The future workplace will drive productivity, innovation and efficacy at every level — from individual to team, workgroup, company and ecosystem. In this Q&A, we share insights on technologies that support this new digital workplace. For a more in-depth look, read the position paper on the workplace as an innovation center.

1. Automation will act more human in the workplace

We can expect a whole new dynamic enabled by automation that mimics human reasoning and response. Chatbots are evolving into more complex virtual assistants, interacting with humans to replace phone calls, emails and texts. Online virtual assistants already offer a scalable, high return on investment., a developer of artificial intelligence (AI)-driven virtual assistants, estimates that it takes humans an average of 17 minutes to schedule one meeting, while virtual assistants cost less than $100 per month and can schedule meetings faster and tirelessly. We can also expect our virtual assistants to master nuances of language and even humor. That will open a world of richer communication, deeper knowledge and understanding, and new efficiencies.

Automation in other forms will completely rewrite the definition of the workplace. For example, a single “pilot” sitting in an office will be able to remotely manage multiple drones surveying cropland, transforming the office and worker into a control tower and controller.

2. Information will come alive with AR and augmentation

Both augmented reality (AR) and augmented information sharing are becoming more accessible. Tools such as Microsoft HoloLens are finding a home in manufacturing, healthcare, education and other fields. Similarly, AR changes the nature of user support, allowing experts to guide customers through the process of checking, repairing or installing an item via a remote view.

Augmented information sharing will enable multiple users to access augmented information with the touch of a finger. Augmentation will become more dramatic, with contextual and adjacent information presented in real time and in view of all speakers, based on the context of the conversation.

3. External technologies and systems will become internalized

Interfaces to systems will continue to be external, for now, but that could change. Instead of holding or wearing a device, users may one day become the device. Our Leading Edge Forum explores this in the report, “Innovation Shifts to the Human Platform: Are You Ready?”

Gestures and conversational interfaces enable users to work in wholly new ways. For example, field technicians can be outfitted with remote guidance systems consisting of an augmented vision wearable that takes voice input, provides visual information that overlays the equipment being examined, and connects the technician with a remote engineer. This frees up the technician’s hands and capitalizes on new engagement technologies: One engineer can direct multiple crews, seeing what they are doing, and guiding and annotating their efforts.