbacks. We’ll talk about the implications it can have on security a bit later.
Trend 2: Technology that promotes health and safety in the workplace
A hurdle many companies face today is enticing employees back to the workplace. Concerns about health and safety at work remain high: 66% of people worry about returning on-site. (That’s 78% for people of color and 75% for Gen Z employees.)
To encourage employees to return, companies need to consider their psychological safety as well as physical. In Gensler’s Design Forecast 2021, Gail Napell, Global Design Resilience Co-Leader, shared, “Health is an imperative both in the built environment and in the policies that people use to support it. People need to feel healthy and safe. It’s not enough to have a space that’s built to be safe. We actually need to make the healthiness of our spaces visible.” This starts with investing in the technologies that keep people safe in the workplace. In 2021, many organizations began up-leveling their COVID-19 safety protocols by requiring proof of vaccination or health checks to keep people safe while on-site. These tools not only help workplace teams ensure people who came in were healthy, they also give employees peace of mind.
Space management tools can help track workplace density and create socially-distanced floor plans are a couple of examples. These tools also provide analytics that monitor how employees use the workplace so companies can optimize their space for health and safety.
The touchless workplace has also begun to take form. Tools that enable hands-free experiences are more commonplace. Touchless sign-in, access control, and infrared temperature screenings are just a few examples. Environmental, health, and safety (EHS) management software can help companies record workplace-related accidents, improve prevention strategies, and comply with OSHA regulations. These technologies play a big role in ensuring employees feel safe in the workplace. But to really put employees at ease, companies should couple these technologies with practices like clearly marked collaboration areas and safety-focused workplace policies.
If I were sitting here with you 11 years ago and said ‘this morning I was in my Uber, on my iPhone, booking an Airbnb in Madrid, the only thing you would know about is Madrid. None of those things existed. And that’s just an example of how fast things are changing and how we integrate all of these new technologies into our everyday lives.
Global tax and legal services leader at PWC
Trend 3: Omnichannel, device-agnostic workplace technology
Employees today expect a flexible and seamless workplace experience. They want their technology to be as easy, intuitive, and device-agnostic as their favorite personal apps. They want to be able to work from anywhere, on any device they have available. Employees expect a streamlined experience, regardless of where and when they work—from the time they enter the building to when they leave. Or, if they’re remote, from the moment they open their laptops to when they close them for the day.
Today, technology is less about being “always-on” and more about being “on” when and where you need to be. IT leaders must respond by looking at technology holistically across the enterprise. Instead of introducing disjointed point solutions on an ad hoc basis, they must begin to take an omnichannel approach to workplace technology. The result is a smarter workplace that uses integrated technologies to provide a seamless employee experience.
Today, technology is less about being “always-on” and more about being “on” when and where you need to be.
To bring this experience to life, let’s take a look at an example. Here are a few highlights in product marketing manager Kelly’s workday:
Kelly registers to go into the workplace tomorrow. They upload their proof of vaccination and invite a teammate to join them in a mobile app.
They arrive at the workplace and automatically unlock doors with access control on their phone then easily find the hot desk they reserved the night before.
Kelly uses their phone to secure the nearest meeting room for a last-minute call.
Kelly gets a Slack notification when their visitor arrives and tells the front desk team that they’re on the way by tapping a button in Slack.
Kelly leaves the office early for an appointment and checks in on a document while in an Uber.
Back at home, Kelly joins a call with a remote manager in a different timezone. They share their screen as they go over an upcoming launch.
Kelly is like many employees today: app-wielding, able to multitask on the go, and hybrid—moving between home and the workplace.
“If I were sitting here with you 11 years ago and said ‘this morning I was in my Uber, on my iPhone, booking an Airbnb in Madrid, the only thing you would know about is Madrid,” said PwC’s Carol Stubbings, Global Tax and Legal Services Leader. “None of those things existed. And that’s just an example of how fast things are changing and how we integrate all of these new technologies into our everyday lives.”
IT must shift its focus from delivering siloed projects to implementing solutions that deliver real outcomes for their business. Their solutions should encourage people to work on-site and engage in workplace culture. IT can measure its success by tracking employee productivity, sentiment, and attendance in the workplace.
Trend 4: Cloud security
Employees can access their work from anywhere and on any device—from their laptops in the workplace to their mobile devices in their Uber ride home. Web-based content management systems (CMS) enable employees to access important (and confidential) work information from anywhere. Cloud-based technologies can make flexible work work—but it can also have major security implications. The FBI reported a 400% increase in cybersecurity complaints from the start of the pandemic—up to 4,000 complaints a day. According to a Radware survey of more than 260 senior executives, 76% of companies adopted cloud services faster than they planned due to moving to a remote work model during the pandemic. “Employees are now accessing business data and cloud services from multiple endpoints, across multiple devices and from multiple locations,” says Jim Bowers, Security Architect for TBI. “Protecting the network amid such dispersed activity is a high priority.”
To prevent hackers from causing havoc, companies have had to completely rethink their cybersecurity strategies. The focus is no longer just on a company’s overall cybersecurity environment. It’s now on ensuring every individual’s machine is secure—from Frank in the support department to Fatima on the marketing team. To make things trickier, employees can connect their devices to all kinds of networks without knowing whether they’re secure. This is difficult to manage at smaller companies and becomes nearly impossible to manage at enterprises. Zero-trust models are now standard and multi-factor authentication is the norm. Tools like cloud access security brokers (CASBs) can add another layer of security, helping companies safely use the cloud. IT teams are expected to partner with folks in HR to educate employees on how to best keep their devices secure.
