Sunday, 26 May 2019
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TELECOMMUTING | Future technologies for remote work, today

The telecommuting act has just been signed into law – it allows private employees the option to work remotely or from home while keeping a full-time job. While some may be skeptical about how productive remote work is going to be – with the Philippines ranking poorly when it comes to mobile user online experience – our current and future telco providers are promising unprecedented internet speeds and reliability with coming of 5G. Then there’s tools like Google Drive, Slack, Skype, Trello, and the like. Perhaps now we can truly get started on our New Years’ resolutions of meditating, going for a run, preparing our own meals, and starting work earlier in the morning. It’s looking like the future of remote work is now. Or is it?

We scoured the internet for technologies people dreamed up that will make remote work not feel remote at all. Some of these technologies are in beta, but most of them are already commercially available and continuously being improved.

Augmented and virtual reality

Anyone who has sent an email or chat (or comments on Facebook) knows how written communication may be misinterpreted or taken out of context. This is the stuff that start Facebook wars. We miss sarcasm or imagine it. We mistake brevity for snobbishness. Voice and video calls may help bridge this gap, but there’s just no replacing face to face conversations.

This is where virtual meeting spaces come in. A number of companies have already taken the step towards making distance irrelevant as far as interaction is concerned.

Cisco’s Telepresence products feature smart meetings in any size or any number of spaces. Team members share multiple interactive screens and see each other on video. The system even provides ideal framing so that eyelines are corrected – unlike what happens with regular video calls where you talk to someone looking down at a screen. It knows when a person walks in the room and analyzes the data for usage and resource planning.

Microsoft’s Holoportation makes things a little more sci-fi. Using a head-mounted display, you will be able to see a colleague in another location appear in 3D in front of you. You can see hand gestures, dance moves, participate in high fives, and close deals with handshakes, real-time. At least 2 cameras can capture enough information to render a 3D image of you in a remote site, but the more cameras there are, the more realistic your holoported self is. Early demos of this technology are done in studios, but a recent update in the Microsoft website shows how they can already do this in moving cars.

Facebook Spaces takes things completely in a virtual world. You can go as an avatar based on your photos, or someone totally different. You can meet with friends in a virtual space – a theater, a garden, or a boardroom, if that’s your thing. You can basically do the things you like doing in a meeting – gossip, snack, and play games – without having to brave traffic on a Monday morning.

Best-of-breed productivity tools

Occam’s Razor and monogamy has taught us that a single solution covering many functionalities is better than multiple tools that may cause islands of information. But the recent years have seen the rise of highly specialized productivity and communications tools that address the variety of needs organizations: Google Drive for documents, worksheets, and presentations; Slack for communication; Trello for task management; Github for coding; and many more. These on top of the company’s ERP platform.

While these seem like a lot to process, we can expect niche products to grow. They will be more mobile, use predictive text, improve speech recognition, and definitely leverage artificial intelligence to enable collaboration among remote and mobile teams.

AI will manage employees

We’ve all seen that impressive video where Google Duplex books a hair appointment for its user by making a call. Amazon’s Alexa wakes up at the sound of her name and orders you pizza from your favorite place. Siri, now 9 years old, is still a bit behind Google and Amazon, but is as snarky as ever in making conversation.

In a dark timeline of our future, the robots will invade the world after they take all our jobs. But in a rosy scenario, which is what we should hope for, AI will continue to get smarter, to understand more complicated scenarios, and to be assistive.

In the corporate world, AI is seen to cover, ironically, human resource management. Human HR managers are often faulted for not being able to keep employees satisfied, resulting in mass resignations and the following increase in the cost of recruitment. But in a big company where there are thousands of employees, it is logistically challenging for one department to keep track of each individual.

Good thing machines are never tired or hungry. Technologies like Glint and Trakstar are designed for automated employee engagement and performance management. They know when employees are naughty or nice. Whether they are due for a promotion or improvement. They can gather feedback and recommend a corresponding action that will hopefully be a win-win for both employee and company. They want to keep the employees happy, wherever they are.

Ultimately, an AI personality may replace your supervisor and HR. Depending on how much you like your boss and HR, this may be a good or a bad thing.

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