Workplace Technology We’d Like to See
Journal readers and workplace experts imagine tech products and innovations that would make work easier.
Journal readers and workplace experts imagine tech products and innovations that would make work easier.
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.
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.
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
I would like to be able to use VR headsets in Zoom rooms or on other video chat platforms.
—Matt, Farmington, Utah
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Following the devastation of recent flooding, experts are urging government intervention to drive the cessation of building in areas at risk.
Strong performances in Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra lifted the national average.
Following on from the rate rise early last week, the weekend’s auction market remained resilient, despite a lack of listings reflecting the growing unease of sellers.
The national auction market reported a clearance rate of 60.9% at the weekend — lower than the 62.0% reported last weekend and well below the 81.5% recorded over the same weekend last year.
National auction volumes were lower at the weekend with only 1202 listings compared to last weekend’s 1543 and significantly lower than the same weekend last year’s 2100 auctions.
The Sydney market eased at the weekend, following the previous week’s slight uptick.
The Harbour City recorded a clearance rate of 57.8% at the weekend — lower than the 62.5% of the previous weekend and well behind the 83.0& of the same weekend last year.
Auction numbers too were down on the previous weekend – only 421 reported compared to 570 and well below the 532 auctioned over the same weekend last year.
Sydney recorded a median price of $1,470,000 for houses sold at auction at the weekend — lower than the $1,497,000 recorded last weekend and 8.4% down on the same weekend last year’s figure of $1,605,000.
Melbourne’s weekend auction market saw another solid result, with a clearance rate of 62.1% — slightly higher than the previous weekend’s 60.5% but lower than the 71.7% over the same weekend last year.
A total of 550 homes were recorded listed at the weekend in the Victorian capital — significantly lower than the 692 reported over the previous weekend and well below the 1301 listed over the same weekend last year.
Melbourne recorded a median price of $968,500 for houses sold at auction at the weekend — similar to the $970,000 reported last weekend and just 0.9% higher than the $960,000 recorded over the same weekend last year.
Elsewhere around the country, Brisbane failed to reach a clearance rate of 50%, managing to clear only 46% of the 84 listings recorded, while Adelaide and Canberra both performed strongly with rates of 72.5% and 66.2% respectively.
Data powered by Dr Andrew Wilson, Myhousingmarket.com