Workplace Technology We’d Like to See
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Workplace Technology We’d Like to See

Journal readers and workplace experts imagine tech products and innovations that would make work easier.

Tue, Feb 22, 2022 10:58amGrey Clock 6 min

If there’s a universal truth about workplace technology it’s this: We love to complain about it. We complain about how it does what it does, and we complain about how it doesn’t do what we need it to do. We gripe that it too often fails to deliver on its promise, and that it then creates new problems.

But imagine you had a magic wand, and you could create a product to solve some of your biggest workplace issues. What would it be? What would make your job easier and more productive? We asked Wall Street Journal readers and workplace experts to imagine just such a technology—one that doesn’t yet exist except in their minds.

Here are some of their answers.

Email’s Successor

A true replacement for email, one that actually allows for effective collaboration across silos. Every attempt at replacement (Slack, Teams, Zoom) has significant drawbacks (not encrypted, requires signing up for an account, time limits or other gated functionalities). Unless email can be completely replaced by a superior technology—one that can be used across different companies, workspaces, etc.—all new communications systems are added on top of email. (You want to use Teams? Great, now I have to check Teams and email. And Slack. And my text messages.) All of this just compounds the problems of siloed, ineffective and incomplete communications systems like email.

Erik Love, Carlisle, Pa.

A Personal Network Manager

I would like to see a customer-relationship-management system that makes it easier to facilitate business introductions and manage my own network of professional connections.

For example, if someone asks for an introduction to a CEO I know, I typically first ask the CEO if he or she is open to it, then write a thoughtful and personalized email about the person seeking the introduction. This process can take time. Having a tool or system that automates at least part of this process—say, by providing me with prewritten snippets of background information on my contacts that can easily be inserted into introduction emails—would make the process less time-consuming and burdensome. I would also want this tool to help me keep track of the introductions I have made and where they stand, so that I could follow up and nurture those relationships, as needed.

Helping me keep track of when and how I met the people in my own network also would be valuable. That includes noting any information I learned about the person, such as their kids’ names and ages, who they wanted me to meet, who they wanted to meet in my network, etc. Having this deeper context in one place would make it easier for me to leverage my connections and vice versa.

Neha Sampat, founder and chief executive of Contentstack, an enterprise software company

VR Meetings

I would like to be able to use VR headsets in Zoom rooms or on other video chat platforms.

Matt, Farmington, Utah

Take a Page From ‘Monsters, Inc.’

I would like to see a technology that allows employees to connect with others they don’t already know. While there are many upsides of being able to work from anywhere, one of the downsides is how difficult it is to meet new people at work who you don’t have any productivity-related reason to interact with. When you’re in the office with people you naturally bump into people who you don’t directly work with, and as a result have the chance to get to know them and find out what is going on in other parts of the organization. Over time you develop a network of people who you are casually acquainted with, who you can contact when needed without it being an awkward cold call.

I’d like a technology that helps people establish those sorts of connections with co-workers who they never see in an office. For example, you could have a virtual door on your computer screen that you could knock on, like the bedroom doors in the movie “Monsters, Inc.” Each individual could personalize their door design. A new door could appear on each staff member’s screen every day or every week or after all-company meetings—a new person to meet and have a brief conversation with. Systems could be set so every staff member sees doors with some variation of who they want to connect with (e.g., someone from their worksite or their larger group or not in their group—the options are limitless). Knocking on the new virtual door could be set as a cultural expectation, thus reducing the awkwardness that naturally comes from talking with someone new. It would provide the opportunity to meet those from parts of the organization who they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to meet, and the chance to make connections they would never be able to make otherwise.

Jennifer Deal, a senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations in the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California

A Window Into My Office Desk

I’d like to have a remotely controlled camera positioned to look at my desk, so I can see my desk calendar for notes and reminders, as well as yellow stickies. This would enable me to direct someone in the office to find that missing document.

Nathan L. Brown, Pensacola, Fla.

