By Richard Simmons, Logicalis Group VP of Technology – IoT
Before the pandemic, the arguments for digital-first, hybrid workplaces were both widely known and widely ignored. However, quarantines, lockdowns, and self-imposed isolation have transformed attitudes to the traditional workplace. Around 57% of workers now expect to be in the office 10 days or less per month and companies are scrambling to match employee demands even as they see the benefits of smaller office spaces and increased locational flexibility. Today workplaces are centered around the work being done, and how employees can be most productive no matter where they are working from, or what device they are working on.
That though is only the start of the rapid evolution we will see over the next few years. Effective deployment of next-generation wireless technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will become increasingly crucial to the success of future business strategies. The emergence of the connected worker is only the first phase of this process too; it’s true impact will come as we start to re-engineer workplaces themselves.
More speed more of the time
The newest generation of Wi-Fi technology, WiFi 6 will not only offer faster speeds but higher efficiency, capacity, coverage as well as reduced network congestion. Furthermore, speed isn’t tied to a single device like a mobile phone or laptop but can be split across an entire network of devices. As a result, each device can achieve higher connection speeds.
Add to this the advent of 5G, and we are poised to unlock new and improved methods of innovation, productivity, and collaboration no matter where we are working from. Tools such as interactive whiteboards and immersive collaboration experiences will be enriched by virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, and we are already witnessing the accelerated deployment of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in a growing number of use cases.
The first stage of transformation in any industry is one of imitation; we use new technology to mirror the same workflows that have always existed. But while the initial results are impressive, typically optimising business processes with improved efficiency at lower cost, the real power of transformation is unlocked when industries start to rethink the way these business processes and workflows are linked together.
Beyond the connected worker
The connected worker brings a vast degree of flexibility to a business, the connected workplace accelerates that even further.
If you consider the physical layout of the modern business environment, historic production lines were generally fixed and immobile, largely configured around the availability first of electrical sockets and latterly of hard-wired network points. These have been unalterable and constrained the evolution of office design and, by extension, the business workflows that take place within them for decades.
5G, Wi-Fi 6, and the Internet of Things are removing these constraints. With 5G network slicing organisations can buy their own slice of the network with the characteristics that suit their individual business needs, with varying degrees of latency, bandwidth, and reliability all possible. They can then effectively set up their own private, secure mobile network. This network is universal. Any device can be added to this network almost anywhere, with Wi-Fi 6 providing seamless connectivity inside, effectively meaning that any business function can take place almost anywhere.
The dramatic uptick in enterprise mobility that results from genuinely distributed seamless working environments is impressive. They remove a great deal of the friction of current remote working unlocking further business benefits no matter where a team is based. Meanwhile, data gathered from a network of high-functioning devices helps teams analyse work patterns and target areas for improved efficiencies.
The connected workplace reaches beyond the office
It is tempting to assume that this migration to the connected workplace is purely an office-based phenomena, but digital transformation is reshaping many industries. From mining operations in remote areas relying on a new generation of satellite connectivity (which can provide megabit connections beyond 5G network coverage), to the powerful connected machines of the modern agri-business, to the industrial plants pioneering the smart factories at the heart of Industry 4.0, the workplace is being reimagined.
The result is that organisations can now configure their production lines or plant design based on what needs doing today rather the fixed production layout of the past. Modular production systems enable maximum flexibility and maximum efficiency, allowing organisations to swiftly accommodate changing customer demand and even pivot configurations towards lucrative bespoke work that would have been wholly uneconomic in a fixed system.
Seizing the opportunity
Digital transformation is an industry movement taking place across all primary, secondary and tertiary industries. The result is that the integration of next-generation wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will be integral to business success, especially as we enter a new era of hybrid work practices. It has the potential to revolutionise how entire industries operate, develop new products, and engage with customers.
Three-quarters of decision-makers believe their organisation will gain a competitive edge by leveraging advanced networking technology, and four in five agree advanced mobility connectivity will be of critical importance for enhancing customer interactions within the next three years. However, ultra-modern technologies are infamous for early-adopter issues if not set up correctly. How organisations adopt wireless solutions is no longer separate from other technology onboarding. Therefore, it is imperative to audit the current infrastructure and address where innovation is halted.
Choosing the ideal infrastructure solutions for an organisation is complex and unique and often takes the work of multiple parties. In addition to in-house teams, organisations should look to cloud providers, network technology vendors, consultants, systems integrators, and wireless carriers to help them fuse all the right pieces. Working with transformation partners to get the strategy right the first time ensures businesses will capitalise on the myriad of benefits 5G, and Wi-Fi 6, have to offer – preparing them for the future, the next evolution of technological innovation, and the new shape of the workplace.