Modernizing The Workplace In 2020: A Q&A With Torben Christiansen, Director Of Technology At Sennheiser

Sennheiser’s Torben Christiansen offers key insights into which technologies are likely to take center stage in the workplace next year.
  • In 2020, tech will play a starring role in modernizing the workplace, according to Sennheiser’s Torben Christiansen.
  • In this interview, Christiansen offers key insights into which technologies are likely to take center stage in the workplace next year.
  • Among them, there will be greater tech integration in our daily lives to optimize performance, comfort, and concentration.

Technology is changing the way industries do business and impacting the way we work, by creating new work modes, optimizing workplaces, and improving worker productivity, among others.

As 2019 comes to a close, it’s time to take a closer look at which technologies are likely to be implemented and embraced in the workplace and how they might benefit workers and companies alike. 

Allwork.Space spoke with Torben Christiansen, Director of Technology at Sennheiser, a global audio technology specialist, to examine the role of tech in the workplace. Here, Christiansen discusses the technologies that are most likely to be adopted by companies, and whether 2020 will finally be the year AR and VR are widely adopted.

Allwork.Space: Let’s start with the basics. What are you observing around technology in terms of work and the workplace?

Torben Christiansen: Demands for technology are high and there are many exciting tech-focused trends for the workplace on the horizon. Ultimately, they all tap into wider themes: greater tech collaboration/integration in our daily lives and optimizing performance, comfort, and concentration. 

Ways of working and workplaces have transformed dramatically over the last ten years and technology has the capability to swiftly respond to, and accommodate, changing needs. We’ve seen the emergence of impressive new devices answering the demands of modern working and I believe it will be fascinating to see future trends entering the market that will further address these changes, and go a long way towards making our working lives even more productive and enjoyable.

Allwork.Space: For companies that are already seeking to provide a workplace experience that is positive and enjoyable, what technologies are they using?

Technology is changing the workplace experience both inside and outside the office, and a rise in open-plan working has led to an increased need for technologies that enhance concentration. For example, noise-cancelling headsets eliminate noise and aid focus, and tech-enabled glasses can help improve focus when paired with mobile apps.

Equally, a rise in flexible and mobile working is creating demand for solutions such as portable conference speakerphones, cloud-based software, and project management tools, so employees can access the tools and information they need anywhere, anytime.

As the way we work, interact, and collaborate continues to change, you can expect technology to play a starring role in modernizing the workplace environment and infrastructure for the future. 

Allwork.Space: Speaking about modernizing the workplace, what are the top technologies that you believe will be widely adopted in 2020?

1. Voice assistants in the workplace — The rise of the voice assistant on smartphones (for personal use) has been widely documented. According to a 2019 report, an estimated 111.8 million people in the US are expected to use a voice assistant at least monthly in 2019, up 9.5% from 2018. This is equivalent to 39.4% of internet users and 33.8% of the total population. 

Voice assistants are set to surge in the workplace over the next year and beyond — a trend that addresses the increasing demand for mobile and flexible working. 29% of organizations have deployed one or more AI assistants for work-related tasks, or plan to deploy one or more in the next 12 months, according to a Spiceworks survey and Pan-Euro and US data.

2. Intelligent audio beyond voice assistants — Next year we’ll see the emergence of audio software that recognizes acoustic scenes and delivers a responsive audio solution, thanks to machine intelligence and deep learning techniques.

As we navigate our days, it makes sense that our technology should be adjusting our audio to optimize the environments we move through — from noisy commutes to needing awareness in traffic, to calm in the office. We are also adaptive today, and with more advanced technology, there is growing demand to optimize closer to the dynamic needs of the auditory system/brain. 

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We’ll soon be seeing technologies that will clearly optimize speech intelligibility in noise to allow employees to adjust and customize sounds to their preference and ensure messages are clear, thereby improving overall concentration and productivity.

Allwork.Space: What are some of the factors driving demand and implementation of these technologies?

There are a few factors. By 2020, Millenials and Gen Z will be the largest segment in the workforce, which has created a growing need to accommodate their tech-savvy lifestyles and preferred methods of communication, as well as the ability to work remotely or from any location with WiFi service.

There’s also the fact that about 43% of the workforce will be more mobile by 2022 and 83% of workers do not believe they need to be in an office to be productive. The rise of technology has blurred the lines between professional and private lives. With this also comes an overlap between devices used at work and at play. 

With early interest in smart and IoT devices in the home, we’ve seen a focus on smart plugs, smart home speakers, and motion sensors and cameras; but these devices can all be repurposed for the office. 

A growing expectation to see this technology in the workplace will lead to a workforce that seamlessly connects the work and home — we will see a time where every aspect of our lives will be connected via technology, increasing productivity.

This increased connection and synergy between our home and work lives requires compatibility.  To ensure compatibility and avoid chaos in this landscape, we predict that we will see big tech companies turning their attention to ways of bringing all these disparate devices together to be managed more effectively. 

Soon we’ll be able to seamlessly connect work and home. In fact every aspect of our lives will be connected via technology, increasing productivity.

Allwork.Space: Two technologies that you haven’t mentioned but that many people are interested in are AR and VR. Do you think 2020 will finally be the year they are widely adopted in the workplace?

Caspar Thykier, CEO and co-founder at Zappar: As we’ve become increasingly familiar with the positive effects augmented reality has on attention and memory encoding, it was exciting to see AR’s adoption expand outside of a marketing context

In the workplace we observed practical applications of AR in areas such as employee onboarding, training, and professional development, with empirical evidence highlighting AR’s power to drive efficiencies, time to competency and memory recall — galvanizing a disconnected workforce and helping to reduce overheads. 

Pizza chain Papa Murphy’s, for example, continues to leverage AR for its employee onboarding program by creating AR-powered stations at key training locations. These types of use cases are becoming increasingly common across a variety of industries — from financial services to healthcare, large consumer goods conglomerates to higher education and vocational learning institutions. As more businesses trial the technology and best use cases get shared, the more adoption we’ll see and the more mainstream AR will become as an L&D tool.

Allwork.Space: That’s interesting, especially as learnability in the workplace becomes increasingly important. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Sennheiser is in the audio technology business and we believe that it can go a long way in helping reduce the impact workplace change can have on employees’ wellbeing. However it can’t work in isolation. 

Employers have a responsibility to look at the entire workplace to ensure the best working environment is offered. For example, employers can encourage the use of quiet working zones as well as implement initiatives such as mindfulness activities, regular health check-ins, and incorporating areas into office spaces that encourage human interaction, such as ‘huddle areas.’

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