Stop the Spam

I would love to see my company filter out spam calls to my business phone before it rings. It’s no wonder people aren’t checking voice mail. It is mostly spam. But when something is important, we still turn to the phone, and if that voice mail is ignored it can mean lost business or worse. Spam is a problem. Important voice mails ignored is also a problem. Stop the spam and send the good calls to email with a transcription where they will be seen.

Richard Quattrocchi, Rolling Meadows, Ill.

AI as Tutor

Artificial intelligence can be used to help educators in their workplace—and students as well.

First of all, AI could take over the drudge work such as grading assignments and record-keeping. Our educators are in need of all the efficiencies technology can bring.

Second, AI could individualize instruction for each student. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, AI could learn about each child and develop a plan of study for each. Having AI tutors control much of the learning process will leave the teachers with more time to interact meaningfully with the individual students.

And this teaching/learning process could be lifelong for each person, through job and career training and beyond to hobbies and other pursuits.

John Bobbitt, Richmond, Texas

Meeting Recaps

What would really be beneficial is a new technology that can automatically create searchable transcripts or AI-assisted summaries of meetings held on teleconferencing platforms. This would save those in the meeting the clerical task of taking notes and publishing meeting minutes. It could serve as a backup if questions arise about resolutions achieved and arguments made. Charts, diagrams and statistical data presented during the meetings could be consolidated on the new database to be invented.

Kenneth C.C. Chan, Melbourne, Australia

Cord Dreams

I have tried buying brightly coloured cords, hiding cords, putting my initials on cords, and threatening awful consequences for unauthorized use, but my power and charging cords still disappear from the spots I swore I put them last. I blame my four-person family and Covid, which upped the ante.

Now, I’m fully working from home, my husband starts his workday from home, our daughter is working her first full-time job remotely and our son has more college classes online in the house than in person on campus. Laptops and phones have become conference tables and lecture halls. Keeping them charged is a priority.

A few weeks ago, when I had an important Zoom meeting starting in five minutes but had spent 20 minutes looking for my laptop charger, I thought, how great it would it be if charger cords couldn’t be used without the owner’s permission?

So, the technology I’d most like to see are chargers I could program to work only on my devices. I would order them in obnoxious colors and leave them out for all to see—but not to snitch!

Genevieve Chesnut, San Diego

Reading the Room

As we move into year three of our work-from-home experiment, it has become apparent that online meetings are here to stay. This has brought with it a new realization: The technology makes “reading and working the room” significantly harder and potentially career impacting for remote employees.

Things like “sidebar” conversations during quick breaks; walking with colleagues to meetings to get their “pulse” on a topic; strategically sitting next to someone or in a group to show solidarity or weight of presence are no longer possible. Neither are the subtleties of delivery and reception of information: inflections, laughs, sighs and raised eyebrows are controlled or not spontaneous in an online call, and “unmuting” reminds us that we are now “on camera” and prevents the under-one’s-breath utterances that may have been made to nearby colleagues in person-to-person meetings.

If remote meetings are here to stay, Gen 2 online-meeting software has to be more emotionally intelligent.

For example, replace the “celebrity squares” random tile format of a meeting to allow “seating” around a table, in groups or zones. In a meeting of hundreds, it is hard to see if your colleagues are actually present without scrolling through pages.

Ensure that on-platform peer-to-peer messaging is secure, unrecorded and encrypted, allowing for sidebar conversations or even sidebar video that is unavailable to the mainstream audience. This would keep participants on the platform, rather than forcing them to revert to their phones.

Develop participant structures where the speaker is on the main screen, but others in your group could be arranged dynamically via “drag and drop” so reactions can be shared and communicated visually as a cohort. Hosts also need to establish premeeting encrypted breakout rooms for participants who wish to strategize and meet before being “live” in the host’s formal meeting. This would save jumping from one internal meeting or ad hoc phone call before the hosted meeting, improving efficiency and workflow.

Robert Plant, associate professor at Miami Herbert Business School, University of Miami, in Coral Gables, Fla.


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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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