Office of the Future

How Higher Ed Is Nurturing The Next Line Of Workers

Office buildings, as we know them, began in 1726 in London, and have evolved into a space seeking productivity, efficiency, creativity and worker well-being. What has been left out of the office evolution equation is cultural communication. We are not talking about culture as it relates to co-workers of different cultural backgrounds. We’re referring to workers understanding each other while working in their respective technical silos.

Amy Loomis, Ph.D., director of the Future of Work for The International Data Corporation (IDC), says university educators must include in their curriculum a sense of collaboration and understanding of different technical cultures. 

How can Ph.Ds. in quantum physics collaborate with Ph.Ds. in artificial intelligence (AI) when they are sitting across the table from one another, or in offices across the country, when they do not understand each other’s language or scope?

Loomis says one of the biggest inhibitors to being able to become a high functioning, productive, future-of-work company is that there are siloed organizations and people who do not know how to speak to each other across business units or across functions.

“HR doesn’t know how to talk to a line of business that’s focused on engineering,” Loomis says. “People that are in finance don’t know how to talk to people in HR. As there continue to be more mergers and acquisitions and collaboration across different technology areas, you need to be able to collaborate across industry culture.”

Loomis, who sits on the advisory board for the digital education incubator at Boston University, says there is going to be much more instrumentation and integration in technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and robotics. That will require even more language synergy. To go with that, educators must be able to teach students to adapt to diverse environments.

“It won’t be like walking into a library and sitting down at a cube,” she says. “There has to be facility with technology; there has to be facility with collaborating across different geographic and cultural boundaries and doing so in a virtual environment, and not just in a physical environment.”

That brings us to a central theme of the future classroom: The Workforce of the Future is all about a worker’s willingness to adapt and make that a mindset.

Companies are going from “we need somebody to do X kind of programming or X kind of analytics to a worker who has a capacity to work in a way that is adaptive to both.”

“While we’re asking them for skill A today, we may very well need them to pivot and have skill B tomorrow,” Loomis says “So, as you’re thinking about it in the classroom, what needs to happen is not simply a matter of ‘Do I know it, but can I apply what I learned doing skill A to doing skill B?’”

And this is why the term “human skills” has gained so much traction in the planning for the workforce of tomorrow. The human skills, inelegantly referred to sometimes as “soft skills,” are critical thinking, collaboration, a good sense of judgment, and a willingness to learn.

There are ways of learning that are not only specific to content but specific to being critical thinkers, being good collaborative players, and being somebody with a good sense of judgment. 

“To be a student in the classroom means much more than sitting there and absorbing information,” Loomis says.

One of the important lessons for the future workforce is landing on the appropriate intersection of technical knowledge and human knowledge. Facebook is having an issue now with how its technology sorts through posts on the platform and how the technology intersects with ethics. “We get people who have a good sense of how to program really well, but they don’t have a sense of ethics about how that programming can or should be used,” Loomis says.

There is also an issue about whether the data sets produced by humans and used in technology are sufficiently diverse. That intersection of human skills and technology skills is tricky, indeed. Studies have shown how human bias gets baked into the way we program our technology. For example, a game developed by men might be hard for women to play when women were not included in the process.

Loomis says the issue of bias can be addressed by having a diverse talent pool of people programming those technologies. And that gets to another issue for the Workforce of The Future. Where are the students coming from?

After World War II, the GI Bill created a pathway for thousands by providing educational benefits, but there is no one modality in today’s society. Students for the future workforce are going to come from a more diverse population. 

“That old model of a four-year system where you’ve got 18-to-21 year olds as your target audience, and you bring them up to understand a particular field, and then they go off to find a job in that field, and then they go up through the ranks, and then they retire—that model doesn’t exist anymore,” Loomis says.

More often today, men and women are going to have between 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime and it could be across three different industries. “The students of the future workforce are going to be shoreless to some degree,” Loomis says. “Swim where you will. It’s not about training for a particular area; it is about training to be able to to adapt.” 

“The students of the future workforce are going to be shoreless to some degree. Swim where you will. It’s not about training for a particular area; it is about training to be able to adapt.”

Amy Loomis, Ph.D., Director, International Data Corp.

And that is what is fundamental to the Workforce of The Future. The ladder has been replaced by lattice. You do not work up, you work up and sideways. The future worker needs to be prepared for a career that moves in different directions with different challenges.

Almost 300 years after the creation of the first office, the “office” worker is still adapting. “The Office of the Future is not a distant concept; it is happening now,” says Greg Ryan, VP, corporate planning center, Canon Information & Imaging Solutions Inc. “Companies need to find ways to pivot their existing workflow strategies to embrace the digital transformation, and a great way to accomplish that is by synthesizing emerging technologies with existing. This is how we can reach the full potential of the Office of the Future.”

“The Office of the Future is not a distant concept; it is happening now.”

Greg Ryan, VP, Corporate Planning Center, Canon Information & Imaging Solutions Inc.


Right around the corner…
Why the office of the future is closer than you think

The Office of the Future is here. When asked whether or not companies must embrace today’s ever-changing digital landscape, that is the first thing Greg Ryan will tell you. By synthesizing emerging technologies with existing resources, your company can take the steps needed to create an Office of the Future.

Thanks to Canon U.S.A. Inc.’s “Office of the Future” initiative, Ryan, VP of the corporate planning center for Canon Information & Imaging Solutions Inc., and Canon have had a firsthand look at these digital transformations. Founded in 2017, the initiative continues to help companies keep up with the ever-changing technological landscape by offering the latest trends, data insights and solutions needed to adapt.

According to the IDC InfoBrief, sponsored by “Canon, Digital Transformation & Emerging Technologies: The Canon Office of the Future Survey,” 60% of enterprises will implement digital transformation strategies by 2020. That has made evaluating current workflow strategies to best understand how cloud, security and other emerging technologies critical for today’s businesses in an ultra-competitive marketplace. For example, the study showed that 69% of business owners say cloud services will be instrumental to boosting profitability and productivity in the future.

For its part, Canon continues to help its customers accomplish this through various software development activities incorporating data analytics, AI and imaging technologies. “Organizations should leverage these initiatives to add intelligence and automation to routine business processes and workflows, off-loading mundane tasks and enabling information workers to focus on increased value and innovation,” says Holly Muscolino, Research VP, Content Technologies and Document Workflow at IDC. 

Staying in front of the curve is the difference between having an Office of the Future or yesterday’s model.