Technologies have been shaping the workplace for decades, but how much further can they evolve? Previous generations could never have imagined the impact the digital revolution would have or that the internet would become such an integral part of most industries.
So what does the future have in store? And will technology continue to support professionals in the workplace or will it just hamper productivity?
Here are four of the biggest emerging technologies that are likely to have a significant impact on businesses of all sizes:
1. Virtual reality
Google has already dabbled in the world of virtual reality, while apps like Pokemon Go have seen it tap into the consumer market. Both investment by major tech companies and increased accessibility means that virtual or augmented reality is getting closer to being an everyday part of working life. From offering virtual reality (VR) tours to items like Microsoft’s HoloLens that lets consumers "see" secret features, there are a lot of potential applications for VR tech in the business world.
Talent acquisition is one area where VR could be used in the very near future to help businesses acquire the right staff. It already makes it possible for new hires to see the workplace and environment they'll be in, allowing them to experience the culture before they even arrive. From an employer's perspective, it allows them to see a candidate's skillset in action and identify areas where further training may be needed.
Chatbots were taken up a level when Microsoft and Apple made them key parts of their software, with Cortana and Siri. More recently, Google Home and Amazon Echo have seen chatbots become a key part of households all around the world, allowing the tech to firmly step out of science fiction and into reality.
The potential for assistants that can 'understand' voice commands, judge the situation and respond is clear for the business world. Chatbots have already been marketed towards professionals using the tech to see their schedules, add in meetings, or send messages without having to touch anything. However, all of the major products have focused on the home consumer, rather than targeting the world of work, but the possibilities are endless.
If manufacturers are able to create an application that adds value to the workplace, we could see chatbots become as commonplace as video conferencing.
3. Internet of Things (IoT)
Up until recently, it's been difficult to see how internet-connected appliances would offer any real value to consumers, though interest has been steadily rising. Amazon's Dash button has seen the IoT take its first real leap into people's homes. Although it has had relatively muted success, compared to the ecommerce site's other ventures, it offers a solution that makes it simpler for people to order everyday items they need.
The biggest applications for IoT in the business world seem to be linked directly to another tech - Big Data. Connected devices could allow companies to collect more accurate data about their consumer or their employees to help them make more informed decisions. However, like the Amazon Dash button, companies could also use IoT devices to keep track of their inventory, reducing the amount of waste and disappointed customers.
4. Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is probably one of the most controversial new technologies because of the risk that automation could lead to high levels of unemployment. However, whether companies like it or not, it seems that AI is heading to a workplace near you sooner than you may expect.
Early adopters of the tech have focused on analytics, reducing human error, and ensuring algorithms can be consistently scaled across an entire company. Some of the best innovators are using AI to streamline processes or plan new business ideas. Regardless of the exact application, it's important that there are human managers involved to regulate their work and make judgements.