Always on, hyper connected, highly individual—these are a few attributes of Generation Z, the influential cohort born between 1995-2005, after Millennials. By 2020, Gen Z will account for one-third of the U.S. population, and in 10 years, these digital addicts will be flooding the business landscape. As Michael Dimock observed in a 2018 Pew Research Center report, “Technology, in particular the rapid evolution of how people communicate and interact, is another generation-shaping consideration.” It is undeniable that generational change influences how we work and how we design workplaces. Here are six trends that technology managers should consider as business cultures evolve.
1. MORE FLEXIBLE WORKPLACES
As workplaces become more multigenerational and more digitally driven, technology managers are keeping eyes and ears attuned to trends in the corporate campus, and business culture in general. Hot desking, remote working, and collaboration via BYOx are shaping up to be key influencers.
Greg Clark, CTS, principal consultant with the Sextant Group, sees flexibility in the workplace as an important trend. “Companies, more and more, want to move away from spaces that have finite and specific roles,” he explained. “They want spaces that can do more than one thing; it can be several things. Flexibility is key. That’s a big element of what we are seeing from our side.”
Not all employees want open floor plans with hot desking, however, citing openness as too noisy or distracting. And not all team members use the same tools. CAD operators, for example, have different requirements than sales and marketing. An art director cannot just sit anywhere. How should technology managers strike the balance between AV that supports flexibility but also offers reliability?
“It all about properly planning spaces, really,” Clark said. “It comes down to more of a facilities role as to say, ‘What are my needs? How many spaces of different types do I need? What do those spaces need to do, not only functionally but technologically?’ And parsing it out that way.”
For Jeff Joseph, global AV lead of Indeed, aligning a cohesive AV strategy with the workplace strategy team and HR team helps to unify the experience of multiple generations working in a single office.
“We have open-desk floor plans at Indeed, no matter where you are in the world,” Joseph said. “What that calls for on our side is open communication, meaning if I roll out displays, speakers, and audio into an open space, it has to be expansible and controllable for the whole environment and not just one person.” Workplace strategy and AV working in harmony will help to ensure that stakeholders are following the same vision.
2. MORE COLLABORATIVE ENVIRONMENTS
Besides more flexible business environments, collaboration solutions continue to dominate corporate AV needs. One example of this is the Zoom videoconferencing solution, which is skyrocketing in its usage and deployment, leading traditional AV vendors to join in the Zoom Room craze. The Works with Zoom program recognizes partnerships with hardware and software manufacturers, such as Logitech, Vaddio, Crestron, Avocor, and InFocus, just to name a few. Zoom is growing at a breakneck pace, with more than 700,000 business customers. Zoom’s customer base also claims more than 88 percent of the top educational institutions, according to U.S. News & World Report. Among its most attractive features are its ease of use, recording, screen sharing, capacity, and more efficient infrastructure requirements.
Collaboration extends beyond videoconferencing. As Greg Clark underscored, there are a variety of collaboration needs and designs, but the key is planning for spaces that support users of all skill levels that is also platform agnostic. Any BYOD user should be able to instantly connect and begin a remote meeting, or share rich content from myriad sources. Don’t discount the popularity of the huddle rooms, he added.
“As a result of the continued trend towards more open-plan workspace and increased workstation density, the huddle room has exploded—everyone needs more and more. A huddle room’s capability seems somewhat simplistic, but the ability to go in and share content, collaborate and co-create in a semi-private environment away from the communal workstation area is important. The ability to save, annotate, and distribute shared content is a relatively simple task, technology wise, but everyone wants it; everyone needs it.”
3. MORE MOBILE, WIRELESS, AND NETWORKED CONNECTIVITY
Considering that Gen Z practically grew up with iPhones in their hands, tech managers should expect to support more mobile devices, not fewer. We’re seeing more and more companies rely less on wired connectivity and much more on wireless. It is an ease-of-use issue, but it is also about aesthetics. Who wants to see untidy nests of cords or unsightly cables dangling across furniture?
