A taste of things to come

More than 100 million people are expected to telework/telecommute by 2015, in a revolution of the workplace, according to a new research report.
The Office of the Future: 2020 study predicts how offices and working patterns will have changed in 13 years’ time .
It claims self-healing software, mini wireless communication tools and interactive office spaces will all be the norm by 2020… and so will telecommuting.
Self-healing software enables computers to configure, diagnose and repair problems before the user even detects them. This software will be an advantage to small office/home office (SoHo) workers, many of whom lack a basic level of IT support.
Miniature wireless communication tools such as BlackBerrys, already widely used, are expected to become increasingly sophisticated in the years ahead. They will evolve into so-called ‘smart phones’, thought likely to combine the functions of a PC, fax, scanner, organiser, camera and of course a phone, into one handset.
The report, published by OfficeTeam, states: "Professionals will use them to participate in video conferences, check email, return calls, upload and download documents, distribute reports, collaborate on projects, conduct research, schedule virtual meetings, scan printed documents or images and send or receive text, audio and video messages.
"The tools will provide access to a corporate HQ, an instant office centre, the internet, colleagues’ computers, the user’s own home desktop or a library database."
The launch of Apple’s iPhone is a taste of things to come. The iPhone features patented ‘multi-touch’ technology, the ultimate in touch-screen technology, has a camera, a sophisticated web browser and email facilities and runs Apple’s OS X operating system.
At its launch last month in San Francisco, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs said: "Once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything."
He continued: "We are all born with the ultimate pointing device – our fingers – and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse." The 11.6mm iPhone, which will cost between $499 (£257) and $599, will be launched in the US in June and in Europe later this year.
The advance of technology and communication will also boost global working practices. The report estimates that by 2018, the sophistication of translation software will enable computers to quickly and accurately translate languages in real time "facilitating a truly global workspace".
But perhaps the most impressive development will be the advent of Knowbots – a form of advanced intelligence software that will be able to scan reports while summarising and extracting key points from them. OfficeTeam says that basic models could be available as early as this year. The time-saving potential of the technology for international working practices is staggering.
With regard to interactive office spaces, by 2020 offices are expected to be able to respond to user needs. Sensors will monitor and maintain the environment, including temperature, humidity and lighting. Some of this technology is already in use, but it is expected to significantly progress. For instance, a sensor in the back of a desk chair that detects tension in the body and signals the chair to begin a back massage.
The strategic importance of the geographic location of office space will continue to diminish over time as technology eradicates the need for expensive real estate in crowded cities.
In addition, as the provision and quality of wireless communication improves, workers will be more easily able to work remotely, whether at home or in ‘plug and play’ centres (wired office centres). More than 100 million people are expected to telework/telecommute (work from home at least one day a week) by 2015.
Despite telecommuters saving time by not having to commute to a central office, it is unlikely that working hours will reduce. According to OfficeTeam’s researchers: "Employees will put in more time at the office during the next ten to 15 years" as 86 percent of survey respondents expected to stay more connected to their work during time off.
So we can expect the offices and office-workers of 2020 to be increasingly mobile and flexible, with climate control as standard. Ultimately by 2020, the offices of the future will be even more dependent on high-spec and sophisticated IT than they already are.