Disclosure: the companies mentioned are clients of the author.
Most of the companies I cover have reported productivity improvements in 2021 because of people working from home. These same companies also admit privately that work/life balance and collaboration have suffered during the pandemic — to the point that when people return to the office, they’re increasingly uncomfortable there. This flies against the trend of converting office buildings into in-person meeting spaces; employees do not seem to want to go back to the office for any reason, especially not for just a meeting.
Lately, I’ve been seeing some interesting developments that should improve productivity, the remote meeting experience, and help with work/life balance next year. Here’s what I expect, along with a couple of suggestions for what to do during the holiday shutdown that will start for many next week.
A more accessible autocomplete
I don’t know whether you have noticed, but Microsoft’s autocomplete capabilities have improved dramatically in both Word and Outlook. But using this feature typically requires you to hit the right arrow key which, on most keyboards, is an awkward stretch. I find it faster to leave my hands on the keyboard and just type the word rather than use autocomplete. Thus, as effective as this feature is, it does not help my typing speed.
On tablets ,where many typically use a hunt-and-peck method, I anticipate seeing keyboards with a different placement of the right arrow key — or the use of a programmable key within easy reach so that you can use autocomplete at speed while typing.
New monitors/cameras for videoconferencing
I am currently evaluating a new camera that pulls down on a monitor to mid-screen so that it does not show the top of your head. But a better advancement would be placing the camera behind the monitor screen, so it looks into your eyes. A parallel effort championed by Lenovo is to have the camera alter the image to make it appear more like you are looking into the camera. These efforts are not mutually exclusive and may combine to improve engagement during videoconferencing and collaboration calls.
An even more interesting effort being driven by a number of vendors is to enhance your appearance automatically within the conferencing system or use the artificial intelligence capabilities in the camera or PC. We’ve already seen some initial efforts in Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams, but I expect bigger improvements in 2022. The eventual goal: being able to use something like “deep fakes” to always make you look good on camera.
Better employee monitoring
I am a personal fan of BlackBerry’s AtHoc, which provides active monitoring of employees during a crisis. It’s something every company, school, and government should implement to keep employees and students safe. Both Teams and Webex platforms have implemented tools that help employees improve their work/life balance and alert managers about workers who are struggling — before those struggles result in behavior problems, affect their job, or force them out of the company.
The companies devising these kinds of monitoring tool will have to balance the need for information with employee privacy concerns to craft better ways to assure employees do not burn out, quit, or leave the workforce altogether. This last may be the most important given the huge resignation event we are experiencing today.
Advice for the holiday break
Given that many people are about take a long holiday break, I have some suggestions for things to do. Spend some time thinking about your job — what you like, what you don’t like and whether you want to make a change. Right now, there is a massive labor shortage, which means that changing jobs will be far easier than it will be once we get back to full employment. Often, getting a job in another area is extremely hard because you lack the qualifications. But when companies have had requisitions open for months, they are often more willing to take a chance on someone who will learn on the job.
Second, use this time to think about retirement. I’ve seen a lot of people get to retirement and have no clue what to do. I have watched a number of top executives waste away, lose marriages, and even die when out of work. It would be wise to spend time thinking about the future, so you have a better plan when it arrives. Finally, really put work aside and enjoy life. If you have a bucket list, start planning to check off the items on that list.
Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful holiday — and time to plan for a better future!
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