2020: (What A) Year in Tech

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Allwork.Space’s tech writer, Gemma Church, sums up the 5 biggest tech takeaways from the world of flexible space in 2020.
  • Digital adoption rates skyrocketed for coworking and flexible spaces in 2020.
  • Zoom, touchless tech, occupancy sensors and robot cleaners were all success stories.
  • Operators must focus on cyber security and data security in the year ahead.

Every year, I write a roundup of the tech-that-was. Invariably, there are some interesting developments in the PropTech market, some flashy gadgets have come and gone, and next year is definitely going to be the year when VR goes mainstream.

This year, a pandemic hit. And technology was, arguably, the only winner from the mess that was 2020.

Digital adoption rates accelerated by five years in a matter of just a few months at the start of the year. The PropTech market was no exception.

In many ways, the pandemic accelerated what was already happening in the world of work – where flexible and remote work options were already rising in popularity.

But we also saw coworking operators embracing a huge range of technologies – in a very short time period – to reach out to members and make sure our flexible spaces could and would reopen. Here are the top tech takeaways from 2020.

1. Virtual meetings ruled the world…

Do you feel like you’re living your life in Zoom? I certainly do. And one of our most popular articles was on virtual meeting etiquette rules. (Quick tip: don’t forget your camera’s on.)

With remote working options continuing to thrive, we’re all going to have to embrace video calls on a more regular basis. This article provides some great tips on creating the best ‘Zoom Room’ for your coworking space.

2. … and now augmented workplaces will rise

As we start to return to our coworking spaces, augmented workplaces are set to rise in popularity. Here, portals and apps are expected to control the employee experience and meet government guidelines within an office space.

Emerging technologies will include smart spaces and booking facilities, Building Information Modelling (BIM), enhanced HVAC, air filtration and maintenance alert systems and advanced occupancy planning. Putting all these technologies together, we could soon be working in touchless offices.

3. Cyber security got (even more) serious

Cyber attacks escalated in size and complexity during the pandemic. In the UK, research from the World Economic Forum revealed online attacks are the third highest risk for businesses in the COVID landscape, after bankruptcy and long-term unemployment.

This threw many digital transformation plans into disarray for the world’s coworking spaces. But a host of advice was available to help spaces mitigate the risks posed by remote and hybrid working. Here are three of the core security requirements every flexible workspace now needs and some specific advice on protecting your coworking members from cyber crime.

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4. Robots came in from the cold

Automation and robotics often have a bad reputation within the world’s workforce. A recent report from the World Economic Forum certainly didn’t help matters – it predicted the world is on the brink of ‘double disruption’ where automation, in tandem with the COVID-19 recession, will turn the labour market on its head.

But robots and automation proved their worth during the pandemic, where the IoT, robot cleaners and advanced AI have helped spaces optimise their cleaning processes. Such technologies can help reduce the spread of viruses, bacteria and allergens – and also reassure members that your workspace is a safe environment.

But not all technologies are a worthy investment. Thermal cameras, for example, are a waste of money for your workspace because they are not a silver bullet to detect Covid-19 and minimise transmission rates. Plus, technical and privacy concerns must be addressed with their use. Which leads me nicely onto my next point.

5. Surveillance matters for physical distancing

One of the major trends for 2020 was the rise of the smart occupancy sensor. Desk-placed sensors are rising in popularity, allowing operators to monitor occupancy rates and optimise their cleaning rotas. This not only boosts the performance of flexible workspaces but also provides members with further reassurance on workplace cleanliness.

However, as Covid-19 increased adoption of workspace monitoring technologies, data privacy concerns also escalated. This is a concern that must be addressed sooner rather than later. In a recent statement, the World Health Organization acknowledges the key role data has played in helping to limit the spread of the virus and understand its nature.

However, the WHO also states:

“Such data collection and processing, including for digital contact tracing and general health surveillance, may include the collection of vast amounts of personal and non-personal sensitive data. This could have significant effects beyond the initial crisis response phase, including, if such measures are applied for purposes not directly or specifically related to the COVID-19 response, potentially leading to the infringement of fundamental human rights and freedoms.

“This concern is especially pressing if some emergency measures introduced to address the pandemic, such as digital contact tracing, are turned into standard practice.”

The last 12 months have certainly turned the world of technology on its head for coworking spaces. I have no idea what the next year will hold. However, as the pandemic fades away, we could be on the brink of a digital disaster, if we don’t address these mounting data privacy concerns here and now.

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