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In 2024, Equilibrium – and a Better Experience – Will Come to the Office

As we come close to the end of another year, it is traditional for me to look ahead to try to envision what the future of our collaboration industry will have in store. I’ve been making end-of-year predictions for many years now and am pretty proud of my track record. (If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at my “Crystal Balls” blog posted on LinkedIn last year.) For me, it is important to step back and look at what’s happening from a more distant and overarching view. If one looks carefully enough – and past the hype storms – the real trends start to become visible. Here is my view of what will happen with them in 2024.

Equilibrium in Return to Office

After a few years' long tug of war in which return-to-office champions discovered the limits of the workforce’s willingness to cede the work-life balance they gained in remote or hybrid work, I believe that late in 2024 we will finally achieve equilibrium in the return to office (RTO) disruption. People will begin to realize that no one is “returning to…” anything – not any more than they already have, despite any additional incentives or threats. Traditional office buildings are at about 60% of their past occupancy and that is just about the best that they’ll ever achieve once equilibrium is reached. (See how Stanford Professor Nick Bloom describes the trend.) At this point, 2019 was five years ago. We all need to stop debating “returns” and focus more clearly on moving forward.

While some individuals will be successful at “all-remote working,” most of the rest of the knowledge workers will have some sort of flexible arrangement. The advantages of this (smaller office footprints, lower costs, happier employees, etc.) will prove just too valuable for organizations to continue to fight them. The first firms to evolve and adapt to this new reality will of course be the most successful. We’ll also see the emergence of former downtown office buildings refit to serve other purposes like housing and retail. That’s not an inexpensive process, but it is inevitable.

The New Office

Just as inevitable as the next flexible workplace is the fact that the company offices that will survive and thrive will look nothing like the cube farms or open offices of the past. There is little to no value in commuting to a company office to sit at a desk and type on a computer, completing tasks that could be more efficiently accomplished at home without the commute, or even worse, call into an online meeting one could have joined from home. The new office will be a place where people gather to collaborate, socialize, brainstorm, and share a common culture. They will be designed with beauty and grandeur in mind, exhibiting natural light, biophilic accents, large collaboration spaces, and most importantly, technology that is part of the integrated design, not slapped in as an 11th hour project afterthought (as a lot of room based AV has been handled in the past.) In addition, every room will be equipped for collaboration, not just a select few boardrooms.

The AI Hype Will Calm Down

We’re now at the peak of the bell curve about how artificial intelligence (and generative AI in particular) will change the world. Is the technology stunning and exciting? Yes. Will it become as all-pervasive as some manufacturers and providers are predicting? No, not really. Individuals will slowly add AI support and assistance into their daily workflows, but it will not take over for more traditional user interfaces and processes. That is, businesses will not leap into the sky and fly like a superhero using AI. It’ll be more like taking the first few steps up a very long staircase. For all of 2024 we’ll still be far closer to that first step than the very distant last one.

Machine Learning Algorithms Will Cause Significant Disruption In Physical Spaces

As opposed to the above however, the flip side of AI will cause significant disruption to the collaboration space. We’ve already seen the all-but-death of remote controls for cameras as they now aim themselves and follow the action better than operators or users ever could. We’ve also seen superior noise cancellation of extraneous sources. However, those were only two examples of a vastly expanding space.

Up next to be disrupted will be the expensive-to-install ceiling tile microphone arrays likely seeing reduced use as sound algorithms now allow a drop-in, front of room microphone to sound equivalent to a handheld mic – even from someone speaking in the back of the room. Just imagine what other meeting annoyances these smart algorithms could begin to solve. Recognizing the right content to be automatically shared? Recognizing and correcting for missing audio? In addition, many large and small manufacturers and platform providers are hard at work developing new methods for inching closer to “meeting equity.” We’ve already seen software algorithms find everyone in a conference room and give them their own tile, and we’re starting to see cameras that geometrically process everyone around a long table to appear the same size regardless of distance. These software improvements will significantly impact the collaboration space.

Consolidation and Commoditization Will Push Innovation To Smaller Firms

As larger industry firms have purchased and absorbed smaller ones, this unfortunately can slow or stifle innovation. The agility needed to truly innovate on a rapid basis can easily succumb to the impact of market conditions on larger, publicly traded firms. One doesn’t have to look very hard in the news to find highly profitable organizations cutting tens of thousands of jobs to please investors, despite the impact on company culture or any resulting brain-drain. This type of activity inevitably leads to smaller, more agile firms significantly disrupting the space. I predict the collaboration space will be no exception. The last wave of smaller manufacturers may be looking for their exits now, but I predict that there will be another crop of new players that will emerge with significant disruptions to the marketplace. As you visit your next industry conference, look around the smaller booths or stands from companies you may not have heard of to find where the next breakthrough will emerge.

We Will Look Back and Realize How Far We’ve Come

The last few years have disrupted our everyday lives in immeasurable ways. The pandemic was a once in a generation event that we are all still reeling from. As we’ve emerged on the other side of it, masks, vaccinations, and hand sanitizers now consume less of our attention, and we’re able to just begin to realize the impact the last few years had on collaboration.

We went from a world where videoconferencing was used by only a fraction of individuals to one where everyone expects it to work for everything – telehealth appointments, customer service interactions, religious services, family calls, etc. Rich, interactive meetings morphed from things that only took place in expensive, custom-integrated boardrooms to things we join on our mobile devices from wherever we are. Video calls went from events where there was an expectation where there would likely be a failure to communications as reliable as the telephone.

For decades we’ve been saying that “video is the new voice” but I’m very happy to finally be living in a world where most average people now know it really is. In 2024 everyone will “expect” the video to be on and working for all calls, which is a refreshing change.

Related Articles on No Jitter and Work Space Connect

Check out the following for more information on some of the trends mentioned above:

  • The Most Significant Comms Acquisitions in 2023: In 2023 there were several significant mergers and acquisitions in the enterprise communications space. They may not have been for eye-popping sums, but they all represent strategic shifts.
  • Salesforce and Return to Office: Employees are returning to work, but maybe not for the reasons you might think – and that may require rethinking design decisions as Salesforce did in its signature Chicago office building.
  • It's 2023, Not 2019. What Is the Case for Going Back?: One of the challenges for workplace strategy teams in 2023 will be to make the case to the workforce that coming back to the office does not represent a loss for employees
  • Cisco Launches Webex AI Strategy Across its Portfolio: Cisco announced several components of its AI strategy – Webex AI Assistant, Real-Time Media Models (RMMs) and the Webex AI Codec – which it will make pervasive across its applications and devices.
  • With Cisco Webex, T-Mobile found a way to save money and refine workflow with a new platform in its conference rooms – then had to roll it out to thousands of meeting rooms while everyone was at home.
  • Addressing Government Employees' Collaboration Needs: At any level of government from local to national, any department’s or administration’s success requires addressing security, compliance, and reliability needs.
  • Hybrid Work Support Remains a Moving Target: Even in a perfect environment for hybrid work, people’s jobs, and thus their communications needs, may not stay the same for long.
  • Enterprise IT Employees’ Priorities Are Shifting: Enterprise IT/communications/CX now consider business alignment to be the most important skill, and when it comes to their own view of the job, work-life balance is what takes priority.