Work and the technology that enables it is constantly changing. But no one could have prepared for how fast workplace technology would have to change when the pandemic hit. Enterprises had to accelerate their move to the cloud and adopt technologies that support hybrid work, and think holistically about the workplace experience. They’ve also had to carefully examine how to keep their businesses safe in an era of work where every device is a possible threat to security. IT leaders play a critical role in making sure employees are set up for success and their companies remain secure. And that role will only become more important as work continues to evolve and the workplace of the future takes shape.
I see a future where individual employees have their own profiles that track their work preferences. As they approach the desk they booked for the day, it’ll automatically adjust to meet their specific ergonomic needs.
Workplace Technology Manager at Envoy
3. Meet the workplace of the future
Welcome to 2030, an entirely new era of work. The workplace of the future feels little like the workplace of today. Experts predict that the workplace will be more community-oriented and tech-enabled than ever before. Employees on-site will have immersive interactions with their remote colleagues in many areas of the workplace. Here’s how workplace technology will look in a decade.
Trend: Smart home tech enters the workplace
Five to ten years down the line all the technologies we see in a smart home will be in the workplace—but they’ll be even more advanced. “I see a future where individual employees have their own profiles that track their work preferences. As they approach the desk they booked for the day, it’ll automatically adjust to meet their specific ergonomic needs,” says Dana Stocking, Workplace Technology Manager at Envoy.
To make this work, new open-source software will come onto the market replacing walled gardens that prevent workplace tools from talking to each other. These open ecosystems will turn the workplace “on”—enabling an on-site experience that’s tailored to people’s unique needs and preferences. Beyond ergonomics, this smart technology will help you find that desk you booked for the day. When you approach it, your desk’s light will start blinking so you can easily find it. With a simple tap of your phone, you can change the color of the light to indicate that you’re doing heads-down work so others won’t disturb you.
Your phone will act as your personal wayfinding device. Holding it up will illuminate everything you can adjust—from the temperature and lighting to audio and visual equipment. If you want to change the volume of music in the room, you can access audio control based on your proximity to the device.
Smart technology isn’t new, but it has a ways to go before it enables a true immersive experience. In 10 years, we’ll see this technology make major strides, drastically changing how employees engage with the workplace.
Trend: Telepresence capability is integrated throughout the workplace
Tools that enable telepresence in the workplace will give remote employees a true “in the room” experience. Today, tools like Kaptivo help teams digitize physical whiteboard content. In 2030, AR, VR, and AI will uplevel these technologies. People will join meetings using virtual reality devices. They’ll be able to interact with their teammates as though they’re in the same room. There’ll also be a greater variety of meeting spaces, like Google’s Campfire—where employees sit in a circle and remote attendees appear on life-size displays in between on-site folks. These spaces will replace the standard meeting room as the most desired place in the workplace.
Beyond meeting rooms, smart screens throughout the workplace will help incorporate remote employees into on-site culture. Digital surfaces will allow employees who are on-site to have a virtual coffee with colleagues who are remote. These interactions will help spark connections between people who otherwise may not meet.
Just about every surface will be digitized—countertops, tables, refrigerator doors, and glass walls will be game. Employees will be able to play on digital game boards during their lunch breaks with work friends. These boards will switch to meeting room screens or digital whiteboards with a tap and a swipe.
Virtual team dashboards will become commonplace. They’ll show who’s on-site on a given day and what floor they’ll be on. They’ll also provide useful information like team member’s birthdays and OOO dates. “During the day, you can show company metrics or social media feeds. But after hours these can become portals for those who want to feel connected to the social life of the office—but from the comfort of their den,” Brian Stromquist, co-leader of Gensler’s technology workplace practice area.
Trend: Health and safety evolves from point solutions to the built environment
Today, the market for health and safety point solutions continues to grow more saturated. The workplace of the future will incorporate more advanced versions of these technologies into the physical building. This will go beyond today’s HVAC and green building technologies. Desks and meeting rooms will offer real-time feedback on health and wellness best practices. For example, if you booked a room for a two-hour brainstorm, the room will remind you when to take a short break. Depending on your preferences, it will also dim room screens during breaks, giving people time to relax their eyes and refocus so their attention doesn’t wane.
Smart glass technology will allow you to tint glass to control glare and optimize daylight. Companies can tint different zones of the workplace with precise control. With this technology, employees will feel less walled in and experience less eye strain and fewer headaches. The exposure to more natural light will decrease drowsiness and boost happiness in the workplace.
Wearable technology will advance to tell people when they’re sick, so they don’t go into the workplace. If an employee begins to get ill while at work, their wearables will let them know that they should go home and it’ll update their calendars. If symptoms persist, this technology will even offer to book an appointment with their healthcare advisor.
Trend: Flexible workspaces replace cookie-cutter spaces—and they respond to employee needs
In 2030, the workplace will look different every time you visit. On days when more people are on-site, there will be more individual workstations available. These stations will be able to move responsively, depending on how many people registered to work on-site the day before. Furniture will be flexible and change depending on how employees need to use the workplace. If you need more privacy, a robot can inflate a temporary balloon wall in under a minute to give you a pop-up meeting space.
Space management technology will help admins figure out what layouts work best for special events according to specific spatial needs. Once they’ve decided on a layout, tech-enabled furniture will say, on their displays, exactly where in the workplace they should be moved—some will even be able to move themselves. This technology will also help cleaning staff communicate which areas of the workplace have been sanitized using digital displays.
By 2030, we’ll see [hybrid work] shift from optimal to necessary. As collaboration tools continue to evolve and connectivity becomes ubiquitous, ‘where’ you’re working will become less important.
Vice President, Alliances and Channels at OnSolve