The post-pandemic future: Facial recognition, voice activation and VR will transform offices
Claudette McGowan is global executive officer for cybersecurity, TD Bank
For several years, businesses have been talking about going all digital. When Covid happened, they had to make multi-year plans happen in a matter of weeks. The pandemic has created an entirely new way of working, with more people outside the office than in it. Some people will go back to offices, but not in the same numbers: I believe at least 60 to 70 per cent of workers will keep working remotely by choice.
For remote work, we’re going to see more companies transition to cloud-based technology. Everything crucial to the organization will be in a shared space that everyone in the organization can access—a democratization of digital assets. This technology will also expand our recruitment pool, which is especially important in an age when we want to be equitable about bringing in new talent. We no longer have to recruit from one university or one area of the city—we can hire from around the world. It’s no longer important to have people filling physical seats.
Organizations will need to spend more on cybersecurity in the coming years, but the cloud presents opportunities for savings in hardware costs. At my last job, every couple of years we would refresh hardware and figure out how to back up and restore the information on more than 60,000 computers. With the cloud, this kind of expensive, laborious undertaking will no longer be necessary.
When there are fewer people occupying offices, we’ll be able to radically transform how we use those spaces with digital, touchless and voice-activated technology. Companies are also considering innovations like the Disinfection Service Robot, equipped with a disinfectant sprayer and four high-intensity lamps that use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. When the robot was tested in a seniors’ home in Toronto, it was able to eradicate Covid-19 in that facility.
Buildings will become touchless, or touch-light, environments. Instead of someone pressing a button on a photocopier, the machine might use facial recognition to release a print job. Employees will be able to unlock a washroom door, turn on a light switch or brew a pot of coffee through voice recognition. We’re also looking into service robots that transport items in the office. For example, they might go desk to desk bringing people snacks or delivering mail.
There will be lots of mobile apps to assist with navigating the new workplace. Before you even enter a building, you’ll be able to look at your phone and pull up a visual heat map of the office and see where everyone is sitting. Maybe you’ll decide you don’t want to sit on one of the more populated floors. I also envision the end of physical pass cards, replaced with either facial recognition or an app on your phone.
We’ll need the ability to bring people together, whether they’re there physically or not, and companies will find new and experimental ways to use virtual reality. Instead of being on camera looking into a monitor, employees will wear VR goggles and feel like they’re physically in the boardroom. I can see also VR becoming useful in processes like onboarding, where instead of watching a video or a webinar, new hires will be able to get to know their colleagues in a way that feels real, like the online virtual world Second Life.
Mixed reality will also become a huge factor in how we work, enabled by tools like Microsoft’s HoloLens, a headset that allows you to view multiple screens at a time. You could be watching Bloomberg, looking at analytics, have a Word document open and sit in on a video call all at the same time. It’s like having seven physical monitors in front of you at any given time, but taking up a fraction of the physical space.
Ultimately, employers will have to rethink the mechanics of how organizations run and make sure their processes and policies keep pace with technology. Everything is moving very fast, and humans have to keep up.