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.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

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

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Car Dealers on Why Some Customers Hesitate With EVs

Concern about electric vehicles’ appeal is mounting as some customers show a reluctance to switch

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Auto dealers across many parts of the country say electric vehicles are becoming too hard a sell for buyers worried about the range, reliability and price of these models.

When Paul LaRochelle heard Ford Motor was coming out with an electric pickup truck, the dealer was excited about the prospects for his business.

“We thought we could build a million of them and sell them,” said LaRochelle, a vice president at Sheehy Auto Stores, which sells vehicles from a dozen brands in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The reality has been less positive. On Sheehy’s car lots, LaRochelle says there is a six- to 12-month supply of EVs, compared with a month of gasoline-powered vehicles.

With automakers set to release a barrage of new electric models in the coming years, concerns are mounting among auto retailers about whether the technology will have broader appeal given that many customers are still reluctant to make the switch.

Battery-powered models have been piling up on car lotsdealers say, as EV sales growth has slowed in the U.S. this year. Car companies have been offering a combination of discounts and lower interest-rate deals in an effort to juice demand. But it hasn’t been enough, because buyer reticence extends beyond the price tag, dealers say.

“I’m not hearing the consumer confidence in the technology,” said Mary Rice, dealer principal at Toyota of Greensboro in North Carolina. “People aren’t beating down the door to buy these things, and they all have a different excuse why they aren’t buying one.”

Customers cite concerns about vehicles burning through a battery charge faster in cold weather or not being able to travel as far as they expected on a single charge, dealers say. Potential buyers also worry that chargers aren’t as readily accessible as gas stations or might be broken.

Franchise dealerships fear that the push to roll out new models will inundate them with hard-to-sell vehicles. Research firm S&P Global Mobility said there are 56 EV models for sale in the U.S. this year, and the number is expected to nearly double to 100 next year.

“I start to think, you know maybe we should just all pump the brakes a little bit,” Rice said.

A group of dealers expressed their concerns about the government’s role in pushing electric vehicles in a letter last month to President Biden.

A Toyota Motor spokesman said the majority of dealers have become “increasingly more confident in their ability to sell Toyota EV products.”

At Ford, the company’s electric-vehicle sales are rising, including for its F-150 Lightning pickup, but demand isn’t evenly spread across the country, according to a spokesman.

Dealers say that after selling an EV, they sometimes hear complaints about charging and the vehicles not always meeting their advertised range. In some cases, customers seek to return them to the dealer shortly after buying them.

“We have a steady number of clients that have attempted to or flat out returned their car,” said Sheehy’s LaRochelle.

While EVs remain a small but rapidly expanding part of the new-car market, the pace of growth has slowed this year. Electric-vehicle sales increased 48% in the first 11 months, compared with a 69% jump during the same period in 2022, according to Motor Intelligence. Sales remain concentrated in a few states, with California accounting for the largest chunk, S&P Global Mobility data found.

The cooling growth has raised broader questions in the industry about whether car companies face a temporary hurdle or a longer-term demand challenge. Automakers have invested billions of dollars to bring more EV models to the market, and many analysts and car executives say they remain optimistic that sales will continue to expand.

“Although the rate of growth has slowed recently, EV demand is clearly moving in the right direction,” said General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra on a recent conference call with analysts. A combination of more affordable model options and better charging infrastructure would help encourage more people to buy electric vehicles, she said.

There are also varying views within the dealer community about how quickly buyers will adopt the technology.In hot spots for electric-vehicle demand, such as Los Angeles, dealers say their battery-powered models are some of their top sellers. Those popular EV markets also tend to have more mature public charging networks.

Selling an electric car or truck outside of those demand centres is proving more difficult.

Longtime EV owner Carmella Roehrig thought she was ready to go full-electric and sold her backup gasoline vehicle. But after the 62-year-old North Carolina resident found herself stranded last year in a rural area of South Carolina, she changed her mind. Roehrig’s Tesla Model S got a flat tire, but none of the stores in the area carried tires for a Tesla. She ended up paying a worker at a nearby shop to drive her home.

Roehrig still has her Tesla but bought a pickup truck for long road trips.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“I have these conversations with people who say we’ll all be in EVs in 15 years. I say: ‘I’m not so sure. I’ve tried to do it,’” Roehrig said. “I think you need a gas backup.”

Customers who want to ditch their gas vehicle for environmental reasons are sometimes hesitant, said Mickey Anderson, president of Baxter Auto Group, which owns dealerships in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado.

“We’re in the Colorado Springs market. If this is your sole mode of transportation, and you’re in a market in extremes of elevation and temperature, the actual range is very limited,” Anderson said. “It makes it extremely impractical.”

Dealers representing around 4,000 stores across the U.S. signed the letter in November addressed to Biden, saying the administration’s proposed auto-emissions regulations designed to promote electric-vehicle sales are unrealistic. The signatories ranged from stores owned by family businesses to publicly held giants such as AutoNation and Lithia Motors.

“Some customers are in the market for electric vehicles, and we are thrilled to sell them. But the majority of customers are simply not ready to make the change,” the letter said.

Some carmakers are pushing back EV-rollout plans. GM said in mid-October that it would delay the opening of an electric pickup plant by a year to late 2025. In response to weaker-than-expected consumer demand, Ford said in late October that it would defer $12 billion of planned spending on electric-vehicle investment.

Since September, dealers on average took more than two months to sell an EV, compared with 40 days for all vehicles, according to car-shopping website Edmunds.

While discounts have helped boost sales of some electric vehicles, they also have led to repercussions for some current owners because it reduces the value of their vehicles, dealers say.

“Most people don’t have the confidence to buy an EV and know what it will be worth in 10-15 years,” said Rice from the Toyota dealership.

It may take some time for the industry to adjust because it is still in an early stage of switching to electric vehicles, Sheehy’s LaRochelle said.

“We’re asking for this market to grow organically,” he said.


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

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