virtual reality demonstration
PHOTO: Knight Center for Journalism

The pace of change, especially technological change, is moving faster than ever. As technology advances, it continues to become more capable and accessible, leading to disruptions in both our personal and professional lives.

The effects of technological disruptions aren’t subtle, and that’s especially evident in the workplace. There’s been a four time increase in people working remotely over the past 10 years and a two time increase in team structures (compared to five years ago), prompting the development of an array of productivity, efficiency and collaboration tools. 

By 2020, 50 percent of the workforce will be comprised of millennials who’ve aged with the evolution of technology, and are hungry to put it to good use. Enter the Digital Workplace.

Welcome to the Intelligent Workplace

This idea of a digital workplace, a truly collaborative platform and information hub, is taking shape with the emergence of new technologies. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, while not new, are accelerating digital transformations in businesses across every industry, but those technologies are still in their infancy when it comes to direct applications in the workplace. 

In the coming years, several key technologies will dramatically shape what an intelligent digital workplace will look like.

Enterprise Search: A Better Way to Search for Content

With the ever-increasing amount of data, information workers are unable to find what they’re looking for. Traditional enterprise search tools are not meeting their needs. Machine learning is hoping to change that.

Enterprise search engines powered by machine learning capabilities hold a lot of promise. This new type of search engine learns what’s important for each user and promotes the most relevant information. Microsoft Delve, powered by the Office Graph, is a good example of how search is changing. It graphs connections between people, content and data to influence relevancy and present the user with rich search results that improve over time.

Related Article: When Is Machine Learning Right for Enterprise Search?

Bots

What are bots? Lately, we heard a lot about bots creating "fake" conversations on Facebook and other social media platforms. But bots have real applications in the workplace and can help employees consume and find information in new ways.

In the workplace, think about a bot as a digital assistant that can help you discover information, find content and answer key questions. A bot can be programmed to answers questions in a conversational fashion instead of searching for content and navigating through large piles of results. Ask the bot a few questions and it will guide you to find the right answers. Some bots (creatively called “transactional bots”) can even query databases and inform you of the status of transactions.

Related Article: Chatbots Belong in the Workplace (Provided They're Well Designed)

Call, Meeting Transcription, and Translation Software

Everybody wants to record meetings and important presentations in order to find and reference the key talking points. Microsoft, among many software providers, are working on developing automatic meeting transcription capabilities for recorded meetings and incorporating automatic translation capabilities. This will be available soon to Skype and Microsoft Teams. 

AI, specifically machine learning, powers these types of technologies and so they are designed to improve over time. As cloud-based solutions, their benefits extend from just learning and improving an individual’s experience, to being able to help large populations of users.

Virtual Assistants

As knowledge workers, we all suffer from content and software fatigue and often are frustrated with constantly switching between applications in our day-to-day work. Virtual assistants provide a single conversational interface where technology automates many of those concerns on your behalf, serving as a virtual concierge to interact with disparate systems. 

Some great examples of widely used virtual assistants are included in products like Slack and Microsoft Teams where you can find “scheduling assistants” to help schedule a multi-party meeting.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality 

At the Microsoft Ignite conference this past September, Microsoft demonstrated augmented reality and how it will apply to the workplace. Imagine for a moment you’re able to attend a meeting using a virtual reality headset and your team mate can walk you through a concept in an immersive way, including digital whiteboarding. Pretty exciting stuff, huh?

Related Article: Virtual and Augmented Reality Are Ripe for the Enterprise

What the Future Holds

Whether at work or at home, in teams or alone, we all struggle to make the most of our time. The rise of AI and machine learning promises to greatly assist in wrangling the massive amount of digital content growth and change the workplace as we know it.

The emergence of new technologies will greatly increase our efficiency, enabling us to find information quickly so we can focus on doing the actual work. We live in a world where devices outnumber people and we create more data than we can consume. The intelligent workplace couldn't come at a better time.