As AV over IP and wireless becomes more pervasive, so does the need for bulletproof software and data security. To that end, AVIXA’s new Recommended Practices for Security in Networked AV Systems provides guidance and current best practices for securing networked AV systems of all sizes. Visit avixa.org to access the best practices.
4. MORE DISPLAYS, LESS PROJECTION
Some AV professionals are observing a general trend in the workplace toward more fixed displays, migrating away from projection.
Projection can offer extraordinary large-scale images, and it certainly has its ideal applications. Laser projection in particular has become more popular due to its long shelf life, quiet operation, and brightness. Laser sources are, by nature, lamp-free, a benefit for busy technology managers. However, some companies feel the need to showcase the newest technologies as they try to attract talent. Indeed, many growing companies want AV technology to be a feature of their workplace environment, or at least appear that way. That is one of the key reasons sleek flat-panel display technologies—LCD, LED, and the ilk—are becoming popular on the corporate campus.
5. MORE EMPHASIS ON UX
Clark and The Sextant Group community are passionate about user experience (UX) and ease of use, and Clark sees more of a focus being place on the UX of AV.
“End users want intuitive systems that are easy to use,” he said. While some systems can get extremely complex as to what they are doing behind the scenes, the interface—especially considering the spectrum of generations using AV technologies—has to be dead simple.
6. MORE IOT AND EXPERIENCE-DRIVEN TECHNOLOGIES
Business Insider projects that there will be “more than 55 billion IoT devices by 2025, up from about 9 billion in 2017.” Tech managers should expect requests to integrate more sensors and IoT devices into installed AV systems. Corporations are also looking to build more apps for personalized experiences, making the workplace a “destination.” Look to the proliferation of more automated scheduling and AI-driven systems, such as the Harman/IBM Watson Cognitive Rooms.
Greg Clark suggests keeping the bigger picture in mind, in terms of the corporate landscape.
“Focus on the whole experience,” he said. “What’s the workplace environment? What’s the experience for everyone involved? How can [technology] change my daily activity, improve the workflow? IoT will lead in that direction in a big way.”
While lifecycle planning usually encompasses a five-to-seven-year timeframe, and there are other trends influencing workplace designs, technologists responsible for the commissioning and management of AV would benefit from looking at the corporate campus with a wide-angle lens. From apps to remote working, to IoT, the very notion of an “office” is changing before our eyes.
Margot Douaihy is the editor-at-large of AV Technology. She teaches at Franklin Piece University.
INSIDE THE HABITS OF THE NEXT WAVE OF WORKERS
While it’s still a few years until Generation Z—loosely defined as those born between 1995 and 2005—begins invading the workforce en masse, it’s important to understand their habits and preferences now if we want a clearer picture of the future workplace.
An August study published by Ad Age references a UNiDAYS survey of 22,723 college-age respondents from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand about their technology usage and purchasing habits—and the findings underscore just how strong their ties to tech are.
Of this group, 97.6 percent own a smartphone and 94 percent own a laptop; in addition, 44.2 percent also own a tablet, 36.9 percent own a gaming console, and 14.2 percent own a smart watch. Interestingly, when surveyed about their viewing habits, more respondents said they preferred watching shows, programs, sports, and movies on their laptops than on a TV—a trend that could inform the way next-generation collaboration takes place.
However, the Gen Y and Gen Z Global Workplace Expectations Study from 2014 by the company Millennial Branding found that 53 percent of this age group prefer in-person communication over tools like instant messaging and videoconferencing— so the trend of more and more employees opting for remote working arrangements could begin to slow as this digital-first generation longs for more gregarious occupational lives.
The good news from a tech standpoint, however, is that Gen Z’s intimidate familiarity with all things electronic should translate into greater utilization of facilities’ smart infrastructures—after all, they expect screens to respond when they touch them, and they are also accustomed to learning new user interfaces with little or no guidance.