Whether you realize it or not, we’re living in an era of profound transformation in the workplace. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, workplaces underwent an extraordinary evolution in response to the rise of the internet and the availability of personal computers. Now, new gadgets and technologies are starting to roll out that have the potential to change work as we know it even further.
If you want to keep your career on a valuable trajectory, and prepare for the inevitable changes to come, you should familiarize yourself with these technologies—and how they might radically alter our work environments.
Gadgets Transforming Work
These are just some of the most important pieces of technology reshaping when, where, and how we work:
- Virtual assistants. Over the past few years, digital assistants have gone from inconsistent speech recognition to near-perfect comprehension, and now tech companies are pushing for these assistants to make phone calls and hold real conversations on your behalf. Today, it’s already possible to use virtual assistants to automate things like scheduling meetings, adding to-do list items, or initiating conversations, but in the near future, those capabilities are going to skyrocket. Soon, your digital assistant will feel like a real, human assistant—for a fraction of the cost.
- Intelligent document scanners. Document scanners aren’t the sexiest items on this list, but they’re actually one of the most important. With an intelligent document scanner, a company with decades of backlogged paperwork can get those records digitized, and entered into whichever online document storage solution they’re using. Over the next decade or so, literal paperwork could be entirely eliminated—with digitization options for almost any tangible asset.
- 3D printers. 3D printers have been making headlines for more than a decade now, but they’re becoming faster, smarter, and most importantly—more cost-efficient. In the manufacturing world, 3D printing is already starting to revolutionize some otherwise expensive and time-consuming processes. For inventors and innovators, 3D printing is an inexpensive way to create prototypes and new products. You can even use a 3D printer in a conventional office to make replacement parts or certain office necessities on the fly.
- VR headsets. For the time being, most people associated virtual reality (VR) with gaming, but with the prices of headsets starting to fall, and a greater diversity of available VR apps, it’s becoming more feasible to use VR in a practical environment. In the near future, workplaces will use VR as a way to host more immersive, personal meetings, allowing workers to cross vast distances without relying on less personal communication mediums like conference calls or email.
- RFID-based IoT. RFID tags are incredibly cheap these days, and they’re becoming even more high tech. These tiny, intelligent barcodes serve as a kind of “smart label,” capable of storing tons of information on a product, including its origin, its batch number, and of course, the nature of the product itself. And since RFID scanning can be easily automated, it’s already all but revolutionized the process of inventory management. In the near future, RFID tags, in combination with better internet of things (IoT) applications could completely overhaul how companies produce, store, transport, and deliver goods.
- Drones. You may have a friend who likes piloting their drone around for fun, but drones have far more potential than serving as a form of backyard entertainment. Already, drones are being used to survey and photograph plots of land, manage agricultural fields, and take part in military applications. In the near future, they have the potential to be used for automated delivery, not to mention emergency response efforts. They’re relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain and program already; the major obstacles here are regulatory hurdles.
- Autonomous driving. Speaking of regulatory hurdles, it may be years before we see commercially available, fully autonomous vehicles on the road, but when they get there, it’s going to dramatically change how all of us work. Those in professions that require driving, like logistics and transportation, will obviously be the most affected. However, we may also see major changes to how we commute to work, and expectations for travel, not to mention much lower costs for transportation and delivery.
So what are the key takeaways here? For starters, communication capabilities are going to evolve even further, and automation is going to replace a ton of jobs. If you want to stay ahead of the curve, it’s important for you to learn how these technologies work, and acquire skills that machines can’t easily replace—like leadership and critical thinking. In the meantime, get ready to experience higher productivity, new types of offices and workspaces, and greater capabilities than ever before.